Shadowood Farm reimagines the suburban garden
Wendy Dittrich-Gomez likes to dig in the dirt.
Twice a week she makes the 20 minute pilgrimage from her home in Jensen Beach, Florida and drives to Shadowood Farm in Palm City where she grows organic vegetables in a rented garden space.
Shadowood Farm is a hybrid of sorts, offering small plots to an assortment of gardening enthusiasts and teaching them how to grow organic herbs and vegetables.
Sarah and Bob Fenton have operated Shadowood Farm since 1984. For years they ran a nursery and garden center for native Florida plants. When that business dried up during the recession of 2008, the Fentons started to grow organic vegetables for their own consumption as an economic imperative.
From that modest start they began to teach others organic growing techniques as their knowledge increased. Today their business has transformed into a community style organic food garden that rents small raised planting beds from September through May.
“We do lots of hands on one-on-one training, especially at the beginning of the growing season,” says Sarah Fenton.
And all that knowledge is taking root. The Fentons and their gardeners grow herbs, tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, eggplant, carrots, beans, cucumbers, beets, squash, scallions, radishes, arugula, and a variety of lettuces, among many other vegetables.
Customers who rent plots represent a cross section of ages, income levels, and nationalities. “Some come just because they want to learn how to garden at home,” said Fenton. “Other people live in condos or communities where they’re not allowed to grow food.”
Most are enchanted by the farm’s large shade trees and neat rows of colorful crops, and by the camaraderie and sense of community shared among the patrons. After a couple hours of weeding, trimming, and feeding the plants, they will rest and chat in the shade of the open-air pole barn next to the gardens.
Carlee Weston is a charter member. Since 2010 she has experimented with various vegetables and crop rotations. Through the years, she says, Bob and Sarah have always been there to answer questions and offer words of encouragement.
“The people who garden here are extra friendly and come from all walks of life,” said Weston. “What they have in common is a love of organic food.”
Kelly Turnbull has gardened at the farm for the past three years. She joined because of the limited amount of organic produce available at local supermarkets and vegetable stands. “Now we eat everything we grow,” she says. “And I enjoy the satisfaction of actually having grown the vegetables that I put on the table for my husband and myself.”
For the growing season, which starts in September in Florida, garden plots are available in two sizes. A six by 12 foot plot rents for $35 a month, and a six by 24 foot plot is $65 a month. Shadowood Farm creates each garden bed and provides organic soil and irrigation.
According to Fenton, a small plot can produce between $25 and $30 worth of food each week. “In our perfect world,” she says, “people save boatloads of money by growing their own food.”
Forty garden spaces are available for rent during the 2015/16 growing season. The plots are always fully subscribed, and there’s usually a waiting list.
In addition to renting garden space, Shadowood Farm hosts farm to table dinners, music events, movie nights, lectures, workshops, and tours, and sells organic seeds and garden equipment in its shop. The farm can also be rented for engagement, wedding, and birthday parties.
The farm’s organic produce is available to the public from 10 am to 1 pm at their Shadowood Market every Saturday from October through April or May. Anyone can join the Shadowood Buyers Club for $10 a season and purchase produce from the farm five days a week.
For those who can’t maintain a plot, a Shadowood Farm General Membership costs $40 a season, with the same benefits of the Buyers Club plus free admission to classes and workshops, and discounts on the many events at the farm.
Colleen Connolly has been a general member for the past four years. She travels to the farm once a week to purchase produce, eggs, and honey.
“Early each week the farm lists what’s available on their website and I place an order online,” she says. “Sarah gathers what I want in the morning and I pick it up in the afternoon.”
Connolly has attended several workshops at Shadowood Farm, including one on how to eat vegan and another on composting and vermiculture – the cultivation of worms.
“Whenever I see Bob and Sarah we talk about all kinds of things,” Connolly said. “They’re knowledgeable and honest, and they’re always evolving.”
Wendy Dittrich-Gomez is a convert. She’s rented a garden plot at Shadowood Farm for three years, and doesn’t intend to quit. “I really do love it,” she says. In the process she’s lost ten pounds, due to all the exercise and to consuming more vegetables in her diet.
She says her stress melts away whenever she visits the farm. “There’s something very healing about this place,” she said. “It’s just so peaceful. And it’s cheaper than therapy.”