Rachel Hershberger and Ben Hartman own and operate Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, IN. Both graduated from Goshen College, and Ben is the author of The Lean Farm and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables. The farm hires three part-time staff. We employ lean thinking to earn our living working 35 hours per week.
Clay Bottom Farm is a 1/2 acre farm located inside city limits of Goshen, IN. All of the farm's food is sold within 1.5 miles from where it is grown.
Clay Bottom Farm specializes in chef-quality tomatoes and spring mix, and also produces a range of other crops using compost-based soil management.
Meet the farmers! Rachel Hershberger grew up in town but her family had a huge garden and canned a lot. Ben Hartman grew up on a 450-acre corn and soybean farm and started his first CSA the summer after graduating from high school. We both grew up Mennonite. We met at Goshen College, where we graduated with liberal arts degrees, and we were married in 2003.
After college we worked for four seasons at Sustainable Greens, an organic farm in southern Michigan that supplied high-end Chicago restaurants with petit arugula, pencil-thin carrots, and other gourmet produce. We started our own farm shortly afterwards and opened our booth at the Goshen Farmers Market in 2006.
We have two sons who delight us, inspire us, and motivate us to be efficient with our time.
We don't farm alone. We have three employees and a few interns every season. Taiichi Ohno at Toyota once said, "Workers come to Toyota to think, not build cars." We agree with that approach. Farm work should engage the whole person, not just your hands. We encourage workers to share their ideas with us, and they have helped us innovate many systems.
We live and work out of a barnhouse constructed partly from corncrib lumber salvaged from the farm where Ben grew up.
We are an urban farm. Our farm is set on the north edge of Goshen, inside city limits. Most of our food is sold to six Goshen chefs and the rest is sold at the Goshen Farmers Market. We use a 34' x 148' greenhouse--heated to 25F in the winters--to produce our food year-round.
We use a 3-step low-till method:
1. Pull out the previous crop.
2. Loosen the soil with forks or chisel plow (only if needed, for example, ahead of carrots).
3. Apply 2" of compost per year.
We leave the compost on the surface, instead of tilling it in, and plant directly into it. With this method there are fewer weeds and soil fertility is consistently high. It is also faster than plowing and tilling.
We use intensive growing methods so that every square inch is used: when one crop is removed we re-plant quickly. We call the practice Kanban farming, a term borrowed from lean manufacturing.
How we make our compost: Compost is the engine that drives our farm. Just as we aim for hyper-local selling, we want our inputs to be local, too. We make our compost in four steps:
1. Collect carbon from as close to home as possible: spent microbrewery grains, leaves, grass clippings, and poultry manure. The more diversity the better. No more than 1/3 should be fresh manure or greens.
2. Build a heap about 9' wide x 6' tall x 50' long (basically, as big as we can make it).
3. Turn only one or two times (with a skid loader). As long as there were no weeds in the raw materials, there is no need for a hot compost heap and lots of turns.
4. Manage the moisture. We cover with Compostex cover to shed snow and spring rains, and we water the heap in summer. The goal is "medium" moisture content.
Paper pot transplanting. We helped pioneer the use of the Japanese paper pot transplant method in the US. Plants are grown in paper chains, which unravel as the transplanter is pulled along, transplanting 264 seedlings in 40 seconds.
We transplant the following crops in paper pots: green beans, basil, turnips, beets, head lettuce, romaine, and green onions. Many crops, like hakurei turnips, grow well with 3 or 4 seeds per cell.
Paper pots are permitted for organic use in the US but not in Canada or the UK. However, a hemp fiber chain is under development with the goal of passing organic requirements globally.
We recommend trying the tool if you are currently transplanting more than 2,000 plugs per year.Learn more with our Lean Farm Startup Guides
Our best-selling crop is our seasonal spring mix. Here is our specific recipe:
SUMMER: Muir, Salanova red and green sweet crisp, Rubygo, Verigo, Frisygo. These all grow as heads, transplanted with the paper pot transplanter 6" apart, and then harvested with a Farmers Friend greens harvester.
