Growing Practices

The short story: We are focused on building healthy soil and increasing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. We are committed to organic best practices, although we are not certified organic and will probably remain uncertified due to our small scale.

General Philosophy

We strive to grow as much as possible on our third of an acre. Is it a farm or a garden? To the USDA, Yellow House Farm isn't even a blip on the radar. But it is enough space to grow quite a bit of produce--more than we could possibly eat ourselves. We focus on crops that do not require a huge amount of square footage and we try to be creative in maximizing space.

Underlying all of the individual decisions about how to grow things is the idea that healthy soil is the most important element in the equation. We are starting with a typical American lawn and working towards a biodiverse, productive growing environment. For us, this means minimal soil disturbance, the frequent addition of organic matter (through mulching and compost), and absolutely no herbicide or pesticide use.

Urban Soils & Soil Testing

We tested the native soil on the property prior to growing so we know it is safe from lead and other heavy metals. We continue soil testing to increase our understanding of our land. We are also part of an ongoing Johns Hopkins soil study relating to the safety of growing food in urban spaces. We should have detailed results about our space within a year or so, and general results of the study within 2 years.

Prior to starting Yellow House Farm, Emma was involved with the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City where she learned a great deal about soil issues in urban farming. One important aspect of urban soil safety is having a history of site use. The main YHF property has been a residential property for over 100 years with no demolition or construction on or adjacent to the site.

We only important soil and compost from reputable sources. We keep detailed records of what we add to the soil both for our own information and for food safety. We buy certified organic potting soil for starting all our transplants.

Composting on the Farm

For the most part, we compost our own kitchen waste to keep food scraps out of the landfill. At present, we do not generate enough of our own compost to meet our needs. When possible, we feed food scraps to chickens to cut down on the amount of grain-based feed they eat.

YES, we are happy to accept your compost! Compost can include: vegetable and fruit scraps, tea bags, coffee grinds and paper filters, non-oily paper bags, and eggshells. We cannot accept meat, bones, oils, or dairy.

We currently do not maintain compost logs with recorded internal temperatures of our pile because of our low volume. We do allow chickens access to compost at various stages, so for food safety reasons we currently use our home compost only for trees, vines, and bushes (no direct contact with plant parts that get eaten).

Insect Control

We do not use any chemical herbicides or pesticides. For the most part we use row cover, which is a very thin woven fabric, to prevent insect damage on crops we know to be susceptible. We also maintain flowers and other plantings throughout the site to give insects other food besides what we want to harvest, and to provide habitat for beneficial species. Finally, we assume that some of what we plant will get eaten by our pest neighbors--so we plant extra seeds.

Seeds

There is raging debate about GMO's. We're staying out of it for now--we do not use GMO seeds. We do occasionally use some hybrid varieties of plants if there is a particular reason to do so or if non-hybridized varieties are not readily available, but we prioritize purchasing non-hybrid varieties so we can practice seed saving. Most of our seeds are organic-certified and open-pollinated.

Harvest & Waste

We harvest to order so you can count on receiving fresh produce. (And we can count on less waste.)

We sell some "seconds" (produce that doesn't look great, but is still perfectly edible) to home canners interested in a bargain on their preserved goods.

We avoid plastic as much as possible along every stage of production, although we admit it has its uses, such as helping maintain product quality and freshness. Whenever possible, we will choose a compostable or recyclable packaging option instead. We are always open to customer feedback and ideas about more ecologically-minded packaging!

Transparency & Certifications

There are a lot of different certifications and food-related terms floating around these days. "Organic" is a big one, of course. Others include: naturally grown (or "Certified Naturally Grown"), chemical-free, GAP-certified (GAP stands for "Good Agricultural Practices"), all-natural. It can be confusing.

Due to our scale and timeline (first year in production), we do not have any certifications in 2018. We keep records, however, and can tell you exactly where everything comes from and how everything works. Also, Emma's background includes experience in commercial kitchens where she became very well-versed in safe food handling.

In the future, we may decide to become certified organic or GAP-certified. Until then, we will follow beyond-organic best practices and will answer any questions you may have!