Meet The Farmer

HISTORY

                        Hi!  I’m Ms. Marlena Bolin, farmer and sole proprietor of Girl Next Door Farm!  I am a fifth year farmer, inspired by a dream of self-sufficiency, health and environmental advocacy, and a lifestyle similar to many an ancestor.  I was born and raised in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky.  But I do have some agricultural roots… My father grew up on a 2100 acre farm with his parents, and grandparents in French Lick, Indiana.  My mama grew up in St. Matthews and Jeffersontown, Kentucky.

My great grandparents, Goldie and William Bolin owned the Castle Knoll Farm in French Lick, Indiana; Orange County.  It was a dairy and hog operation with some row crops.  William’s parents, Philomena and Bennett Bolin, my great great grandparents, farmed out in Brooks, Kentucky; Bullitt County.  Actually, Philomena and her many children ran the farm operation, while Ben worked in a Louisville factory after his military service.

My great, great grandparents on my mom’s side were Stumlers out of Indiana.  They are cousins to the Hubers.  They both had farm operations.  The Stumlers went on to have a family restaurant and the Huber’s have a vegetable and orchard operation, with a restaurant, winery and farm store.  My grandma, Alene Stumler (maiden name), learned about food preservation from her mother, Mary Ann Stumler, who had a diverse backyard garden.

Though I was not raised on a farm myself, I was drawn to the idea of growing my own food and feeding myself.  I value having a skill, craft, or trade.   I was lucky to have family that taught me the value of hard work, independence, and a green thumb.  I believe these to be the foundation of my farming principles: stewardship, discipline, self-sufficiency, and a sense of duty.

SCHOOL

I studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Louisville, graduating in 2005.  I went on to work in the legal field after college, in hopes of pursuing environmental law, but after four years I still hadn’t found my niche.  I loved natural landscapes and eating, and set out to enrich my life through the incorporation of these interests. What I learned changed my career path.

            Meanwhile, I was experiencing some health problems which were a direct result of my food choices.  I call this time frame my Quest for Health.  My doctor suggested I start eating organic/chemical-free, plant-based whole foods and discontinue eating processed and conventionally raised or grown products.  I was in a position to take the advice.  This got me started on the road to wellness, though it was a dietary transition not an overnight matter.

VOLUNTEER WORKIMG_0267IMG_0220

            I began doing volunteer work for two local non-profit organizations: The Community Farm Alliance and EarthSave Louisville.  This involvement was supportive to my diet and lifestyle change, and very educational with regard to current issues surrounding food, nutrition, land and agriculture.  I was introduced to the negative effects of an industrialized food system.  I learned of eroded and nutrient depleted soils and crops, health and land devastations related to monoculture, CAFO’s, GMO’s,  chemical pesticides, antibiotics, steroids, hormones and other ‘additives’ in our diet and food production.
I also learned of a counter movement taking place among concerned citizens, farmers, advocates, etc. in effort to restore balance within our food system.  It suggests local initiatives to generate a profound effect on local economies across the state, country, and globe.  These have and are taking the shape of:  small family farm operations, tenant farming, farm internships, urban farming, community gardening, Farmer’s Markets, Community Supported Agriculture, Farm to School programs, The Healthy Hometown Movement, the Slow Food Movement, Stone Soup events, educational potlucks, conferences, Buy Local campaigns, local food distributors, and countless other locally owned businesses and non-profit organizations sharing information, raising awareness, creating opportunity, and buying local.   The momentum is growing in Kentucky for a sovereign, local food economy.

THE INTERNSHIP & JOB (2009-2010)

             I had a strong desire to participate in this movement well beyond what my volunteer efforts had allowed for.  Upon my lap fell a farm internship opportunity at Field Day Family Farm with Farmer, Ivor Chodkowski.  Like many an intern before me, I moved into that old farm house on the Oxmoor property with three other ladies.  What a year!   Being that I’m a legend in my own mind, I saw the transition from office to farm as something like this:  Power, money, prestige, and security to being a trusted servant, living on faith, room and partial board, and a humble stipend.

            The first month was hard; quite possibly the biggest mistake of my life.  My spirits were at an all time low and feelings of inadequacy high.  What a learning curve and physical adjustment.  No more dry climate controlled conditions.  No more chair, desk, or internet access.  It was all field, all day.  Come rain or shine, 102 degrees or 29.  My mantra became, “If she can do it, I can do it.”  I thought of my great grandmother having to endure the farm.  I knew I could, too.

            I’m such a glutton for punishment; I stayed on for another season as an employee.  In my tenure, we raised chickens, hogs, and lots of chemical-free fruits and veggies!  The work became more enjoyable and I began to catch on.  On average, we had a crew of 6-8 and we farmed 6-8 acres.  We worked the Bardstown Road Farmer’s Market every Saturday, and sold wholesale to many others.

