Q&A with market gardener and author Pam Dawling

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Market Gardening practitioner, Pam Dawling

Today we’re visiting with Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Pam was born and raised in England and moved to the U.S. when she was 39.

“In England I lived as part of rural intentional communities, and I heard about Twin Oaks in Virginia,” Pam says. “I came to visit and stayed. I’ve been drawn to growing vegetables since I was 20. Since I moved to Twin Oaks I’ve been able to make it my main work.”

Why did you write this book and how is it different from what was already available?

sustainable market farming Pam: I had gathered a lot of information to help us with our gardens, and the ring binders were getting cumbersome. Twin Oaks was looking for proposals from members on new income-earning projects. (I did overestimate the income-earning potential!) I was already established as a writer with Growing for Market magazine, and I’d done some infosheets for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. I thought I could sort my store of information into book form and if it didn’t sell it would at least be useful to the garden crew here. There was a shortage of books about growing vegetables in the south, especially at the small farm scale. Recent books had been focused on going organic, or buying land, or running a CSA, or looking at the business side of farming. There hadn’t been a new book about actually growing food for quite a while.

Should someone attempt a market garden if they have no experience with backyard gardening?

Well, never say never! Someone drawn to market gardening with no experience could go as an intern at a few different farms over a couple of seasons. Or they could grow a small garden first. I don’t think they should sink blood, sweat and tears into a commercial operation with zero knowledge. No, that would be a mistake!

What’s your favorite vegetable for market gardening and why?

I’ve been on a mission to produce lettuce year round in Virginia. It’s been challenging and satisfying to succeed.

What is the toughest vegetable to grow for market, and what’s your secret to do it?

In our climate, and at our latitude, bulb onions are very hard. We’re too far south to grow hard onions, the pungent storers. The day-length is all wrong. I found we could grow good bulb onions by starting them in the ground in the hoophouse in November, and then setting out the bare-root transplants early in March. But they’re not storers, so we don’t want to grow too many.

Is there something that more market gardeners should be doing?

Take one hour a week to work on your own (no helpers!) on a work project that isn’t urgent, but you really want to do.

Or is there something that you think more market gardeners will be doing in the future?

No doubt about it – working to be more resilient in the face of climate change. I recommend Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate by Laura Lengnick.

If you want to see our review of Pam’s book, click here.

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