Hi! I’m Ms. Marlena Bolin, farmer and sole proprietor of Girl Next Door Farm! I am a forth 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.
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.
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.
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 ancient 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 pictured my great grandma having the strength to farm. I knew I could do it 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.
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 wholesale 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…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 at that! See you then!
Well, 2012 was a 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!
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:
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 all the plants out there are my babies. It’s true. The farm is my pride and joy. Here is the article:
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 varieties. 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.