IMG_0226YEAR ONE (2011)

            I moved out to the La Grange property that year – 2010.  We built a 60ft x 6ft x 9ft low tech green/hoop house out of rebar, reinforcing fence, plastic, and hard labor!  My neighbor plowed my field that fall and disked the spring of 2011.  A kind soul loaned me the use of his 1958 Massie Ferguson Tractor, from March until September, which literally allowed me to begin my own farming business.  Special thanks!

            In 2011, I was a committed vendor at the Rainbow Blossom Farmer’s Market on Lexington Road in Louisville, KY each Sunday from May-October.  I sold my produce to various local buyers including Harvest Restaurant, The Root Cellar, Fox Hollow Farm Store, and Grasshoppers Distribution.

            The first season seemed totally experimental.  It was interesting, challenging, uncertain, empowering, frustrating, and rewarding.  Two and a half feet of spring rain stunted all my early crops; an incorrect potting soil Ph level burned 3 rounds of transplants; then the heat advisory for two months with a drought sure made for a nervous first season!  As a saving grace, it was an amazing fall.  I have learned much about the lay of the land, the soil composition, timing, scale, discipline, humility, and faith.

It has been a great first season overall.  I am very thankful for the opportunity to farm and for all the people that have helped me along the way.  I am welcoming the much needed rest of the winter, but am looking forward to doing it again next year all the same.  And doing it better!

YEAR TWO (2012)

 Well, 2012 was another great year!  I felt more organized, confident, and competent.  I was given the opportunity to be an alternate vendor at the prestigious Beargrass Christian Church Farmer’s Market.   My crop sales nearly doubled from last year, and I bought a nice, new compact Tractor – a L3200 series Kubota with a front loader to be exact.   My big ego wanted a full-sized Massie Ferguson but, my little pocket book could only afford the Kubota!

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Spring was strange.  We had 80 degree weather in March.  Needless to say that had its pros and cons.  We then went right into the worst drought on record that summer.   And, although I had my irrigation in place and was relatively unaffected, I ran water around the clock!  I was interviewed about the impacts of the drought on agriculture.   It was good to have some media love!  Here is the link: http://www.whas11.com/news/local/Heat-lack-of-rain-taking-toll-on-local-farmer-162628796.html.

I also had the privilege of being featured in an article entitled, “Reap What you Sow,” for an online publication called Manner and Lane: A Southern Lifestyle Guide for Women.  In it, I mention feelings of being married to the farm, and a sense that I baby my plants as if they were kin.  It’s true. The farm is my pride and joy.  Here is the article: http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/ u=26a54ad5355b1d4aa78489567&id=889f383eae&e=30dc615b1c.

Another noteworthy mention goes to my tomatoes.  I had some of the most beautiful tomatoes you ever did see!  I grew a variety  of seed that was passed down by my Great Grandpa Bolin called a Pink German.  I also grew Cherokee Purple, Striped German, and Brandywine Heirloom IMG_0015varieties.  My largest tomato this year was just over 2lbs!  Proud, proud, proud.  Naturally, I canned tomatoes like a mad woman.  Most excitingly, I got my License to Operate and sell my canned and dried goods at the Farmer’s Market and through CSA.  In addition to tomatoes, I canned: chili paste, green beans, applesauce, pears, pickled beets, and sun-dried tomatoes.  It’s good to have some shelf stable food reserves!

Lastly, I must share my gratitude for the CSA program participants, with a special thanks to the work-share members.  Farming is a gamble.  And it takes a solid group of people committed to the work and committed to eating seasonally and responsibly to restore local food networks. The work-share is rewarding because you begin to see skill development and a true sense of satisfaction among members.  A feeling that they are understanding farming as a system and not just a novelty.   I’m really looking forward to new and renewing members this upcoming year.   It’s a honor to have so many supportive Kentuckians in my corner!  Here is an editorial from one of them: Editorial in Mkt Newsletter 2012.

YEAR THREE (2013)

Another year passed and I’ve found that each one is filled with its own set of challenges and opportunities.  This spring I lost 80% of my transplants to a fungus that caused them to “dampen off” after germination.  The germination was spotty but, once established the area at the base of the stem appeared to be pinched, thereby killing the plant.   What caused this?

A) The cold, damp spring and hoophouse conditions.  My hoophouse is not a greenhouse.  It doesn’t heat, ventilate, or provide airflow – unless the ends are open.  Solution: position fans inward at both ends of the hoophouse creating circulation and, add a heat source.  I used kerosene.  I also built a “Germination Chamber” that was able to control the soil and air temperature more than the hoophouse could.  This allowed for quicker germination and stronger sprouts.  Next year, I may lease space at a local nursery and forget about it.

The germinator B) Unsanitized reusable plastic plug trays.  Reusable trays must be sanitized properly or they can develop fungal spores over the winter.  Wash, rinse, and sanitize with a 10-1 bleach solution to kill any potential spores.  

