Episode 34, How to Start an Edible Plant Nursery with Sean Dembrosky
This weeks episode is about how to start your own edible permaculture plant nursery with special guest, Sean Dembrosky of Edible Acres. Edible Acres is a small homestead and plant nursery that Sean runs in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. Today, he shares with us some great tips to getting started or improving our own plant nurseries.
Enjoy the show!
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Levi: could you explain the evolution of your property and your project?
Sean: The property that I started with up here in New York State is not the current place that is now Edible Acres. It was where I farmed from the year 2005 until 2008, I believe. It was where I got my feet wet and started understanding concepts and I think the first real introduction to the concept of permaculture and more important to me, the idea of food forests, was when I happened to take a weekend long course on edible food forests with Dave Jacke. He came to the Nature Center in our area and I haven’t heard of him. I didn’t know anything about it but I had some friends that were going and they said, ‘we think you’d really enjoy it’.
And I was introduced to the concept of permaculture and the idea of guilds and plant relationships and nature pattern mimicry-sort of approaches and I think that really started sending me in a more focused direction of trying to really unravel as well as I could and really understand the relationships that plants have to one another and designing plant systems and ecological systems that actually relate in a thoughtful way. That’s what I had been working on very intensively now for probably about 8 years.
Levi: Great. So that’s one of the main topics that we want to address in this podcast which was, ‘How to start your own permaculture plant nursery’. It sounds like that’s been one of your main focuses. First of all, it would be good to hear what you have. Could you tell us a little bit about your nursery, how it works. Are you selling them or where you get the plants? Those type of questions.
Sean: The name of the nursery is Edible Acres — edibleacres.org. My folks ended up moving to the Finger Lakes area a few years after I bought that first property and they purchased a small home that had 6 vary marginal acres associated with it and I took the opportunity since they were really generous with their space that I was able to develop my nursery on their land. I didn’t have huge financial burdens buying a new piece of property with new infrastructure or building new infrastructure and all that. I had some latitude to really explore the concepts that I wanted to on their property. That’s currently where edible acres is, where it’s been evolving. The synopsis would be– It is a permaculture nursery which is focused almost entirely but not exclusively on edible and medicinal, perennial, super hardy plants. So I seek out plants that are at least hardy to zone 5B as a perennial plant. An ideally hardier to much colder conditions and I feel as though I test the limits of their hardiness and that I don’t offer them any irrigation or really much weed suppression or any protection from predation. The whole system, the entirety of the nursery and the farm itself runs exclusively on collected rain water. Only watered plants with collected rain for the last 8 years with our historic drought this last growing season of 2016. I do have a small area that’s fenced off for plants that I don’t have a lot of or that I’m just getting up to speed but the vast majority of the landscape is exposed to the elements in the wild. I lose a lot of plant material but I also gain a lot of insight and real practical information about what works and what doesn’t. It’s basically one huge experimental facilitated ecosystem that I’m trying to get deeper and deeper into and really understand how to make practical polycultures and guilds and to be able to sell those plants and those patterns and those modalities to people that they can implement where they live, with or without protection from protection from deer, mice with or without irrigation.
Levi: Awesome. So I’m curious about the specific plant because you mentioned 5B. That’s exactly the one
we’re in here (that I am in). Maybe some of your top favorite discoveries for plants.
Sean: I could spend a lot of time. In the herbaceous perennial, some of my absolute favorites– That’s the other thing, too. I don’t consider just a cultivar-named variety as being valuable. I would actually include very readily in my top plants: stinging nettle and Burdock. I don’t really sell a lot of those plants but I try to get people excited about growing those plants out. Those are incredibly reliable, easy to grow plant. Super hardy, super nutrient dense, very resistant to predation and they actually deflect and support other plants in really productive ways. Some of the plants that I sell that are not easily found in the wilds around here that I think are incredibly hardy and very worthwhile: Sea kale is very exciting. Turkish rocket is an incredibly reliable and very hardy perennial, herbaceous edible plant. It’s a perennial broccoli raab. Comfrey, I think most of your listeners would be aware of. That’s a very remarkable and versatile and everyone who grows it knows it a very hardy perennial plant. I like most of, if not all of, the Mentha clan. They have some wonderful attributes. I can go on and on in herbaceous layer but moving up into small shrubs and things along that line. Blackcurrant has been hands down one of the most reliable cropping, fruiting/ medicinal plants for me. It’s one of the most deer resistant and shade tolerant and neglect tolerant plants that I’ve grown. But I love all of the currants. There are some great black cat cultivars out there that I work with. I grow and work with or venture somewhere in the realm of the many hundreds of plants so it’s kind of hard to think through which ones I like the most. I really do have an affinity or sweet spot in heart for all of them.
Levi: Well, I apologize for asking.
Sean: No. It’s fun to challenge my– Basically, I’ll get that question a lot when I’m doing tours or when people are coming to visit and quite often I’ll just look within 10 feet of wherever we’re standing and be able to spend some time pointing out why I love the 20 different plants that are right in front of us.
Levi: So then you kind of describe it as a very– these are super hardy because– I’m curious, too. Are there a number of ones that you thought were gonna be just perfect for your climate and your habitat but they ended up not really working?
Sean: That’s a great question. I have personally found if there’s one basic way to answer that question. I found by and large that the grafted things tend to be the most tenuous because inevitably things will receive some sort of girdling or some sort of die back or some stress from the environment and have the reset button hit on them within the systems that I’m developing. The grafted plants tend to the ones that I worry about when it gets to be negative 25 out or that I worry about when there’s a 3 foot snow load. I wonder what the voles are up to. So I tend to shy away over time from the 25 to 35 dollar grafted specimen. Named grafted American Persimmons or grafted pawpaw or that sort of thing. I’m not against them. I enjoy grafting, I think it’s a fun and novel approach but it does not feel like it overlaps too deeply with the deep long term resilient design arc that I’m trying to pursue.
Levi: I saw in one of your recent videos a hybrid poplar. I was kind of surprised to see that one in there because I’ve only heard negative things about it other than it grows incredibly fast but I’m curious what your application or experience with the plant is.
Sean: I would definitely say as an over-arching theme to most of the plants that I have an affinity towards. Almost all of them would be described as a noxious weed by a good number of people. So hybrid poplar would definitely fall in that category. It’s my reason for being interested in growing it. Fundamentally, the mantra with hybrid poplar is called 30 and 3. That’s the term or the little slogan I’ve heard that within 3 years you can have a 30 foot tall tree. I have experienced that. It’s kind of jaw dropping to see a plant get that big that fast. Anything that can accumulate that much biomass in that fast of a time is valuable in my mind because that’s like the quintessential pioneering species. Even though it’s not high BTU firewood, it’s not rot-resistant structural wood (I’m not trying to mill it and all that) but nutrient cycling and organic matter production is incredibly important. On a degraded site where I’ve got high water table and poor low organic matter clayi soil, if I can have a plant that can produce fungal substrate incredibly quickly and produce broad leaves that protect the soil and feed the macrophages in the soil and spur on life, I’m down with it. I’ve read some interesting articles that even though it’s a low BUT plant, it’s not exclusively just BTU. It is a question of BTU per area per time. If you actually think of all the metrics in their fullness, hybrid poplar can provide a tremendous amount of firewood in the area that it’s in in the time that it takes to generate it. I’m interested in growing it out for rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters and applications where I want long, thin, unsplit wood that can burn quickly once it’s cured.
Levi: Cool. What about mulberries?
Sean: Mulberries are great. I personally have found mulberry doesn’t absolutely love my site. The Edible Acre site is a little bit on the shady side and pretty wet and I have a number of them that grow but they haven’t caught traction the way I would have liked. I’m gonna try and bring on some more seedling trees from a good friend of mine. Akiva Silver he runs a great nursery called twisted tree nursery down in Spencer, New York. He grows seedling mulberries from very hardy older trees that are from our area. There’s another note that I’ll share is that the mulberries that I’ve worked with in the past I bought in from nurseries far away from here. Even though they are technically hardy to this area, their seed origin and their parentage were from Missouri or Kentucky or wherever and with the couple harsh winters we had, a few winters ago, all of those mulberries died on me. So pretty important to source your perennial long-lived plant material from a nursery or source that gets as cold as you get. That was hard lesson and some of those lessons might take up to 5-6 years for you to learn the hard way.
