Farming over 100 acres in Maine with Goranson Farm

Q&A

with Jan, Rob, Carl and Goran

Can you share with us a little about your journey?

We are Jan Goranson, Rob Johanson, Carl Johanson, and Goran Johanson. We are multi-generational farmers: Jan's parents started the farm in 1960 as a conventional potato farm. Jan and Rob took over in 1985 when Jan's dad became sick and died from cancer in 1985. Rob and Jan gradually transitioned the farm to a certified organic farm, building one of the first CSAs in Maine and developing the original Free Choice CSA in the 1990s. Now our farm supplies five markets a week in summer, three markets a week in winter, many gleaning groups and food pantries, and a few dozen wholesale accounts. The farm has grown to support our family's three households as well as 20+ of the most all-around talented people in the world who we are lucky to call our employees.

What is your go-to lunch to make at home?

Honestly lunch is usually a hodge-podge of dinner leftovers. Dinner is the main meal we make time to prepare. Growing a huge diversity of crops means we get to eat a huge diversity of meals all year. We love a mixed roast pan in the oven with parsnips, beets, potatoes, and radish. Mash in our house extends beyond potatoes: rutabaga and carrot and parsnip! Of course sweet potatoes are so delicious, roasted in diced chunks on a sheet pan, grated into a hash or stir-fry, or in a soup. We often add local sausage, hamburg, and eggs straight from our farm store. We also draw a lot from our own preserved crops: blanched sweet corn, frozen peppers, tomato sauce, basil pesto, roasted red pepper paste, and frozen STRAWBERRIES. Fresh beets and carrots grated on salad greens with red onion are a crisp treat this time of year. We include a long list of seasonal recipes in our Winter Share boxes every month. 

What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

The roar of the new humidifier in our root crop storage room, the familiar chatter of market customers, vent fans in our seedling germination greenhouses, laughter of our crew sorting roots in the lower barn, gentle bubbling in the sap pans, and the chorus of our family's dogs around the yard. Our crew keeps a great set of playlists pumping in the lower barn this time of year with a lot of David Bowie, Talking Heads, and Gillian Welch. Our delivery vehicles rotate through CDs by Sibylline and The Oshima Brothers, and we are looking forward to the Sylvan Esso concert at Thompson's Point! 

 

What's up with the plants

How do you determine what crops to plant?

We choose our varieties of vegetables based on more than 30 years of growing experience that includes familiarity with our land, our customer base, seed breeders, and our infrastructure. We like to grow food we know our customers will love to eat, that will also produce abundantly based on our specific conditions, and for winter storage crops, keep as long as possible to ensure our year-round supply.

Please share the steps that you are taking this month for seeds and seedlings? 

This month we are seeding many rounds of early spring salad mix crops, taking care of growing tomato seedlings, starting many early field crops like brassicas, herbs, flowers, and alliums, and preparing soil for transplanting. 

 

Dig deep into soil health

What is the texture of your soil? Sandy, rocky, thick and more like clay?

The land we steward is mostly Allagash Fine Sandy Loam, a very special silty ancient riverbottom here on a peninsula at the head of Merrymeeting Bay, between the Kennebec and Eastern Rivers. Less than 2% of the land in Maine is composed of this soil type. Perhaps its most striking quality is that it holds hardly any rocks! After 3+ decades of restoring nutrients and biological health to it through organic practices, a long ley rotation system, carefully tailored cover crop mixes, and reduced tillage, it is extremely fertile and ideally suited for many crops, although it doesn't resist drought as easily as many heavier soil types found in most of Maine. 

How do you organize the garden beds from Winter to Spring on your farm?

These days, we rotate crops through more than 100 acres every year. Our crop plan is a complex coordination between market demands, seasonality, and crop rotation. The most prominent seasonal changes happen in our 10 greenhouses. They'll start to shift from trays of seedlings and winter greens production to our early season plantings of heat-loving crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in late spring. The seedling greenhouses will empty of everything except microgreens and pea shoots, and then fill back up again with curing alliums in August.

Would there be any reason to test your soils for elements? Such as nitrogen, phosphorus abundances or depletions? What would those reasons be?

Yes, every grower large or small needs to know the characteristics of their soil in order to ensure proper crop growth and long-term soil health. We make adjustments to the soil with every new planting via amendments and cover cropping.

How are you preparing for unexpected changes in temperature during the sowing & harvesting periods?

Soil health is key to climate resilience and adaptation, and we've been working on building soil health since 1985. We strive to maintain a high level of organic matter in the soil by using a long rotation system and dense cover crops, which helps mitigate some effects of droughts.

Last year we made an enormous investment in a buried irrigation system that will allow us to get water to our crops more quickly than our former ground-level movable pipe system, which was extremely labor intensive and left some fields without relief due to the time it took to irrigate. Farmers have always been at the mercy of the weather but climate change has added a whole new level of volatile extremes.

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