Just perfect. That was my first thought when driving up the lane to visit Maya Wood and Phelan Pagano on one parcel of land they lease as their “Little Big Farm.” The 2/3 of an acre that I visited, leased to them by one of their teachers and mentors at Evergreen College, was packed as full as possible with row after row of beautiful produce along with hoop houses, which, as it turned out, were packed full with crops as well.
Maya and Phelan kindly took time out of their busy harvesting and tending schedule to show me around, so I didn’t want to take up too much of their time. Little Big Farm is the cleanest, neatest, most organized farm I have ever been on. I was immediately struck by how beautiful everything looked; everything had a place and purpose. This is very intentional. When you’re growing the amount of food they’re growing (on 1 acre total), you have to be organized and efficient. And, they are. Every row has a plan for what it’s going to be used for after the crop that’s currently on it is done for the season. This biodynamic approach to farming allows Maya and Phelan to have high yields on such a small piece of land.
We began by looking at their starts, and they explained that each start must live and thrive in order for them to obtain the yield they need for their fall lettuces. That’s a tall order – it’s no wonder that starts are tended to so carefully – Maya and Phelan literally HAVE to grow for the continued success of the farm.
As we walked along the rows, Maya and Phelan explained to me what each crop was and what their plans for the next crop were. I was taken aback at how neat and beautiful everything is. It’s no secret that since our first day at market last season (it was the first day at QAFM for all three of us), I have been obsessed with taking photos of Little Big Farm’s display and produce. I probably have 1,000 photos of their peppers, basil, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, radishes, and lettuces. So, as I walked along the rows and saw these same crops in the ground, I was just as enamored. In addition to the crops we’ve come to love from Little Big Farm, Maya and Phelan are also growing some interesting varieties of chicory that they’ll be bringing to the market this fall. I don’t know about you, but I am SUPER excited about the chicory.
We went into their hoop houses next. It was like going into a secret garden of plants; an amazing wonderland of plants, all trellised from ground to ceiling, with some even touching the roof and curving over the walk way. There were cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in the houses (and probably more plants that I missed). Not too long ago, Maya posted a photo on their Instagram of her lying on the ground in the tomato house and I totally get why. It was a magical place. I could have stayed there forever.
The hoop houses can easily be taken down and moved, which will make it easier for Maya and Phelan to move them to when they get their own land (hopefully) in the next few months.
We talked about soil and how different the soil is in Washington than it is in Hawaii (where they first worked on a farm together and where they had originally planned to start their farm – lucky for us that plan changed). We discussed irrigation and how they adjusted where they plant based on the fact that their land is on a bit of a slope. Every answer they gave was thoughtful. And, that’s what kept echoing through my head during my entire visit – thoughtful.
They recently hired one part-time employee to help with weeding and harvest, but that’s it. They do everything themselves: from starting to tilling to planting to weeding to tying up the trellises to harvesting to washing to packaging to packing up to traveling to and selling at farmers markets. Every step is thoughtfully, perfectly executed. After my visit to Little Big Farm, I was incredibly inspired and a little awestruck. They grow SO MUCH in such a small space and are passionate about it – they don’t want to expand – this works for them and allows them to be a part of every step of the process. And, that is just perfect. This tiny piece of land in Olympia that is feeding so many people.
Women Who Farm, an organization that encourages and supports women farmers, recently featured Maya on its social media, and Maya’s quote just took my breath away, so I thought I would share it with you all, as it encompasses what I felt when visiting Little Big Farm: "I started farming because it made tangible a deeply romanticized purpose: cultivate life, so that others may cultivate theirs. It's relentless and the work incessant, but it keeps me focused, keeps me humbled, keeps me gratified and grateful. People gotta eat. People need real food. And somebody's gotta grow it. Why not here? Why not me?".