Brittany Reardon, along with her husband Michael, operate Mad Radish Farm, a 42-acre diversified farm in Dover, Pennsylvania. They began the process of transitioning their farm to become certified organic in September 2020. Brittany shares insights on Mad Radish’s transition to organic with Emily Newman, a Rodale Institute Organic Crop Consultant.
Can you tell us a bit about your operation?
We are Mad Radish Farm. We do a vegetable CSA as well as farmers markets and little bit of wholesaling, as we’ve done in the past in New Hampshire. We ended up in Pennsylvania after looking for land for 2.5 years. We wanted to start a similar operation to what we were doing previously on rented land and be closer to family. We were looking for land that would support what we want to do with vegetables as well as grazing small livestock. In addition to vegetables, broilers, egg layers and grassfed lamb are in the works as we start out in our first season, 2021, on this new land.
We ended up buying a Christmas tree farm which was definitely unexpected, but has been really great. We opened it up for Cut Your Own Christmas trees from Thanksgiving onward. The goal was to get people to come to the farm and see what we are trying to do. We have had a lot of people come out to the farm and that’s been nice. The trees, garlands, wreaths and make-your-own boxes of green provided an unexpected income source as we start out. I am excited for next year. We’ll see how maxed out we are by the late fall but I would like to do it again and see if we can’t scale up somehow.
What is your inspiration to become certified organic?
My inspiration to organic and transitional organic is really from my past experience working for a transitioning farm. I worked with Flying Plow Farm for most of their transition and that definitely opened my eyes as to what it’s like to be in that transitional period. We always wanted to be certified organic and have been drawn to the educational piece of what it means for us to be transitional and our responsibility as landowners and farmers within that. Transitioning and becoming certified organic is a great way for us to communicate to people what we are trying to do and how we are trying to be responsible with land management. We are committed to growing healthy, nutritious food for our community while managing the land for soil health, plant vitality and species diversity. That’s what we really care about. All of that is why we want to be certified organic and why we think it’s important to transition on this new land.
What has been the biggest stumbling block to certification and how are you working to overcome it?
I think the biggest stumbling block may be marketing and communicating to people in this area about the benefits of organic and why it might be worth it to put their food dollars to organic agriculture instead of conventional.
What advice would you give another farmer considering transitioning to organic?
We have always thought about diversity as being really important to what we do; being able to offer different types of products to people at various points in the season and not just focusing on one thing is really good. That feels very inherent to what we do and is almost something that I don’t even think about anymore because we’ve always had vegetables and animals together. And now with the Christmas trees– it’s been great to have another product that we can sell throughout the winter months. Whether it be season extension or selling meats and eggs in the winter time, having different times of year where you have income can be really important for small operations as they try to support themselves off the farm.
We all know that farming is extremely hard work, often requiring long days in difficult conditions. What motivates you to get up each day and keep going?
I originally started farming in college at the University of Vermont. I knew nothing about farming. I knew I wanted to do something in the environmental field. I started working at the student run farm called Common Ground. It was the coolest thing ever. I just loved it and was floored that people did this for their jobs. I was there all the time and knew that it was what I wanted to do. Pretty much every season after that I was farming. I was inspired to grow food. I definitely felt called to doing it and still do.
Is there anyone who has influenced you in your farming journey that you want to tell us about?
The farmers who I have worked for have inspired me and were my mentors and role models. Tom Paduano and Sara Rider of Flying Plow taught me a lot of what I know, in part because I worked for them for 5 years. There was a couple in Vermont too that I worked with, Toby Bashaw and Elizabeth Hendrix. They were really important to me in my farming journey.
Are there any fundamental farming “lessons” that you have learned in your farming career that you would like to share with farmers who will read your interview?
I guess one of the biggest things for me with farming is just always having such a long list of things to do. I think most farmers and people in general can relate to this. Farming for me has always been a lot of prioritizing and acceptance of not being able to do everything you want to do. That’s always been hard for me. I feel like I am still learning this: being able to accept what you can do and being okay with that. In reality if you are going to farm as a profession you are going to have to get over the fact that you are only going to get a certain number of things done.
Also, farming is very humbling for me because just when you think you have something figured out or you think you are doing really well, you may be making a big mistake and you’ll have to live with the consequences of that. This has helped me grow as a person– making mistakes and moving forward after that. Realizing that I don’t know everything.
About This Story
Brittany Reardon, Farmer of Mad Radish, is working with Organic Crop Consultants at the Rodale Institute. The consulting services are currently FREE to Pennsylvania farmers transitioning to organic thanks to funding from the PA Department of Agriculture. Farmers who make the transition to organic can earn two to three times the price of their conventional counterparts and increase the value of their land, giving farmers a valuable asset for future generations. Rodale Institute is a trusted resource for technical assistance, regulatory advice and community connections. Consultations typically begin with a phone call, followed by a site visit. Support is provided throughout the entire transition to make sure farmers are on the right track.
Farmers that are interested in receiving consulting services can contact the Rodale Institute directly by calling 610-683-1416 or Consulting@RodaleInstitute.org.
This article originally ran in the winter 2021 issue of Organic Matters, the magazine of the PCO.