SPRING/FALL: Dane, Spritzer, Mizuna, Pensacola. These are direct-seeded with a Jang seeder, rows 5" apart, F-24 roller, sprockets 11 front, 10 rear.
WINTER: Mizuna, Miz America, Tokyo bekana, Red Cloud, Gazelle spinach (spinach is 1/2 of the mix, and we sell it separately as well). These are direct-seeded same as above and grow on 5'-wide beds, directly into compost, in a tunnel heated to 25F (see photo).
With salad greens, the right packaging is key to sales. Demand for the products shown at left is high, especially from local farms. We brand with the word LOCAL whenever we can--it is a "sticky" word, and sets our fresher product apart. These are 5 oz flat-lidded clamshell containers from Polar Pak, with labels designed and printed locally. QR and bar codes, and sell-by stickers, make the products shelf-ready for retail stores.
Our second best-selling crop is tomatoes. We seed every 2 weeks starting January 15 through April 15 to ensure a long harvest.
Our best-selling multi-colored tomatoes to our high-end restaurants: Margold, Marnero, Lucinda (all pictured right)
Other heirloom-type hybrids: Marvori, Pink Wonder, Big Brandy, Cherokee Carbon, Darkstar, Genuwine, Damsel
Our best red slicer: BHN-589
Our best yellow slicer: BHN-871
Our greenhouse cherry tomato mix: Sakura, Clementine, Mountain Magic
Our field cherry tomato mix: Citrine, Red/Bronze Torch
To determine what to grow (and what not to grow) for customers, we fill out a "value sheet" with each chef every winter. The sheet is simple. It asks "What do you want? When do you want it? How much?" We get precise answers and then design our farm year around the answers.
We use three trellising methods with tomatoes, seen in this image. On the left in the photo are indeterminates growing with two leaders, each trained to grow up a twine (we usually twist the plant tips instead of using clips). Once the leaders reach the cross-tie, we lower more twine from the spool and lean the plants over. We "lean and lower" each plant three times each season. We keep our cross-ties at 7 1/2' from the ground so that we can lean and lower without having to use ladders. We grow a maximum of 300 row-feet using this method. We don't have time to tend more than that.
Next are semi-determinates (like the BHN series) and cherry tomatoes growing between 10' EMT conduit stakes. The conduit gets zip-tied to the cross-ties. Look closely and you see twine woven between stakes, holding up the plants. Two plants grow between each stake. We twine every 12-18".
On the right are determinate tomatoes grown with white oak stakes every two plants. For these we also weave twine to support the plants.
We prune all tomatoes 1' off the floor for air circulation, and the indeterminates are further pruned to maintain just two leaders. The lettuce growing between tomatoes rows will be removed in time for tomato harvest.
In 2019 we started growing hemp (cannabis with less than .3% THC). We add 36"-wide beds of no-till hemp into our existing vegetable rotations, with 6' between plants. From a botanical perspective, cannabis is the most incredible crop we have ever grown: its biomass production outpaces any other crop; and it is aromatic, beautiful, and incredibly utilitarian--as a medicine, high-protein food, and fiber. We sell CBD tinctures at the Goshen Farmers Market and through the Maple City Market in Goshen, IN. We developed a course that teaches through 18 video lessons how to grow great hemp on a small scale.Learn more about our hemp course
Bok choi: Joi choi
Pea shoots: Austrian field peas
Microgreens: Radishes, red mizuna, Tokyo bekana
Red beets: Red Ace
Golden beets: Touchtone gold
Head lettuce: Muir, Hampton
Kale: Black magic, Winterbor, Mamba
Green beans: Jade
Fennel bulb: Orazio
Rhubarb: Canadian red
Pink ginger: Big Kahuna
Edamame: Beer friend
Summer squash: Dunja
Sugar snap peas: Super sugar snap
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