C) Potting mix.  I’ve traditionally bought my own ingredients and mixed it proportionally from scratch.  I was advised to trust  a premixed soil that contained a natural anti-fungal agent.  So far, so good.  Lesson learned. 

Next, I participated in the UK’s plasticulture program.  They provided the bed shaper/mulch layer, plastic mulch, and drip tape.  The mulch retains heat and moisture, suppresses weeds, and increases yields.  We laid down 18 beds.   There were many lessons here as well.   It was difficult to lay and difficult to lift but my potato and tomato yields were amazing.  As a part of the program I was required to keep diligent records which, in the long run, really helped me determine my true cost of production.  And because the plastic was so thin and the scale in which I used was so small, its ecological impact was minimal.   Win-win.

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IMG_0231 Lastly, I participated in KSU’s grant program and bought a big, beautiful box that we converted into a cooler.  This has impacted my production in wonderful ways.  One, it keeps food at proper storage temperatures thereby preserving its’ integrity and safety.  And two, it saves on labor so that we can harvest and deliver more efficiently.

It’s been a very productive year!  I feel very blessed to continue to serve the community and to see the farm’s progress.  Thanks for your support Kentucky!

 

9 Responses to “Meet The Farmer”

  1. Kim Plafcan March 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Marlena,
    Congrats on getting your website up and running – its a great site and I particularly like your “meet the farmer” tab. Your history is colorful and your passion for clean, chemical free food and farming shines through. When can we expect our first box from your CSA? My family is excited about being able to eat the fruits of your labor this year!
    Best,
    Kim

  2. ruth d. marshall June 9, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    Dear Marlena, how nice to read about you in the Courier today. I think that I had seen your name in a previous article, but this led me to your website. I enjoyed reading about your family and have had a connection with them ever since Grandfather Bill owned the factory in downtown West Baden before moving to Castle Knoll along with Goldie and Pete and Alice and the kids. I hold fond memories of all of them and still see Pete and Sis at times. In fact, I have met Mike and Mary and their girls and just recently, Pete came to Paoli to my daughter’s wedding reception. Grandpa Bill was my dad, Bob Dickey’s, best friend for many years. I hold your family in high regard and wish you the best in your venture. Sincerely, Ruth Dickey Marshall, West Baden Springs.

    • girlnextdoorfarm January 16, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

      I hope this wasn’t my first response back to you, Ruth. I’m a little slow at website navigation. It is really nice to hear from you, having ties with my family from so long ago. Thanks for reaching out to me and saying hello, it means a lot to me. I wish I would’ve know Grandpa, and could’ve visited the farm and factory before they moved south. So the photos and stories is all I have. I’d love to hear any memories or stories you may have. Have a great 2013. Love, Marlena.

  3. Thomas Mueller April 1, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    I found this website from my sporadic visit to kybisonco.com via The Root Cellar website. One barrier to my greater interest in local fruits and vegetables is the CSA. Getting a bundle of fruits and vegetables of the farmer’s choosing or depending on what crops are more productive, rather than my own needs, is not suitable for many people, myself included. Indeed, I am strongly allergic to fruits and vegetables of genus Solanum including potatoes (worst), eggplant, and, less severely, tomatoes; very limited tolerance of hot peppers (Capsicum genus).

    • girlnextdoorfarm April 12, 2013 at 2:38 am #

      Hey Thomas,
      I love the Ron and the Root Cellar. Farmer’s Market shopping is another fantastic way to support the local farmer. CSA isn’t for everyone as you expressed. Customization isn’t part of the traditional CSA model, however, I try to be flexible with individual needs. If you were interested in my program I would be comfortable allowing you to pick out your selection of vegetables at the farmer’s market rather than the preportioned items at the csa site. I can email you a subscription form if you are interested. I also just created an online payment option thru paypal rather than submitting a personal check. Let me know if this interests you. I think you would be pleased with the variety of veggies at my table. :)

  4. Lisa Hartung June 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    Marlena, I met you at the St. Matthew’s Farmers Market last year and LOVED your fresh beets. Will you be at that market again this year? If so, I’d like to get a larger quantity of beets from you for canning pickled beets. Please let me know! Lisa

    • girlnextdoorfarm June 20, 2013 at 2:15 am #

      Hello! Thanks for finding me! Beets are in season … I’m only an alternate this year at Beargrass in St. Matthews. Can you make over to Rainbow Blossom on Lexington Rd (in St. Matthews) on Sundays? This is my primary market. Did you want the beet greens or just the root? Please email directly at marlenabolin@yahoo.com or give me a call to preorder at 502-550-4109. Thanks for thinking of me, Lisa.

  5. Bill Young April 8, 2014 at 3:38 am #

    Very interesting biography. Keep it up young lady.

  6. chefmariasgreekdeli August 29, 2014 at 3:37 am #

    I love your story. It pretty much resembles mine the only difference is the field;.I am in the restaurant business, you are in the farming. Congratulations. The world needs more women like you.

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