Meet Our Members | February 2023
Name: Sayer Palmer
Business: Open Woods Farm
Meet Sayer Palmer, Farmer-Owner of Open Woods Farm.
What are the names of your immediate family? Angus Gorman, Annie Vale Gorman
Where did you grow up? St. Albans, Vermont
Did your parents farm or garden? My father, Michael Palmer, is a commercial beekeeper. My mother is a retired Registered Nurse. They’ve always had a large garden.
What made you want to be a farmer? I have a master’s degree in viola performance and Suzuki pedagogy. I taught for a few years, and then worked in the music library at Juilliard in NYC. I think my reaction to hours spent alone in the practice room and then hours spent inside in front of a computer was to find the most opposite profession possible. I’ve learned that I need to be outside, and I need to be moving my body to survive in the world.
How many years have you been farming? 8 years for other people, 3 years as my own business
What made you choose Grafton? I fell in love with a tree guy who owned a cabin and land in Grafton.
How many years at this location? I’ve been at this location for 6 years. I am going into my 4th season growing vegetables here.
Farm acreage? 1/2 acre
How did your farm get its name? My partner has a tree service business called Open Woods. When I was trying to decide on a name for the farm, we thought it would be a good idea to operate under the same business name. And, quite literally, the farm is a clearing in the middle of the woods. Having the same name for two separate services has been beneficial: people ask about tree work at the farmers’ market, and Angus brings business to the farm from his tree customers.
Do you have employees? I am currently hiring for two positions: one at 32 hours per week from April - October, and one at 16 hours per week during the months of school break.
Has your CSA been successful? Yes! It’s the only way I can bridge the gap from winter to spring when it comes to cash flow and purchasing supplies for the coming season. I expanded to 25 members this year with a 6 week early-spring share beginning in April, a 20 week summer share beginning at the end of May, and a 6 week fall share running from October through December.
What made you add online ordering? The pandemic. I planned the farm in the winter of 2019 going into 2020. Just as I finished seed orders and CSA sign ups, the pandemic began. I had no idea what to expect at farmers’ markets, so it felt appropriate to figure out how to make online ordering with delivery work for a tiny rural farm.
Do you offer delivery? Yes, though I’m taking a break for the moment to figure out how to make packing orders and running deliveries more sustainable.
What is your favorite farming activity? Pruning and trellising tomatoes
What’s your least favorite farming activity? Harvesting spinach in the winter.
What aspect of farming is most important to you? The community in which this farm exists. I had no idea how many people would support a farm in such a rural location: my entire customer base is from the Mascoma Valley region. I love chatting with CSA members, I love the social event that is the Canaan Farmers’ Market, and I love how supportive everyone has been through the ups and downs of starting a new farm.
What keeps you farming? Problem solving–farming is never boring. There’s a new issue to solve every day, and I love working through solutions to make jobs more efficient. Or researching pest management solutions (cutworms, cutworms, cutworms!). Or figuring out how to grow lettuce consistently even in the hottest months. Or learning how to minimize downy mildew on high tunnel spinach in the fall and winter… I’m also one of those weird people that loves record keeping and manipulating data.
What’s your favorite farm memory? Transplanting onions on the first day of my first farm job at Jericho Settlers’ Farm in Vermont. It was cold and rainy. But I worked with the most amazing crew, and at the end of the day, the sun came out just in time for golden hour. That day was awful, and hard, and fun, and perfect.
What is something you wish people knew about you or your farm? It’s tiny in acreage, but I grow a ton of food here. I think that people see “½ acre of vegetables,” or they see a woman at farmers’ market, and assume that this is my hobby garden. But this tiny farm is my full-time job. It’s how I make my living. Every bed has two or three different plantings throughout the season. I focus on crops that my customers really like: salad mix, carrots, tomatoes… And I purchase crops that take up a lot of space from other organic farms in New Hampshire: potatoes, winter squash.
Why is organic farming important to you? It’s a commitment to do more than just grow and sell vegetables. While running a profitable farm is still very important, organic farming, especially at the local scale, is a commitment to soil health, human health, plant health, animal health, and the health of the environment in general.
What do you see in the future for small organic farms and businesses? I think that farms that prioritize their immediate communities will continue to be successful: through the connection of a CSA, local farmers’ markets, mutual aid, and outreach.
What is the greatest challenge they face? Unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change.
How can small farmers contribute toward environmental change? There are so many things farmers are doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but again, by far their most important contribution is commitment to community. Connecting with the community through a commitment to local markets and a stake in the local economy has shifted climate conversations from a politicized national level to a meaningful community level. When a neighbor’s well being is affected by unprecedented drought or overwhelming rain, activism around systemic change becomes less radical and more urgent.
How does NOFA-NH membership benefit you? The classifieds are incredibly useful, and I love my subscription to The Natural Farmer.
What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you? I used to be a professional musician, and I have crooked pinkies.
Open Woods Farm is at 1061 Kinsman Highway in Grafton NH 03240. www.openwoods.net
Click here to return to the Meet Our Members page.