Ross DeOtte is the type of guy who loves to play in the dirt. He works at Harvest, an agriculture-focused neighborhood developed by Hillwood on the historic Faught Farm in Argyle. Here, it’s all about farming, with private gardening plots for residents, weekly farmers markets and a 2-acre community farm on-site — and DeOtte, 27, is the on-site farmer.
He spends his days tending to crops while also teaching kids planting techniques in hopes of raising a new generation of farmers. So, what’s it like being a millennial farmer? Let’s ask Farmer Ross.
Q. What first got you into gardening?
A. When I was 10 years of age or so, I became aware of the possibility of growing plants. There was a fascination in seeing the growth of it. I dug up my mom’s backyard planting flowers I had purchased. I had no mentor or internet, so I was uneducated on how to care for them. Thus, they quickly died. I had many gardens to varying successes throughout my teens and early 20s.
Q. What’s growing in your garden right now?
A. I have lots of cherry tomatoes, carrots, beets, and a lettuce mix.
Q. You play classical music in the Harvest greenhouse. Why is that?
A. There have been many studies conducted since the 1960s correlating classical music exposure and the robustness of plants. These plants are living. They are made of cells and atoms. They have a vibration. Classical music, too, has a vibration which seems to resonate with the plants to produce more efficient growth.
Q. What are some of the most unusual things you’ve ever planted?
A. Grafting fruit trees is an interesting process. Hmm...a banana tree was unique.
Q. You do a lot of work with kids. How do you bridge the gap between the concept of farming and kids who want to play on iPads all day?
A. I don’t find kids who want to play on iPads all day. The kids who attend my classes are excited to be there. Some are shy while others are more overt, but there is a spark in each one of them. I was a kid once and still have a part of me who remembers what it is like to be a child — uninhibited and curious. That’s what kids are at their core; they are eager and natural learners. With some of the little ones, it does require patience, as their attention span is very short, comparatively. I just get excited with them for playing in dirt, or seeing a ladybug, or whatever they are into. It’s not so much about teaching those little ones, just being there with them in the garden.
The bigger kids [9-12] continually amaze me with their level of sophistication. They are incredibly bright. Many of them have prior gardening knowledge. For them, it is about building on what they know and giving them the hands-on experience to build their confidence that they too can garden.
Q. Big question: What does modern farming look like?
A. This is a great question, as our nation’s food supply paradigm is in a major shift currently. The majority of “modern farms” are far from the “family farm with a red barn and a cow named Daisy” image we are offered in a children’s book. They are very large corporations using the land in a very factory-like way. They have thousands of acres growing one crop, they use synthetic fertilizers and potent pesticides, and Godzilla-sized machinery. This is how the vast majority of agriculture is done in the country.
At Harvest, we have a much different vision for the potential of our ecosystem. The residents move there because Harvest is focused on living inside a bigger picture that we call humanity. In that, the process of growing our food becomes an important factor for our health, our children’s health, and our planet’s health for the next seven generations.
Accordingly, we focus on supporting local agriculture. Many residents grow herbs, vegetables, fruit trees in a garden box or in their backyard. They grow with organic fertilizers and compost. They use organic pesticides like Neem Oil. They diversify what they grow and trade and share their produce with neighbors.
What they can’t grow, they purchase from local retailers who buy from farmers and ranchers who prioritize these healthful practices mentioned. We have a farmers market here every Saturday, so it’s easy for them to get almost everything they need.
So, while this “local model” is still not the majority of America, it is how we are promoting “modern farming” at Harvest and what I believe will be the future for our nation as more people are waking up to the importance of such living.
Q. Any planting tips for us?
A. Be excited to learn, and enjoy it. The internet is a great resource. Also, make friends with someone who has experience gardening.
1. Bag of vegetables. Fresh from the farm.
2. Knife. Ross bought this deer antler knife from “a guy on the side of the road.”
3. Backpack sprayer. Ross uses this to spray neem oil, which keep bugs off the plants, and Mayan MicroZyme, a fertilizer.
4. Hat. Ross wears his hat on especially sunny days.
5. Stereo. For playing classical music to the plants. But Ross recently got a new Bose system, which means the old stereo is going into retirement.
6. A seeder, for digging holes and depositing seeds, and a shovel, because every farmer needs a shovel.