In a word, Flying Plow Farm is about the soil.
Ask Chef Scott Morozin of Verbena BYOB about carrots, and he’ll wax eloquent about Flying Plow. What makes a Flying Plow carrot, or any of their diverse crops, taste so good? “Some farms become known for the flavor of certain vegetables,” says Brittany Dooling, Flying Plow’s harvest and sales manager. “There are definitely microclimates, and some plants grow better, or differently, in various microclimates. Factors like weather affect taste, too. But a vegetable’s flavor and freshness come out of the soil, and it all comes back to soil health.”
Flying Plow owners Tom Paduano and Sarah Rider and their hardworking employees have been thoughtfully working toward soil health on the 55-acre organic farm in Rising Sun, Maryland since 2013. Cover crops, careful tillage, and animals all play an important role in improving the soil.
Cover crops not only increase organic matter and nutrition, prevent erosion by holding soil in place, and give the land a break from growing vegetables, but they also provide feed for the animals—who in turn fertilize the soil as they forage. In addition, if managed well over time, cover crops outcompete weeds and decrease the weed seed bank (viable weed seeds persisting in the soil) and help with the weed pressure which, Brittany says, can be a big concern on organic farms. At Flying Plow, they keep about half of their vegetable ground in cover crop at a time.
Tillage, which refers to the agricultural preparation of soil, is used at Flying Plow to prepare beds for planting and to cultivate crops for weed management. “We use the harrow as much as possible and try to minimize the amount of plowing, which totally flips the soil over and is the most invasive form of tillage,” Brittany says. “We’re also unique in that we use draft horses for cultivation and are implementing animals with vegetables in many ways all year round.”
In all of this, they’re sowing seeds of sustainability. “Tom and Sarah do everything from scratch and care so much about what they do to fulfill the mission of the farm and have a financially viable business to support the farmers, animals, and vegetables,” Brittany says. People talk a lot about sustainability, but it’s important to remember that true sustainability is multi-faceted, she says. Social sustainability, for instance paying employees a fair wage, is as important as environmental sustainability.
Flying Plow sells products wholesale and through CSA shares as well as at farmers markets. “A large amount of what we do is for farmers markets,” says Brittany. “Markets help tie us to the community and foster love for local food and community.” Although she rarely has time to cook vegetables for herself in the busy summer months and sometimes gets sick of looking at yet another row of tomatoes, Brittany enjoys harvesting and preparing vegetables for customers. “I love hearing how customers prepared their vegetables and how what we do affects their lives and has an impact. It makes it all worth it,” she says.
Flying Plow employees Rachel Brewer and Nolan Morris are the kind and friendly faces of Flying Plow at the Kennett Square Farmers Market each week. Rachel chose to work at Flying Plow to learn as much as she can about biodynamics, soil restoration, and holistic sustainability so she can implement similar practices in coming seasons on her family farm. She describes her new convictions, born out of her time at Flying Plow and other farms: “It’s not like you can spray a little Roundup here, and not there—respect for the land means doing it right or moving off,” she says. “It’s about being co-workers with the plants.”
Rachel is soaking in every aspect of the Flying Plow experience—even laughing while harvesting carrots in the pouring rain and lightning, she says. And she loves sharing vegetables with market customers, many of whom she considers family. “The customers are committed to the farmers,” she says, “and I appreciate that. Friday evenings here feel festive, and we get to be part of lots of people’s weekend menus. Market manager Ros Fenton is a big part of that, she says. “The market is so well run, and we’re excited to be here.”
Every Friday, Flying Plow brings an abundance of fresh and flavorful certified organic produce, 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef, and pasture-raised chicken and eggs to market. They’re at market through the winter months, as well, with storage crops and fresh greens from their high tunnels.
Back to the carrots—cold-season carrots are the sweetest. So although the summer is drawing to a close, some of the best is yet to come. If they come complete with a little dirt to brush off, you’ll know that healthy soil helps make those carrots so nutritious and delicious.