the farm

A Winter Update From the Gaia Farm

Published on January 19, 2023

Winter has descended on the Gaia Farm in North Carolina. Unlike the fruitful summer and fall seasons, the farm itself is quiet, resting and awaiting the dawn of spring. While things may be peaceful in the fields, the Farm Team is super busy preparing for the year ahead. 

Farm Manager Kate Renners says that the team often attends conferences and workshops about sustainable and regenerative agriculture during the winter season, making connections with others in the industry and learning of new findings and practices. Another major task for the winter is crop planning — figuring out field planning, plant quantities, ordering seeds and soil and getting everything in place for planting season. 

For example, plants like Lemon Balm and other members of the Mint family are better equipped to handle the rain-heavy climate at the Farm, so the team takes that into consideration when planning. “We can put those in fields that stay wet longer and may be more prone to flooding or pooling of water in heavy rain storms,” says Renner, adding that they avoid planting plants like Echinacea in wetter regions of the Farm. 

According to Renner, this is a joint project between the Farm Team, supply chain, and Gaia purchasing managers. “I work hand in hand with one of our purchasing managers to determine what they’re able to source outside the farm, what we can grow on the farm makes sense with our climate and soil,” she explains. “We meet a few times to understand … what would impact the farm in a positive manner, as well as everyone in our supply chain.”

Soil health is an important part of crop planning. “We make sure that these crops are planted in fields where they haven’t been planted in the last three years,” explains Renner. “Crop rotation is a huge part of soil health: making sure where we’re placing things is in tune with where they were and the soil characteristics.”

The Farm Team ran 65 soil samples this season, analyzing them for macro- and micro-nutrients and soil structures like sand, clay, and loam. “These different soil structures can impact the ability for a plant to absorb nutrients or for water to flow through a field,” shares Renner. The lab looks at soil chemistry and pH, which is important for plants to absorb nutrients. “If pH is out of range, it may not absorb them.” The team uses these findings to determine which crops could be compatible in each specific soil. 

Other winter tasks include repair and maintenance on farm equipment, from caring for tractors and lawnmowers to sharpening harvesting knives and making sure everything is in working order for the spring. Repairs and maintenance are also done on Farmworker housing, as the housing quarters are regularly inspected by the Division of Labor. 

The Farm Team also does their year-end analysis for an organic documentation and audit in spring, as well as a regenerative audit; these audits primarily cover traceability and transparency.

The fields themselves may be sleeping peacefully, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t growing on the Gaia Farm. The original greenhouse, which was built in the early 2000s, was just renovated and is currently keeping Bacopa toasty warm. Another greenhouse is in the process of being built, and Renner says the foundation is growing stronger each day. The Farm Team will begin seeding plants there soon; everything that needs to be transplanted, like Echinacea, Feverfew, and American Scullcap, will be seeded, as well as veggies for Gaia’s employee vegetable program. 

Despite all the “I love how quiet it is,” says Renner. “It really is a constant reminder that this time of the year is for rest and rebuilding. We still have a lot to do, but it’s on a different scale. The quietness of it all is very peaceful.” See you in the spring, Gaia Farm!