We’ve got ‘farm country’ and urban farms, but what about suburban farms?
A few years ago, I learned that a gal from my high school started a farm in her family’s backyard. I visualized this backyard—a place where I’d spent crisp evenings chatting with friends around a bonfire. I signed up for her Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, and when I made it to Moon Valley Farm for the first time, I was filled with amazement and inspiration at the sight of the transformation!
In just a few short years, the farm has flourished! Recently, I caught up with farmer, Emma Jagoz, to hear more about her story.
What’s your backstory?
I’ve been vegetarian my entire life. I was born and raised that way — my parents were vegetarian when I was born. I’m one of 4 siblings in my family, and when I was 3 years old, my brother was 5, and he was a real picky eater. My parents questioned whether vegetarianism was the right diet for him as he wasn’t eating enough or healthily. So they decided to give all of their children — ages 7, 5, 3 (that’s me), and 1 the option to eat meat or to remain vegetarian. I was the only one that chose to remain vegetarian, stating that “I didn’t eat my friends,” and I’ve never wavered in that choice.
Around that time, in 1989, my dad finished writing Moon Valley Stories, an unpublished series of short stories that he wrote about a magical land. In that land, Moon Valley, the inhabitants all had the capability of having magical powers. He called me “the Plant and Animal girl,” and I had heightened communication with plants and animals. Besides my choice of vegetarianism, I LOVED all animals, especially our cats at the time.
As my life went on, I never felt bad about my vegetarianism, and found myself gathering more and more reasons to be so. Around age 7, I found that horses, and horseback riding, were one of my favorite things on Earth, and continued to develop relationships with horses through college. I went riding every week, I felt so much connection and compassion for horses, and I eventually found my first several jobs working with them at local horse farms.
I loved working outside, the smells, the sunrises, and the modest satisfaction that hard work brought me. But I got great grades in school, and went off to college, though truly unsure of my career path. In college, I found myself highly active in social justice activism. I fought strongly about anti-racist feminism, I wanted UMD to divest from sweatshop labor, I wanted fair trade coffee in our shops, and I wanted justice. I got my degree in American Studies with a certificate in Women’s Studies, and I decided I didn’t want to continue to go to school. I wanted to make a difference.
Then, I got married and got pregnant — and decided to finally become vegan. I wanted to be a person I truly believed in to raise my kids how I felt was right. I had just read The China Study and decided I should kick dairy and my favorite — cheese. By this point in my life, I had become really prolific in nutrition and vegetarian-based health, conquering COUNTLESS innocent questions and ruthless interrogations on my diet. I could easily add on some know-how on veganism, and was ready for the challenge.
I started growing arugula, because it’s high in folic acid and Vitamin K, both of which are critical for raising healthy babies. That was the first vegetable I grew myself — in a little salad table I built myself for my apartment patio. I also grew some peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. I loved my modest apartment garden and knew I wanted to do more.
I had my child and was so in love — I wanted to raise him myself. I still wanted justice in the world and had always wanted to own my own business. My husband and I decided to move to my parents house in Cockeysville, MD, so I could start to garden/farm more seriously while my husband worked full time. I grew lots of vegetables there, while pregnant with a second child, and got more passionate about growing my own. I grew more than I could use myself and gave it away to family, friends & neighbors.
In 2011, about 9 months after my daughter was born, I decided that the following year I would have a real, official farm. I called this new venture “Moon Valley Farm,” because I was the real plant and animal girl now, growing vegetables, raising babies, and I LOVED the idea of pretending we all have magical powers. Maybe one day my husband and kids would have their own magical powers and we could write stories about them, too.
What was that first year was like?
The first year of the farm was a real learning experience for me. I just had a very small CSA, 15 people, and I knew most of the members. In terms of growing vegetables, I was figuring out how to scale up from my garden-sized plot before, and how to package and distribute the produce. I worked constantly to get everything planted, picked, and sorted, and relied on volunteer help to get the work done. For infrastructure, I built most things that I needed out of recycled “junk” I found for free on Craigslist, since I didn’t start the farm with a big bank account to support it. And for childcare, I would wear these two babies (just 1 and 2 years old) on my back and front, have them crawl around the gardens, nap in pack ‘n plays in the barn, rely on baby monitors to work while they were napping inside, and hand em over to my husband when he came home from work. It was a lot of work but I found something I believed in, and could do while raising my kids.
