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Seed Farm Nurtures Next Generation of Farmers

Farming business incubator offers training program on 40-acres near Vera Cruz.

Some kids go to soccer camp. Others go to space camp. Sara Runkel went to farm camp.

Runkel’s early interest in farming has made her a perfect pick to run The Seed Farm in Lehigh County, which grows new farmers for the future.

The 40-acre Seed Farm, a farming business incubator near Vera Cruz, is a new farmer training program and business incubator started by the county in 2009.

The Seed Farm will pave he way for the opening of the Emmaus Farmers Market on May 1.

With about 20 vendors, the Emmaus Farmers Market is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine, until the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving in November.

Runkel, 33, executive director of the Seed Farm, didn’t grow up on a farm. She grew up on the District of Columbia suburbs. And she came to the Lehigh Valley in February 2010, finding a home in Port Clinton.

“My grandparents had a farm,” she said. “But I attribute my interest in farming to going to farmer camp when I was a kid. I started working on farms after high school. I took a year off, did an apprenticeship and ended up working on some farms when I was in college.

“I finished college at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. They are one of the handful of work colleges. They have an active farm where they raise hay, beef, cattle and pigs.”

She had her own farm for a number of years in North Carolina. Then she went to grad school at Slippery Rock in Pennsylvania.

The Seed Farm is located on a section of the Seem Seed Farm. The farm has five people in a one-year farmer training program and three in a three-year stewardship program.

The programs eliminate the top three barriers to farm entry — land, equipment and training. This opens doors for a new generation of farmers.

“The apprentices work 20 hours a week in our two-acre demonstration garden and are learning how to operate and manage a diversified vegetable farm,” she said. “We grow a wide variety of produce with a focus on storage crops including: winter squash, dry beans, cabbage, pumpkins, root vegetables, pickling cucumbers and canning tomatoes.

“All of our produce is grown sustainably without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides.”

Apprentices come from all different ages and backgrounds, Runkel said.

“Not many are people who grew up on a farm,” she said. “It’s people who came up from another career, looking for a career change. Or maybe they just finished college and spent time working on other farms and decided they wanted to work on farms…

“One person is an artist. Another is a theatre manager. Another is a social worker. Yet another wants to do urban farming. They are from age 24 to the
mid 50s. They all want to have five acres in which to grow vegetables –
because that’s what we grow.”

The Seed Farm will have a stand in the Emmaus Farmers Market.
“It’s a great fit for us because we’re only three miles from the market,”
Runkel said. “It’s a great way for us to promote the projects to the
community. It’s a very visible location.”

Runkel said the Seed Farm’s goal is to “train new farmers for this area. It’s such a great location for farmers, with New York, Philadelphia, even the Lehigh Valley, having so many consumers and people who are interested.”

Anthony Rodale April 19, 2011 at 10:54 AM
This is such a great success story. We need to find ways to have more and more of the Valley's farmland in Sustainable food production for people. With so much rampant development all around us, we must also say No to Farmland Development especially in Lower Macungie! The Seed Farm is the way forward.
Tracy Haus April 19, 2011 at 11:30 AM
I am so pleased to learn about the Seed Farm. My heart dropped the first day I saw some construction in yet another beautiful field. I thought for sure this was just the start of another housing development. What a great place to have right in my own back yard! I look forward to supporting your project. Thank you.

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