Q & A with Farmer Derek

Published on 2016-02-09 in Garden Community

Springfield Community Gardens broke ground on its first community farm in the Tom Watkins neighborhood in fall of 2015 and we are excited to get growing this year! Fassnight Creek Farm’s owner Dan Bigbee is leading the project with the help of SCG’s own, Derek Smith. MTS provided $10,000 in funding for this program. Its purpose is to grow produce for Ozarks Food Harvest (that is in turn shared with volunteers from the Tom Watkins Neighborhood) and to train urban farmers.

Derek earned a degree in Community Planning from Missouri State University in 2014, and began an internship as an Operations Manager with Springfield Community Gardens shortly thereafter. Derek worked at the community gardens throughout the summer, led volunteers and organized garden leader meetings. For the next phase of his training, Derek is working as a farmer apprentice with Dan Bigbee at Fassnight Creek Farms to expand his training into higher yield crop production. These last four months, Derek has been Dan’s right-hand man, working with him side-by-side in order to help build systems at Tom Watkins Community Farm with expertise next spring. Springfield Community Gardens knows that training the next generation of farmers is vital to advancing sustainable agriculture. Derek is our first trained farmer. He will share his expertise with others on the community farm and at the community gardens.

We met with Derek to learn more about his experiences:

Hi Derek,

Why did you decide to become a farmer?

I learned of the importance of urban farms and community gardens in my coursework at MSU. I was intrigued by the idea and decided to volunteer a few times at Urban Roots Farm. An organic year-round farm in downtown Springfield. From that point on, I was hooked. The Millsap’s and their two apprentices at the time, Kevin and Emilee, were great to work with and always pleasant. It just felt right from day one.

Working with the earth in a sustainable way has become increasingly important to me. Equally as important has been a need to serve people in the best way I can. So when I combined the two, I realized learning how to grow food and acquiring the discipline to work hard every day will lead me to teach others how to feed themselves.

For all of us who don’t farm, how is it different from gardening?

The scale of the two is quite different. When I think of gardening, I think of backyards, parks, etc. You grow what you want and need. When I think of farming, I relate it to rows and fields. The scope of the work is much broader.

What do you do over there on Fassnight Farms?

The winter months have consisted of splitting wood and occasionally picking herbs and spinach for local buyers. When I started in late summer of this past year, I picked various vegetables, assisted in the barn where we sell produce, and prepared fields for planting. However, I’ve come to realize that you never know what a day has in store for you at the farm. And I like that quite a bit.

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I feel like I have too many! Being surrounded and a part of the land and all its inhabitants is all I could ask for. It’s a beautiful thing when you get to be around the intricate beauty of what dwells on and within the part of the Earth you are on. Also, working with Dan has been really inspiring.

What’s so inspiring about Dan?

That’s a tough question to answer. I would say because he takes the time to show me how things work. When I ask him questions, he really takes the time to help me understand.

Would you say he’s patient?

Yes. The MOST patient.

So, what’s your least favorite part about farming?

Odd tan lines.

How do you expect to help grow Tom Watkins Community Farm?

By being there every day. My knowledge of produce production won’t be as high as I’d like it to be, but that will come with time. More important than the knowledge of that though, is a good work ethic. And I’d like to think I’m almost where I need to be with that. I also want to help others who are new to farming. Let them know that if you are willing to sweat a little bit, you will be rewarded in many ways.

Do you think you’ll stick with it, or will you go back to Community Planning?

I will be sticking with it for quite some time. I can’t imagine a “job” indoors anymore. But by working with SCG, my community planning degree is being put to good use.

What would you say to anyone who’d like to become a farmer or gardener? Got any tips on how they can get started? Will there be classes at Tom Watkins so people can learn?

Start by getting your hands dirty. Trial and error is the best way to learn. Getting involved at your local community garden is a great way to get started. Once we get things rolling at Tom Watkins, I definitely expect there to be classes and workshops in coordination with SCG. There will be volunteer days every day of the week. We will need all the help we can get.

SCG community garden farmer, Derek Smith, with little helpers at the Midtown Community Garden. SCG community garden farmer, Derek Smith, with little helpers at the Midtown Community Garden.