Dave Sullivan has been farming for over 14 years, yet he says he’s just now reaching his stride. At the young age of 35, Dave finds himself at the center of a thriving farm that pushes the boundaries of tradition. In its tenth year of production, Sweet Leaf Farm markets over 1 million pounds of produce annually.
With less than 22 acres in cultivation, it’s quite a feat, even in what he calls the farm’s protected “banana belt” along the Willamette River.
Dave credits much of his farm’s success to the combined backgrounds and experiences of the people he has worked with over the years. He has spent significant time learning about season extension techniques that allow Sweet Leaf to be at farmers’ markets earlier and continue producing later than many other area farms. Through trial and error and a willingness to take chances, Dave has finally found “a pretty good recipe” for making things work at Sweet Leaf. They mix old-school traditional methods with modern day appropriate technology all the while paying attention to what’s cutting edge in the world of organic growing methods. He says the farm’s biggest success is the great crew of people who work together to pull it all off while remaining productive, happy, and relatively balanced. It is still farm work after all.
Sweet Leaf Farm grows a full spread of mixed vegetables as well as strawberries, a variety of melons, and brilliant tomatoes. Almost two acres are cultivated in hoophouses, one of the season extension techniques that has proved so rewarding. Dave credits this year’s crop of deliciously satisfying and huge onions to a field with low weed pressure, high soil fertility, drip tape, and plain-old good onion weather. Which is a good example of a recipe that blends the old with the new.
Dave likes his career as a farmer because he finds he is constantly developing his skills and talents to meet the needs of the farm. “It’s not just about growing veggies. I have to be part electrician, part carpenter, part businessman. I love it. It’s a tangible way to be a positive part of community.”
Sweet Leaf Farm brings vegetables to two other Portland area farmers’ markets and three in Eugene. They also sell direct to small groceries and restaurants in the Eugene area. The Hollywood Farmers’ Market is one of Dave’s favorites. He likes the neighborhood, appreciates the loyal customers, and loves that dogs can come to market with their humans. “It’s a great market community.”
Changes ahead for Sweet Leaf Farm include a new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to begin in 2009 and Organic Certification. Sweet Leaf will be offering CSA shares of weekly boxes of farm-fresh vegetables from May to Thanksgiving of next year. If enough people sign-up, the Hollywood Farmers’ Market will be a pick-up location. The farm has also been undergoing the lengthy process of Organic Certification with Oregon Tilth since the beginning of the season. Dave expects the farm to be certified by the end of fall, so keep an eye out for that development as well.
Sweet Leaf Farm will be at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market through the rest of the season, which ends November 22nd. Stock up now on squash, onions, and garlic to last through the winter. This weekend, Sweet Leaf Farm will have boxes upon boxes of tomatoes, so capture the flavor of summer while it lasts!