And you’re also raising some animals — hens and bees?
In addition to the vegetables, we got a small flock of laying hens, because although I was vegan, I knew that animals were critical in our ecosystem and in the world — especially the world of soils. I was venturing out to grow a lot of food on a very small space. I needed some source of affordable, high-quality, and nearby fertilizer, and having some hens (who have a very high nitrogen manure), could both show my kids first-hand that animals are our friends (I have a hard time imagining a kid who’s never met a chicken empathizing with one), and provide a high quality soil input for my gardens without me going off the farm. I never cared much about the eggs, I don’t eat them, but I don’t mind that others do. The hens also provide some services for the farm that would be difficult to get done otherwise — they eat crops with pests on them that I don’t want to compost, getting nutrition from both the insects and the plants — and eating older or damaged produce not fit for human consumption.
We also have honey bees that we use primarily for pollination, and occasionally for honey. Pollination is major for the vegetable farm. A good amount of our crops are in fact fruits — tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, melons, etc. — and require pollination in order to fruit. We’re having a crisis in this world, and specifically in Maryland — in which many of our pollinators are dying due to (among other things) increased pesticide and herbicide usage. My farm sites are in the county among many other homeowners who might spray their lawns, and I needed to ensure that my crops would get pollinated. I wanted to be a small part of the solution for bees, providing them with lots of flowering, pesticide- and herbicide-free plants to pollinate. I plant flowers and leave many spaces for the native pollinators to live and breed in, and for the honeybees to forage on when the veggies aren’t in bloom.
You’re kids have been very active in helping with Moon Valley, what’s that been like?
Over time, the kids have gotten bigger and playing on the farm and in the gardens is just what they do. They get lost on the farm, they discover nature, they play; they also help me harvest, seed, transplant, build, wash and sort. They also protest and fuss and sometimes resent having to be outside most of the time. It’s not all romantic and dreamy — I don’t think any childhood truly is. But I still strongly believe in having them truly know where their food comes from and how it grows, and that growing up mostly outside gives you invaluable life lessons and skills.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting Moon Valley?
Now at the end of my 5th season, I’ve expanded from a 15 person CSA to over 110 people, and also from growing on just my one 1/2 acre plot to growing on about 5 acres across 7 different suburban sites throughout the county. Farming is more than a full time job, especially when you’re teaching yourself how to farm, how to build the infrastructure, do your bookkeeping, your mechanical problems, and quickly fix many many more problems than you could’ve ever imagined you’d have. I find growing vegetables to be rewarding — I love sharing healthy, delicious, fresh-picked vegetables with people. I love how many of our customers just walk down the road to get their share. I love truly living through the seasons — I’ve learned so much about our native birds, plants, and animals and how they interact with the land throughout the year. I know more bird calls than I ever have and notice things about trees, insects & water flow that I might never have. But some of the most rewarding parts of farming for me have been finding my power in construction and other practical areas. I’ve built (not all solo, mind you) the walk-in coolers we use every day, the hoop houses, the tables, I’ve done a lot of our electrical wiring, installing lights and fixing plugs and fixing drywall. I look forward to working on these construction projects and the winter season when it’s time to focus on more of them.
And this past holiday season, my sister Sarah Koff, the artist behind Moon Valley Farm’s logo, revealed something truly special. She authored “Moon Valley Stories: The Next Generation,” which tells the adventure-filled stories of my kids and hers and their special superpowers, as well as continued adventures with the original superhero gang, on the magical land of Moon Valley.
Ready to Sign-Up
We are so inspired by Emma’s story! Thank you, Emma, for all that you do for this planet and its creatures—both human and non-human!
Moon Valley offers CSA shares of varying sizes and costs. With one payment ahead of the season, you’ll get a weekly box of produce from June until November—or, with an extended season share, from May until December.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “where do I sign-up?” Luckily for you, she’s already accepting deposits and payments for the 2017 season! She has a number of share options so you can choose one that suits your needs, plus various convenient pick-up locations. So, you can either pay online via PayPal, or pay by check along with this completed Member Agreement Form and mailing it to:
Moon Valley Farm, 1124 Greenway Road, Cockeysville, MD 21030
And since we just can’t get enough of the awesome that is Moon Valley Farm and Farmer Emma, here’s some more eye candy:
Take a moment to hear more about their story in this video from the Moon Valley Farm website: