Seed Farm Spotlight
Interview with Michelle Wagner
By: Joey Marcacci, Summer 2021 Development Intern
Check out our Q&A with the founder of Rise & Root Farm, Michelle Wagner!
When did you start with the Seed Farm?
I started in the summer of 2020 as one of the CSA workshare volunteers. I helped harvest and prep the CSA bags for the CSA program. When I was a volunteer last year, I learned about the incubator Farmer program, and was able to do that this year. I became one of the incubator farmers, so I have leased a fourth of an acre on the Seed Farm property, and I grow vegetables and some flowers on the farm.
Can you describe your experience at the Seed Farm and what your time at the Seed Farm means to you?
The Seed Farm has been so helpful to me. I’ve gardened before but this is my first year of farming and so having the expertise of everyone, using the tools that they have available, being trained in using the tractor, and just learning different sustainable and organic growing methods has been wonderful. Also, having the Seed Farm is something that’s so helpful, I hope to be able to continue and grow a business in the future. Right now, I live in our apartment so hopefully one day I’ll have my own farm, and the Seed Farm has been an incredible place to start and learn and grow.
What got you interested in farming and starting Rising Root?
I originally was exposed to farming and CSA programs communities with agriculture through my previous job. One of our employee wellness programs had a CSA program for employees. I learned a lot about it and got to see how the CSA process worked. I was also just interested in sustainability and learning how to grow my own food. I started gardening, however I really wanted to take it to the next level. Learning how to homestead and start a small business, that was really appealing to me. When I started volunteering at the Seed Farm, I was really excited to just be able to learn more about different crops and farming. Now, I’ve been able to launch my own farm through this program and using this as a time to grow and learn has been awesome.
Can you describe a bit about Rising Root, your general operation, and also where it’s located?
It’s located at the Seed Farm on Seed Firms property. That is the only place I currently grow produce, primarily vegetables and some flowers. It’s kind of just a one-man operation. I have some family and friends who help me out occasionally and I’m just operating off 1/4 of an acre. My operation includes selling produce to the Kellyn Mobile Market. The Kellyn Mobile Market is a really neat local company, and they are working to fight food insecurity. They bring fresh produce to food deserts with an RV they transformed into a mobile farmers market.
What is something you wish people knew about farming and/or starting your own business?
I think it is really valuable to understand local food systems and where our food comes from. Farming is certainly a challenge and is very time consuming but is so rewarding. Regarding starting your own business, I think something that I’ve learned is just how helpful support can be even without spending money. Likes, comments, and shares on social media, getting the word out there about your small business, even if people don’t have the financial means to support you at that time. Those kinds of positive interactions are super helpful and don’t go unnoticed.
What do you like to do when you are not farming?
I have my full-time job at Valley Health Partners Community Health Center which is affiliated with Lehigh Valley Health Network. I work for their Street Medicine team, we provide medical care to individuals experiencing homelessness in the Lehigh Valley. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I also love art and I love to paint. I’ve always enjoyed dancing and I’ve danced my whole life, so I love art in that form as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Rise and Root, tips on starting your own business, or the Seed Farm in general?
Something that was really helpful for me was the training at the Seed Farm. Winter training sessions at the Seed Farm were held on Zoom were super educational and very helpful. I think that all the resources that the Seed Farm has is incredible. I love that they’re affiliated with the Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. I think that the whole organization is doing incredible and necessary work in our communities. I don’t think I would have been able to do this from scratch, on my own, without the resources from the Seed Farm.