Terra Sorenson drove up in a golf cart wearing pigtails and a dirty off-white newsboy cap. Today is CSA harvest day. It’s 8:30 in the morning and she along with her business partners Matthew Hall and Max Brummond already have a thick coat of soil caked to their arms and legs.
“Hi,” she said popping out of the cart to shake my hand before unloading armfuls of dark, red Chioggia and Detroit Dark beets onto a makeshift farm stand table. “It’s nice to meet you.”
In a few short hours Rhizosphere Farm CSA members will arrive to pick up stacks of Montovano fennel, bunches of beets, tri-colored Dragon carrots, Tendercrisp celery, Crimson Forest onions and Bintje potatoes. The food is as glorious as the art of harvesting is humble. The trio spent the morning hunched over in near-100 degree weather to unearth one vegetable at a time, shaking dirt from produce, washing it and making it presentable for the buyer. The work is difficult, but something about it speaks to them.
“Working this way with the rhythms of nature. Working with plants, soil, air, does wonders for me physically and mentally,” said Terra. She acknowledges she’s the kind of person who spent much of her life bouncing from one job to the next. Many of her roles, if viewed in isolation, might seem random, but when framed in the context of her life today it’s obvious each was a stepping stone to building her life as a farmer.
Rhizosphere Farm was founded just inside of Waterloo, Neb., in 2009. The farm is sustaining itself, but not without the sacrifice of health insurance for all three owners, and the extra work of seasonal jobs, tending bar or helping customers at Trader Joes. The trio leases the land from several people with the hope of owning their own someday.
“A lot of people choose a name based on location, but when Matthew and I decided to farm we didn’t even have land at the time. Rhizosphere is that top layer of soil where the roots get their nutrients. It’s where all the magic happens. It seemed like a good idea to pay homage to that layer of soil,” she said.
Her love for agriculture grew slowly from experiences as a Peace Corp Worker in Mali. It was there that she first realized a community could feed itself without the use of chemicals and survive. Her desire to effect social change continued when she took on the role of community activist in Oregon. From there she assumed the role that put all the pieces of her life together from a career and personal perspective – an apprentice at Horton Road Organics, a farm 45 minutes outside Eugene. It’s where she met Matthew and they gained a hands-on education in delivery mechanisms, and green house and field management. Terra soon realized her social ideals could come to fruition through farming.
“There is such a difference in your food when it is grown in your backyard or by your neighbor. It is so nourishing and tastes so much better than getting something from miles and miles away,” Terra said. “The people who are drawn to local and organic food see that and are making a difference. We have CSA members who have families, the people at market, the chefs – we have this triumvirate of people who eat the food that we grow. It’s very inspiring.”
As we walked the farm Matthew and Max were wrist deep in dirt, digging up and shaking out potato plants. It’s apparent by their efforts to dodge our photographer that they are comfortable letting Terra serve as the face and voice of the farm, but it’s also apparent that each partner has a role in making the 2.5 acre farm a success. Max, who spent the last two years working with the couple, officially joined as a partner this season. He is passionate about foraging, which helps to diversify the products offered by Rhizosphere, especially in the sparser parts of the season. Although each person has a specialty, Terra highlighted Matthew and Max’s ability to problem solve and innovate, essential skills in farm life where each year brings new challenges. If a problem is identified they will find a farmer’s solution for it.
An ongoing debate among politicians, families and farmers large and small involves the price of food. It’s one problem the Rhizosphere team hasn’t quite solved.
“The price of growing food is still high. An ongoing dialogue is needed,” explained Terra. “People look at food and say, ‘Wow that’s expensive.’ If you realize what it takes to actually grow it you might not think so.”
It’s difficult to argue the price of beets when standing in the field. As morning came to a close and the sun began to burn brighter, Terra hopped into her golf cart and drove to the back acre. She had eggplant and Swiss chard to tend.
Rhizosphere Farm is located just outside of Omaha, in Waterloo, Neb., 3650 N. 252nd St., 402.779.3127, www.rhizospherefarm.com