“As more vegans gain an understanding that the “organic” foods they tend to gravitate to contribute to the CFO/factory farming they are trying to put a stop to, the veganic farming movement can only continue to grow. I spent years as a vegan myself without considering that the organic produce I was eating was fertilized with by-products of the industries I was strongly against. I also think that, as more prominent vegan advocates, such as Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, continue to mention the principles of veganic farming on social media, that too will fuel the movement.” -Neil A. Frank, Saginaw Meadows
With a commitment to not only learning about veganic agriculture but also continuously featuring vegan farms and farmers worldwide, Pacific Roots Magazine is happy to present our first vegan farm feature. This Summer we had the opportunity to talk with Neil A. Frank of Saginaw Meadows, a farm located in the heart of the Saginaw Valley in Michigan, USA. Saginaw Meadows was established on Winter Solstice, December 21, 2009 when Neil became steward of the land. A small farm specializing in veganic and organic produce, Saginaw Meadows had its first season of growing produce in 2010 and is currently in its tenth season.
Interview with Neil A. Frank of Saginaw Meadows
Was Saginaw Meadows veganic from the beginning?
Neil: Yes, veganic from the beginning. I also received a signed affidavit from the seller, included in the sale, stating that the land had not received any chemical-based treatments for the three prior years (in case I wanted to pursue organic certification, though I never found a need to since my patrons know my farming practices.)
Were there any specific challenges in establishing a veganic farm?
Neil: Since I purchased the land in December, it was snow covered and while there weren’t specifically any challenges in transitioning it to veganic production, I did have to dig through snow to obtain soil samples for testing. The sale of the land was also contingent upon the soil testing within safe ranges for lead. One side of the property is bordered by a highway, which was constructed near the time that leaded gas was still in use and I had read that this could have led to elevated levels of lead in the soil, from emissions from vehicles running on leaded fuel. Fortunately, the soil test results came back within normal ranges for lead and also tested well for nutrients. One major setback from purchasing the land when it was snow covered is that I wasn’t able to get a true feel for the quality of the soil. The front portion of the land is heavy clay which I have been continually working on improving, both by adding compost and, back in the beginning, I added granular gypsum.
Did you have experience with non-veganic farming prior to doing so at Saginaw Meadows?
Neil: This was my first experience with veganic farming, though I have a long history of gardening. I started helping with the family garden around the age of four, and my sister and I were very involved in the horticulture and floriculture programs in the 4-H organization. During my time in college, I obtained a part-time sales position at a local garden center and ended up eventually transitioning to a full-time position there. In the end, I spent eight years working there and that is where I gained most of my knowledge about both chemical/ conventional farming as well as organic farming practices. I became vegan after working there, so when I made the decision to start Saginaw Meadows, it only seemed logical to research the possibility of transitioning my knowledge of organic farming to do the same but without the use of any animal by-products. I figured it was possible, based on knowing there were plant-based forms of fertilizer which I had sold many of at the garden center I had worked at years prior.
Can you share more on the operation of the farm as well as what brought you to farming and specifically veganic farming?
Neil: Currently the farm is just family-run, and I do most of the work myself. For the first four years, it was a full-time operation for me with a traditional CSA approach, and I would have a few “working shares” that would put in a few hours a week, in return for their CSA share. It has since transitioned to a part-time operation for me. I spend evenings and weekends there, working around my day job as a full-time architect. I started Saginaw Meadows at a time when my primary occupation was in hiatus, due to the downturn in the economy. I had been on the consumer-end of several traditional CSA programs, both here in Michigan and also in the Portland, OR area. I always had in the back of my mind that starting my own farm/CSA program based on my love for gardening and gardening background might be something to consider for my retirement years but when I was left without a primary source of income back in 2009, the idea to start a farm/CSA program moved to the forefront.
Are you actively involved in veganic farming networks locally, nationally or globally?
Neil: I am connected with two online networks— the Veganic Farmer Community Page, hosted by Alisha Utter, and The Vegan Organic Network— both on Facebook.
What is your perception of the future of veganic farming?
Neil: As more vegans gain an understanding that the “organic” foods they tend to gravitate to contribute to the CFO/factory farming they are trying to put a stop to, the veganic farming movement can only continue to grow. I spent years as a vegan myself without considering that the organic produce I was eating was fertilized with by-products of the industries I was strongly against. I also think that, as more prominent vegan advocates, such as Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, continue to mention the principles of veganic farming on social media, that too will fuel the movement.
When I started Saginaw Meadows nine years ago, there was very little in the way of resources. My approach was based on applying the knowledge of plant-based fertilizers that I had gained by working at the garden center. I am looking forward to seeing the progress of Mona and Alisha’s project, as one of their goals is providing a single-point resource for veganic farming.
I love how you use social media to share the abundance of what you are growing. Can you share what you are growing in different seasons there?
Neil: I typically grow over 80 varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruit:
Beans (three varieties)
Beets (two varieties)
Cabbage (two varieties)
Chard (two varieties)
Onions (two varieties)
Peppers (six varieties)
Potatoes (three varieties)
Pumpkins (seven varieties)
Radishes (two varieties)
Summer Squash (two varieties)
Tomatoes (four varieties)
Winter Squash (five varieties)
Plus, our perennials:
Cherries (two varieties)
Several years ago, I added cold frames to the farm, so Saginaw Meadows is now a four-season farm, currently in our 57th consecutive month of harvesting, with the help of growing greens including kale, spinach and lettuce in the cold frames for harvests during the winter months.
Additionally, Saginaw Meadows is off the grid. Solar power provides power to our deep well pump, our irrigation system and lights in the barn. The low-voltage solar powered irrigation system is something I designed myself. It utilizes a combination of a low-voltage deep well pump and rainwater collection from the barn roof to keep 1,100 gallons of water in storage to use for irrigation. Water is pumped from the storage tanks to the field via a low-voltage 40 PSI pump.
Visit Saginaw Meadows online here
Feature & Interview by Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk