Learning how to farm is a life-long endeavor. Even the most experienced farmers are always learning new things—whether they’re trying a new crop, combating an unexpected pest, or adapting to extreme weather.
It’s a journey that continues to inspire Jessica Spiegel of Terra Lingua Growers. “One of the most fascinating things about this line of work is you never stop learning,” she says. “Even if you just grow one crop there’s just a wealth of knowledge you have to get a hold of before you really feel good at it. It’s challenging, but it’s really rewarding and it’s very humbling at the same time.”
Terra Lingua Growers is an independent farm business that leases farmland in Etowah, North Carolina as well as greenhouses in the Smith Mill Works complex in Asheville. They specialize in year-round lettuce production, plus tomatoes and other vegetables that they sell at farmers markets, small grocery stores, and through their CSA.
The Terra Lingua greenhouses were a popular stop on ASAP’s Farm Tour last year, and their outdoor fields in Etowah will be open to the public on this year’s tour in June.
Jessica Spiegel started Terra Lingua Growers about three years ago, but she wasn’t new to farming. “Before I started my own business, I managed a farm and greenhouse in Alaska,” she says. “It was the northernmost hydroponic production greenhouse in the country.”
The farm in Alaska grew lettuce and tomatoes year-round, but there was still a lot to learn when Jessica moved to Western North Carolina to start her own farm.
“Anytime you go from one climate to another it’s just a whole different range of pest and pathogens, just environmental issues that you’re dealing with,” she says. “So of course transitioning from Alaska to here was a huge challenge, but we’re getting it and then every year is a little different—we had a couple of very, very wet years.”
While this spring has been mostly hot and dry, many farms experienced flooding last year due to intense rainstorms in the region. The rain affected many local farms and prompted some farms to adapt their growing practices, including Terra Lingua.
“We had a rough year last year for sure,” she says. “We lost a lot, but this year and we’ve kind of moved around some of our plots and changed where they are so that we’re a little more out of the area that gets very saturated when it rains a lot.”
The farm started growing vegetables up a nearby hillside instead of down in the bottomland, giving them an advantage if rain storms return this year. Jessica believes smaller farms that grow a variety of products are more adaptable than large farms that specialize in one crop in one location.
“I think I’m lucky because we have a highly intensive small acreage farm and we have the ability to move our plots up the hill if we need to, but big farms can’t go anywhere,” she says.
Jessica will share this kind of knowledge and much more on ASAP’s Farm Tour in June. She will give tours of the outdoor farm in Etowah and talk about how she’s grown the business since she participated in last year’s Farm Tour.
“[Farm Tour] was a lot of fun, a lot of great support, a lot of really cool interest and interesting questions,” she says. “It’s really fun to share these stories about how we are adapting how we have learned over the last few years and how we’ve changed.”
“It’s also really awesome to be able to share with people that we are a new farm, essentially. It’s our third year and we want to show what’s possible, even during that short period of time, how we haven’t gone into massive debt,” she adds. “We’ve just worked really hard.”
This year on Farm Tour, Jessica wants to share the lessons she’s learned, and help inform the public about the realities of starting a farm.
“I think a lot of people know intuitively, obviously that it’s hard work. No one would deny that farming is hard work, but I think the humbling aspect of it might be something people overlook. I continually run into issues where I feel like I should know the answer and I don’t. When you speak with a lot of growers everyone feels that way, and to be able to share that with the public, just how it’s this constant learning opportunity I think is very fascinating to be able to share with people,” she says.
Meet Jessica Spiegel from Terra Lingua Growers and many other farmers on ASAP’s 2019 Farm Tour. It’s scheduled for June 22-23 at farms throughout Western North Carolina. More information and a list of participating farms can be found at https://asapconnections.org/events/asaps-farm-tour/