As temperatures drop in the Monadnock Region, and winter sets in, Jenna and Tyler Rich of Partners’ Gardens LLC have just wrapped up a project that has transformed their entire business, and in turn, their lives.
Six years ago, Jenna and Tyler’s lives were drastically different. Both living in Chicago, Tyler worked in the theatre world, while Jenna worked in the business world. Shortly after meeting, they decided to try something new. Both Jenna and Tyler moved to North Carolina for a year-long farm internship program at Full Sun Farm. They had every intention to move back to Chicago at the close of the program, but while immersing themselves in the farming world, they decided to continue their journey and move to Tyler’s hometown of Nelson, New Hampshire.
In 2017, Partners’ Gardens was born on the land that Tyler’s parents had cared for, for almost 30 years. Partners’ Gardens operates as a market garden style farm with under a half-acre in production and is transitioning to fully no-till techniques with the goal of as minimal soil disturbance as possible. In three years, the couple has shifted from selling produce to friends, to selling at a local farmer’s market and restaurants throughout the Monadnock Region.
In three years, Jenna and Tyler have learned how to make the most out of their space by interplanting crops and experimenting on the farm to face recent challenges of pests, deer, and handling rainfall on sloped land. To preserve soil health, they plant cover crops and use mostly hand tools, with the occasional use of a walk behind BCS tractor. Jenna and Tyler have gotten creative in addressing these challenges, by creating trap crops to protect their market crops, planting crops to deter deer such as alliums, utilizing insect netting, and even vacuuming squash bugs.
Despite these challenges, Jenna and Tyler are committed to this work now more than ever. During the initial days of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Jenna and Tyler noted how the local food movement offered support and inspiration. During the pandemic, the community became more interested in who was growing their food, and where it came from. Tyler said,
“I feel that there is not much more important for our local community than to be able to grow for our community something that is nutrient dense and delicious.”
Jenna and Tyler deeply appreciate the community, as well as their partnerships with local restaurants. To bring food to restaurants, and then see it on the plates is an incredible thing.
When Jenna and Tyler first got involved in the Monadnock Region food system and farming community, they met Amanda Littleton, Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD)’s District Manager. Through Amanda, Jenna and Tyler first heard of the Monadnock Food Co-Op (MFC) Farm Fund. The local grant opportunity is a a partnership between Cheshire County Conservation District and the Monadnock Food Co-Op. The fund's mission is to support local farmers in increasing sustainable food production and wholesale sales to contribute to a thriving local farm economy.
Through the encouragement of Amanda, Jenna and Tyler decided to apply for the grant. Although they did not receive funding the first time they applied, they took a year to re-think the application and develop a detailed project plan. During this time, they attended the MFC informational sessions, and researched farms across the country. Jenna and Tyler received funding in the 2021 grant cycle for a passive solar propagation house project.
Partners' Gardens passive solar propagation house during construction.
Jenna and Tyler first learned about passive solar propagation houses during their time in North Carolina. Jenna and Tyler set out to become less reliant on the use of propane in their greenhouse, as propane is a fossil fuel. Constructing a passive solar propagation house was a great fit to promote environmental sustainability on their farm.
Prior to their passive solar propagation house, Jenna and Tyler had a greenhouse built from pvc pipe. For the past three years, Jenna and Tyler have started their crops in their house and would move them back and forth from their high tunnel and greenhouse when temperatures dropped at night. This was not an ideal system by any means. It took up time, but also was not ideal for plant health to go from inside at night and back to the greenhouse during the day, but it got them by in their first three years.
Tyler explained that a typical greenhouse has no insulation, it requires fairly constant heat at night when temperatures drop, and that can require a lot of propane. The passive solar propagation house still requires minimal heating, but it is insulated on three sides.
The south side glazing of the house has polycarbonate panels that are at a 50-degree angle. This angle captures the sun all day long, which warms up the propagation house. The propagation house itself sits on a concrete slab which also acts as a heat sink. Inside the house’s north back wall, large water barrels also heat up from the sun’s warmth. The propagation house ventilates through vents and exhaust fans as the temperature increases during the day. As night falls and the water begins to cool, it releases that stored heat the water barrels and concrete are holding into the air, all which is then captured within the insulated building. Due to the insulation, any additional heat source that is used is minimal, and the building retains the heat much longer.
Tyler stands in front of the completed passive solar propagation house.
This cycle of heat capture and retention minimizes energy costs, energy usage, and allows Jenna and Tyler to confidently grow crops for their business. It's a win for their wallet, and a win for the environment, by utilizing less propane, electricity, and minimizing waste by having a durable and permanent structure.
Tyler and Jenna noted that the Monadnock Food Co-op Farm Fund has changed their lives. If they had funded the solar propagation project on their own, it would have been a multi-year process of saving and slowly building, Tyler said,
“To be able to do this all in one go because of the financial assistance we received from this grant, which is from the community…we all put our dollars into this if we shop at the Monadnock Food Co-op and round up, it has allowed us to change our business from the end of one year to the start of the next which is in a farming season overnight. It has allowed us to change our business overnight, essentially. We're extremely grateful for that community support because that's huge.”
“What the CCCD does in connection with the Co-op in particular, it’s such a game changer for a small farm.”
Jenna and Tyler stand in front of the completed project holding the Monadnock Food Co-op Farm Fund banner which reads, "Supporting Our Local Farmers".
Moving forward Jenna and Tyler plan to expand to two new fields and utilize two different no till techniques on those fields. One field is fully no till and currently covered in cover crop, while the other is covered with seedless hay, mulch, leaves, and compost and tarped for the winter. Jenna and Tyler are excited to plant into those fields in the spring.
This winter, Jenna and Tyler will be in the first cohort of CCCD’s new business course for NH specialty crop producers, which is being hosted in partnership with NCAT and The Hannah Grime’s Center. Jenna and Tyler have also been taking a farming course through Neversink Farm, and are excited to learn more about their business, and expand to more direct sales in the future, rather than the CSA model.
Jenna and Tyler encourage that the best way for community members to get involved is to start by going to any local farmers markets, and support locally owned businesses as well. By supporting local restaurants, you’re also supporting farmers that local restaurants buy from. Jenna and Tyler also encourage interested community members to volunteer. They noted that it's a great way to learn more about where your vegetables come from, and to lend a hand.
Jenna and Tyler encourage interested community members to read their blog which explores their stories on the farm, sign up for their newsletter to stay in the loop about what is growing and available for purchase at the farm, and to follow them on social media as well. To learn more about Partners’ Gardens, read their blog, and sign up for their newsletter, visit: https://partnersgardens.com/. Partners’ Gardens can be found on Instagram: @partnersgardens
The Monadnock Food Co-op Farm Fund, now in its sixth year, is accepting applications from farmers of Cheshire County and abutting New Hampshire towns through February 1, 2022. Learn more and apply here: https://www.cheshireconservation.org/farm-fund
CCCD is looking for interested community members for our monthly community member spotlight! Share about a current or past conservation related project or program that CCCD supported or introduced you to!
As part of the community spotlight, CCCD will share your story in our newsletter, press release, and social media. It is a great way to gain exposure and share your work! Community Member Spotlight participants can choose to write a short blog post, or conduct a short interview over the phone or zoom!
Interested? Email Benée Hershon at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail at 603-756-2988 x3011!