Levi: Someone who might be wanting to start their own permaculture plant nursery, it’s important to find local sources for those species. So what are some other places that you get your plant materials from? Your plant seeds or your cuttings?
Sean: I can speak to where I am. Partially, I would say finding wild sources for things. For example, let’s say you’re in an area that’s ecologically not that different from where I am because that’s basically what I’m really honed into. We have a tremendous number of black walnuts and black cap raspberries and there are huge bands of good hickory production happening around here so asking questions of your neighbors and the farmers in the area and trying to identify the wild things that area more productive or more fruitful or make larger nuts or that wild apple tree in the hedge row of a farm that you pick up your CSA from or things like that. There’s wonderful sources of very hardy, very locally adapted and appropriate nursery stock waiting to be had from where you live and if you just ask the right questions and keep an eye out and have really open dialogue with what you’re looking for. It’s a great way to meet farmers and neighbors and other people that have gardens and things like that. I definitely developed a lot of my plant holdings, the variety that I have, by reaching out to local garden groups and saying ‘I’ll help you weed.’ It’s half tongue in cheek saying, ‘I’ll help you come weed your perennial garden beds and meeting 70 year old women that need some help in their gardens in the fall or in the early spring and getting to know them and learning about their plants and then leaving with excess rhubarb or excess radish or some double flowered bee balm or some really interesting specimen that I didn’t even know about. I would explore and exhaust those opportunities and options first because you get the coupling of spending less money and meeting and connecting and bedding yourself more thoroughly in the community in which you live. Beyond that, I would say looking at nurseries that most importantly have a common zone hardiness to where you are. So even though it’s not exactly super local to me I loved getting nursery stock from Oikos tree cops in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They’re zone 6. Just a little warmer but not that much where I am. I would say if people want they can order plant material from me at Edible Acres. It’s zone 5B hardy or hardier plant material. Twisted tree nursery, my friend Akiva who I mentioned has some wonderful offerings that are hardy to zone 5B, almost 5A. Wherever you’re gonna source your material from make sure you ask what the hardiness is and I think also, very importantly, is ask them what their growing practices are. Is it a nursery that comfortably uses round up extensively or uses brand new pots every year or replaces greenhouse plastic every single year. I would ask about the ethics of where you’re getting your plant material from, not just the plant material itself.
Levi: I’m curious. Specifically sea berry. I’ve had some trouble sourcing those plants and maybe first of all, you could give us a quick summary of what a sea berry is in case people aren’t familiar with that one.
Sean: Sea berry is a really exciting plant. Thank you Ben Falk up in Vermont. I think you interviewed him recently. He is a huge promoter of that plant for a very good reason. Sea berry is one of those plants that’s almost too good to be true sort of plant. Hardy, I believe. Its different reviews but zone 2 perhaps at negative 50 or colder Fahrenheit, it can handle incredibly low organic matter and stressful environments, very raw conditions. It’s a powerful pioneer species, resist deer brows and all sorts of predation issues and then makes fruits that taste very potent. Tangerine grapefruit, it’s a very citrusy tasting little fruit that priors one of the most nutrient dense and medicinally valuable fruits you could every want to eat. A pretty badass plant
Levi: Yum. Sounds good.
Sean: It’s amazing. It’s hard to find. There are named cultivars. It’s a dioecious plant. A pretty important question to be aware of that you’ll want to ask when you’re getting into new perennial plant material is, is it a south fertile plant or do you need both a male and female? Or do you need multiple in order to get pollination? Sea berry is a plant that is dioecious which means there are male and female plants and you need both in order to get fruit.
Levi: do both of them fruit, though? Or just females?
Sean: Just the female. That’s generally a theme. American Persimmon, dioecious. You need a female and a male. You’ll only get fruit on the female. Hardy kiwi, same way, male and females. Sea berry you can find, I guess there like Ricktor’s. I’m pulling a blank on who exactly who carries them. I do know Ben Falk is offering sea berry packages through his whole systems design website. I’m working to ramp up enough numbers that I can offer them through my website as well. As seedlings for now and then once I get the propagation down properly on them, I’ll be able to offer clonal named cultivars of both male and female. But they’re not very easy to propagate clonally. Taking cuttings, they’re a little bit challenging to get to root so a number of us are working on that right now. Very promising, very worthwhile. For what it’s worth, I ‘noticed a sea berry cluster growing in front of an organic CSA farm, stick and stone farm, near Ithaca. A really wonderful, pretty much annual exclusive CSA operation. They serve our area extensively and I talked to the owner, I was like,’ hey, you have some sea berries growing out there. Do you mind if I collect some fruit?’ And she said, ‘yeah, take a couple if you want.’ So I cut one small branch and now I’ve been able to grow out hundreds of little seedlings from that plant. Just another example of being able to source your plant material just by really keeping an eye out and opening that dialogue with folks.
Levi: So did you get to taste them first and decide that you did want to save the seed?
Sean: I’m not an incredibly picky person. If it’s, you know–
Levi: I heard that you actually– I heard in a video that you actually like the highbush cranberries.
Sean: I love highbush cranberries.
Levi: That blows my mind.
Sean: So it’s all about context, my friend. When it is 6 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing and you haven’t direct sunlight for a month, and you’re walking through the woods and you come to a clearing and there’s bright red fruit that is technically edible but taste a little bit like sour milk, you might get on board. If it’s fresh peach season and someone has frozen highbush cranberry, I’ll say ‘thanks but no thanks’. But if I’m doing chainsaw work and my water bottle is frozen solid, I’ll eat highbush cranberry any day of the week.
Levi: I got to give it a shot. Although I don’t even know if it’s going to get negative 6 again this winter here.
Sean: I think that part of it is really appreciating what the plant offers at the right moment for when it wants you to consume it. American persimmon, I think, is a perfect example. Any of those fruits that are picked off of the tree. I guess you’ve had American persimmon before I’m sure, right?
Levi: Yes. I like those.
Sean: They’re wonderful but you have to get them when the tree wants you to have them. You have to shake them off or find them on the ground. The sea berry, if you pick them if they are cosmetically seeming perfect, that they’re perfectly firm and that they’re hard to pop, they’re often so tart they feel like they could be technically inedible. The gush where I collected seed from, that fruit is still frozen on the bush right now. That’s a remarkable attribute. With a lot of fruit, the longer you can wait up until that moment where it’s just a little too far gone and it’s rotten and fallen on the ground, that golden moment before it falls and finally rots away, is sometimes the sweetest moments. I got to try them in mid-October and it drew blood. It was spiky enough to draw blood but it’s amazing.
Levi: Not the berries, but the bush.
Sean: The bush itself. The wild ones are loaded with little spikes but it’s very worth it for the quality. My wife makes an oxamel from them which is where we freeze the stems that have the fruit and then once they’re frozen, you whack them hard on the surface and the fruit falls off. It’s the easier way to harvest. She blends them with a little bit of apple cider vinegar and honey and it makes this neon orange cream that you can cut with water that is just absolutely exquisite and it stays on the table for months and months. I learned that one from Ben Falk. It’s special.
Levi: Awesome. So basically, there’s not a lot of good sources so we’ll have to get on our game of figuring out the propagation there.
Sean: Finding who might be growing them locally or seeking out the fruit or buying a few small number of named cultivars and keeping track of them and working on figuring out propagating them and sharing notes with others.
Levi: So something that I noticed in your videos, because you give these wonderful tours of your place and very descriptive and informative videos on YouTube, one thing I noticed is that you don’t just have one nursery that’s in a rectangle or something. Your plants, your whole place is your nursery and you’ve got tucked all over the place in different little micro climates and different little places. I think it makes a ton of sense so I guess maybe could you describe some of your thought process there?
Sean: It sounds like you watched a couple of videos. That’s really exciting.
Levi: I try to watch most of them. They’re really good.
Sean: A lot of people fie me feedback that they enjoy getting ready to fall asleep to them because I have a soothing voice, they say. I’ll take it as a compliment, though sometimes I wonder. Anyway, part of that idea is that I personally can’t stand interacting with large, open, singly focused areas of crop production. It’s very hard for me. Maybe I have ADD, I don’t know. I have to have context variation in order for me to be engaged and excited so it’s just a natural evolution of who I am as a person to have lots and lots of little gardens tucked in into all these weird nooks and crannies. Some in the sun, some in the shade, some under a walnut, some by a pond and growing out different clusters of plants partially through intuition, partially through research and partially through trial and error. ‘That’s the only one that’s there after four years, let me add other plants that seem like it and see what will work.’ I find that using that basic pattern language as a way to design the nursery and just to interact with plant systems in general, tends to lend itself to systems that are way more independent that I can set in motion with some thought and some design and some intelligence hopefully applied to it and be able to truly detach from them for a while and come back and see what happened. In a massive uniform, flat, tilled open field, I know I have to be there and I have to pay attention. I have to do stuff with all those crops in the blazing sun or in the driving rain. It’s fundamentally not pleasant and it doesn’t move my goals forward of trying to understand how to design myself into what nature would like. So I just simply don’t do it. Probably have more plans than I could but I have a lot more pleasure and I feel like when I’m an older person, I’m more likely to want to be walking through these really complex mixed guilds and harvesting fruit and seeds and cutting and rhizomes and tip layers and runners that are all feeding into my nursery operation but I’m interacting with a jungle of plants that could take it or leave it with that I’m there or not.
Levi: No, I think it makes a ton of sense. How about the nuts? I know you’ve got a nice nut collection and those can be a little tricky to get started. How do you go about propagating your nut trees and what species are you experimenting with.
Sean: I definitely will say before I get into answering that, I would consider myself still very much in the realm of novice with I guess all of this stuff. But also with propagating trees from seeds, I feel like when I’m 70 I’ll answer that question with just a tiny bit more of a sense of authority. I grow a tremendous number of trees from seed. I love growing chestnuts and hazelnuts and walnuts and hickories and oaks. All sorts of beautiful types from seed. There are a number of ways to go about it. The standard that a lot of people use (I’ll share this as a quick note. It’s not exactly what I like to do anymore but it might be an easy thing for other to try) is you collect the nuts or source them from the fall. Ideally from an improved tree or some named variety that you think is exciting, etc. You can store them in zip lock bags with moist peat moss or a clean paper towel in your fridge in a vegetable crisper and keep them there for most of the winter and then put them into pots and grow them under lights for a while and move them outside. That’s what some people do and that’s fine. Pretty much most, if not all nuts, seem to require a cool, moist stratification period which means basically you have to do what nature would do which is the nut falls in the Fall and ideally remains cool and moist through the entire winter. Ideally, some intrepid mammal plants the nut in the ground at the right depth and forgets about it and then it sprouts in the spring. That’s the life cycle that a lot of nut trees will go for. So what I prefer to do if I can is to plant the nuts in the fall in loose, fungal-rich nursery bed. In other words, wood chips and biochar and all sorts of good fertility in those beds. The Gotchya though, is that so many small mammals, mice, squirrels, birds even will really want those nuts as they sprout and I found — I certainly won’t call it a silver bullet but it’s a worthwhile thing to try– is to co-plant nuts with garlic. It’s compatible and that you put the nuts in the ground the same time as you would plant your garlic and you mulch deeply. I think woodchips are a great way to mulch and in the spring, the garlic merges early and the nuts emerge a little later. As long as you don’t have insane squirrel pressure there, the garlic seems to do a good job deflecting from those critters stealing the nuts before they have the chance to really grow.
Levi: That’s a great tip! That’s an issue that I’ve had here trying to get some nuts started. I even put like a fence around them but it’s just like almost everyone got dug up by the little squirrels.
Sean: The other thing to keep in mind is that if you plant nuts out in the early spring, the other thing that some people do will be a five gallon bucket, drill some holes in the bottom, fill it with rotted woodchips most of the way up, put a thick layer of the nut you want to grow eventually and then some wood chips on top. Put a lid that fits tight with also holes drilled in it and bury it in a pile of woodchips for the winter. In the spring, you can take that bucket out and put those nuts in the ground to grow but you’re not out of the woods. AS you’ve probably have noticed, sometimes the little hazelnuts, especially the chestnuts, will be growing for a little while and then a squirrel will come and pull it right out of the ground and eat the sprouted nut and leave the dead tree in the soil surface. So if you don’t have some other protection like a patch of mint or garlic or fencing or something else, one trick is every day for a while as those trees are growing, check to see them being pulled out from the ground and push them right back into the ground as soon as you find them and they might have a chance. I’ve had many a chestnut being able to survive. You just have to catch them within the first, ideally, few hours of that happening.
Levi: So I have a quick side question. I was wondering if you do any, as part of your plant protection, do you do any harvesting of the wild animals.
Sean: Yeah. Meat. I think I was telling you that before we started even recording. We had venison for dinner tonight. That happened to be roadkill. I don’t hunt all that much but I have hunted squirrels, rabbits and deer from Edible Acres and I have a nuisance permit that allows me to do so as I need to.
Levi: Including deer?
Sean: Specifically for deer.
Levi: Oh, cool.
Sean: The DC in our State allows you 3 antlerless deer per season if they are damaging your crops and they certainly are. So I have that option and that’s one way to go about it. I have an actual real sweet spot for squirrels. You’d think they’d be my enemy since I want to grow these nut trees and they’re digging them up but at the end of the day squirrels want to do what I want to do. They want to grow more trees, actually. I’ve watched squirrels in the fall take a fallen black walnut and plant it with a level and care and thought that is kind of mind-blowing. They’ll dig a hole and put the nut and then they’ll take it out and look at it and plant it again. They aren’t just storing the nuts, they’re actually planting future forests. I respect that at a tremendous amount and I’m very happy to actually have some losses in order to support their populations because that’s kind of what it’s all about. So I try to collect more seed than I need for my bottom line and for my goals and I plant more than I think I need or I think that I want for a season and I enjoy observing some losses in trying to understand what it means. Every once in a while it’s actually enjoyable to go out and watch a squirrel pull up a little chestnut tree and eat the swollen seed. I can only imagine how much pleasure they’re getting from that sprouted, delicious chestnut after a long winter. They deserve it, too. I think that’s part of the design that I know I owe nature and I hope others feel like they can owe nature, too. That’s a solid permaculture principle. Fair shares of really legit parts that’s often overlooked that you should grow way more than you actually think you need and kind of enjoy watching wildlife take some of it.
Levi: That’s awesome. That’s cool.
Sean: It’s a lot easier than feeling stressed all the time. I could tell you that much.
Levi: Oh, yeah. For sure. Any other propagation tricks and techniques you wanted to share?
Sean: There’s so much stuff. I would encourage everyone that’s listening to at least explore the ideas of hardwood cutting propagation. It’s one of the easiest and most exciting and rewarding ways to get into propagating. That’s just a matter of taking dormant cuttings. Start with things that are easy. Elderberry and currants and willows, forsythia. Forsythia is not that useful but it’s really rooty so if you want to get your chops up, you can take dormant hardwood cutting in early winter or early spring and stick them in soft soil that’s weed free and let them root and grow for a season and dig them up. It’s very rewarding to get into that. I would just get out there and watch videos or talk to other people. Maybe apprentice or offer some free help to a local nursery and ask about how to start things from seed or take divisions or what it tip-layering? Different things that you might be interested in and build the very simple and very accessible tool set of propagating hardy perennial plants for yourself. You can buy beautiful, interesting new species once or twice and then propagate them out, either to save you money or to be generous with your neighbors with friends and family or to actually earn some money. My nursery operation supports my wife and I which says a lot. I don’t have to seek out other off farm work. We’re able to make our ends meet and have a (certainly not a fancy) comfortable and pleasant, small lifestyle that’s based on the nursery work that’s happening. I think any small farm could include some goals of nursery and propagation and some small plant sales for their bottom line and it’s pretty enjoyable.
Levi: Roughly how much of your clientele is local versus online. I’m just curious.
Sean: Over time, I’m open to and hoping that I sell more and more plant material online. I have a venue where I can do that. People can do on the website and order and I’ll ship in the fall or spring as bare root plants. As it stands, I would say 80-90 percent of my sales are local and the remaining is online. I’m actually very comfortable with that ratio because first and foremost, I do want to remain a locally focused business but as time goes on, bills and things, it’s nice to be able to earn some income especially during the winter or the summer where there’s a little bit less sales happening. The trickle that comes in through the website is pretty helpful so hopefully that grows over time. Maybe folks that listen to this are interested in checking it out. They could see the website and see if there’s any interesting plants they’d like to pick up.
Levi: Yeah. Definitely. So also for the local clientele, is it mostly word of mouth or are you going to farmer’s market or doing any local type of marketing or anything?
Sean: I do the Ithaca Plant Sale each year which is big to do. It’s in mid-May and a lot of regional people come to that so I’ll meet folks that would never hear of me otherwise by doing that event. I found one of the most useful things and this might be an idea for other people that are trying to get their small farm more into their community, I’ve offered workshops at our local cooperative extension or either free or low cost workshops at local venues. Teaching people basics of permaculture or doing an introduction to propagation workshop, etc. those in themselves are not very lucrative but it allows me to interact with and share ideas with new people. I’ll try to have my email list growing in each of those events and then I’ll let people know through the email list when I have local plant sales. So just kind of gently and continually sharing ideas with my community and to their free choice adding them to my email list and then reaching out. That’s grown the business in a way that’s felt slow and steady and very manageable and very cautious and careful which feels reasonable to me.
Levi: Great. So what visions do you have for your nursery and your property looking out into the next 5 or 10 years or even beyond?
Sean: There is this saying, ‘Go big or go home’. My favorite alternative to that is, ‘Go home and stay small’, basically.
Levi: Stay small and stay home.
Sean: Stay home, stay small. That’s my goal for the next 5-10 years or for the rest of my life. I would love to be able to get as many plants that I’m in love with out into as many hands as possible but certainly not at the expense of the quality of life that we currently have which is where we (my wife and I) both work very hard every day. But we work where we live and we have some free time, we have downtime as we feel we need it or as we choose to have it. We don’t have huge obligations or full calendars and all that. So continuing on the trajectory that we’re on and hopefully getting lots of great ideas out to other people to help them feel empowered to grow more food and more medicine where they live in a way that is careful and thoughtful and respectful of the land that they’re on. That would be awesome and getting famous or selling a thousand times more plants is actually really very unappealing. That’s counter for someone that owns a small business but I really trust that I’ll have as much business that I need and I love the idea that every time I sell plants to people, it’s probably the last time I’ll sell those plants to those people because they’re hardy and replicate like crazy. We’ll have to see what the next 5-10 years– I’ll just continue to diversify and hone different skills and hopefully continue to be useful to the community that surrounds me.
Levi: Awesome. Sounds wonderful and I really look forward to keep on watching on YouTube and seeing how it develops. You’ve been putting a lot of videos out recently so fast that I can’t even keep up.
Sean: I check the box on YouTube that says, ‘Go ahead and put ads on videos,’ a little way back and all of a sudden it actually is generating a little– not a lot– but enough money where it’s like, ‘Wait a minute. I should start putting some more videos out. We might be able to earn a little bit of our living from making these videos’. Then in the winter, you’ll notice some marked decrease in videos as soon as the ground starts to really thaw in the spring. For right now, I pump them out while we have half foot of snow on the ground and not much else to do. We’ll just keep making videos and sharing all these ideas with people because it’s really fun. It’s actually a pretty exciting thing to share those videos and get feedback from people. It feels great to do it.
Levi: Well, before we wrap it up is there any final thoughts you wanted to share?
Sean: Anyone that’s listening to this that feels excited to try to get their hands or feet wet or whatever the saying is, cut their teeth (a weird saying), getting into either starting a small nursery for fun and profit or for an interest in propagating more plants, I’m available to chat. If it’s more complex then there’s consultation but I’m really excited to hear from people about what they’re trying to do and be helpful. I feel like I got a lot of help along the way and getting started with the work that I’m doing so if you’re out there and you want to learn how to propagate, reach out and I’ll share whatever notes or whatever leads that I have. I’d love to just know that more and more people are feeling empowered to grow more awesome plants where they live.
Levi: Thanks again. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and get to know a bit, Sean. I’ll certainly be in touch and hopefully we can talk again some time.
Sean: Thanks so much. This is great and fun to do.
Levi: Great. Talk to you later.