Recent Work – Storey Publishing, The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm

Author Daniel Mays and his family

Before the pandemic, I had the pleasure of working with Storey Publishing on my first book project. Storey publishes “practical books for creative self-reliance” on topics like farms, food, crafts, and natural health; a good fit for my work and I had been hoping we’d find a project to work on together. They invited me to photograph The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm by Daniel Mays, owner of Frith Farm in Scarborough, Maine.

It’s a beautiful, very well-written book – Daniel’s writing is clear, down-to-earth, and refreshingly honest about the struggles and joys of farming.

I love farms. I love that the cycles of life and death are laid out before us. I love that they so clearly demonstrate that everything is connected. The subtitle of the book, How to Start and Run a Profitable Market Garden That Builds Health in Soil, Crops, and Communities speaks to the interconnection of land, food and people.

Ironically, one of the first images I made was of someone tilling a field – when Frith Farm first converts a field to farm plots, they till it one time to speed up the process.

When I took this assignment, I knew what an organic farm was but didn’t know anything about no-till farming. This method recognizes that the life and health of the soil – and the microorganisms that live there – are connected to everything else that happens on a farm and essential for long term viability of agriculture. Tilling the soil disrupts the life under the soil and increases erosion, reducing soil health and increasing the need for fertilizers, etc. Instead, the soil is actively built up with compost and cover crops (which are mulched in place), and crops are planted directly without tilling.

Frith Farm is by far the most organized farm I’ve ever been on, and it is beautiful. Daniel has a background in engineering, and it shows. All the plots are a uniform size, with the same number of rows, and a simple numbering system. There are practical reasons for this – it makes it easy to buy materials (e.g. field cover), rotate crops, and organize the farm work – but it also brings a sense of order and beauty to the fields. Additionally, with his no-till system, there are almost no weeds. Even the tools are neatly organized in the barn.

 

Between plots are beds of flowers, which are not only beautiful, they attract beneficial insects such as pollinators. Birdhouses attract birds that provide natural pest control.


 

Complementary interplanting plays a significant role at Frith Farm. Some crops (e.g. squash) are interplanted with complementary plants that fix nitrogen (e.g. clover), which help replenish the soil. Tomatoes are interplanted with sweet alyssum, which attracts tiny wasps which parasitize tomato hornworm caterpillars, providing natural pest control. Some crops are interplanted with others that have a complementary growth and harvest cycle, which saves space, prevents weeds, and increases the overall yields. Even the cover crops are interplanted, since each plant has different benefits.

I was there on a CSA share pickup day. This three-generation family came, and I was able to photograph the grandmother and granddaughter enjoying the pick your own flowers. I love that this image captures generational family dynamics, with grandmother and granddaughter connected with the middle generation in the background.

A girl and her grandmother enjoy pick-your-own flowers on CSA pickup day while her parents watch.

The farm is intentionally built on a human scale – no-till farming is more labor intensive than conventional farming, and most of the work needs to be done by people, not machines. Everything is interconnected, including the choices about workers – instead of investing in expensive heavy machinery, the farm invests in people, which is one of the ways it builds community. Frith Farm has found a sweet spot in terms of scale: it’s big enough to be productive and profitable, but small enough to avoid debt and massive overhead.

The book was released in fall of 2020. Here are some of my favorite layouts:

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