With effortless grace and care, Marina Michahelles leans over a bed of dahlias and cosmos, eyes scanning for weeds amidst this web of summer hues. This is Marina’s seventh season running Shoving Leopard Farm in Barrytown, where she grows vegetables, to support 30 CSA shares, and a seven-ringed labyrinth of over 35 varieties of cut flowers.
About her two acres of cultivated land, Marina says: “I like to call it a garden, but it’s a little bigger, so I call it a farmden.”
Marina has created a farm size that she can manageably work by herself. “I know that I can get it done on my own and earn enough from just that,” she says. However, this year, she has help from one part-time farm-hand and a handful of work-trade CSA (community supported agriculture) members, including one who specializes in vermin control—creating elaborate “scarecrow” creatures to dissuade woodchucks and deer from feasting in the garden.
Marina is an inspiring, grounded buzz of energy and information; a bio major, she is full of knowledge about soil science and plant nutrition—practices that she has studied, cultivated, and brought to application in growing vegetables and flowers.
But it is a constant thirst for greater knowledge, like incorporating permaculture into the garden, that motivates her in her work. This year she is putting in permanent raised beds throughout the garden, and laying drip irrigation—her first time irrigating in her seven years of farming. “It was a mental block,” she says. “It seemed like a big scary thing… it takes me time to get the courage up.” But, she adds, “assembling the irrigation system turns out to be a fun little puzzle.”
Her farming roots can be traced back to her grandfather, who grew wheat in Italy. When Marina was 12 years old, she recalls, she helped her uncle on her grandfather’s farm, and remembers studying why her uncle would select some wheat seeds to save for the following planting instead of others. Her farming career came to life when she was a 10th grade high school student farming at the Mountain School in Vershire, Vermont. That’s when she fell in love with small-scale organic farming. She later apprenticed at or worked on six different farms before beginning Shoving Leopard on her family’s land at Rokeby.
The modest scale at which Marina farms allows her the “ease of accommodating friends and volunteers” into the daily workings of the farm, so she can “invite people to come help me.” A farm set up for drop-in help “validates the whole thing—the point of having it at this scale is so that people can join in. Projects are do-able in 2-3 hours, and so enjoyable with company,” she says.
With the farm such an inviting size, along with Marina’s contagiously kind and spirited energy, she has formed a strong community around food and flowers—with a number of CSA members being part of the farm since the beginning.
The flowers add a striking vitality to the garden—this beautiful maze of varieties and colors pulls you into the center, where the bounty of summer surrounds you. Additionally, Marina hopes that boosting the sale of her flowers, which are more lucrative per acre than vegetables, will allow her to earn a bit more income.
But even so, her heart is in growing vegetables to be eaten by friends and neighbors. “Interactions are much more satisfying through food,” she notes.
To find out more information about Shoving Leopard CSA, visit www.superiorconcept.org/shovingleopard. You can buy a bouquet of Marina’s flowers at the Saugerties Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 10-2. For a relaxing adventure, wander through the flower labyrinth on the farm — 845 River Road, Barrytown, directly north of Poet’s Walk — to pick your own bouquet, open Tuesday through Sunday during daylight hours. Marina adds, “I love to see people walk out of the garden with bouquets that I couldn’t make—each one beautiful in their individuality.”