Standing in the kitchen of Ted Wycall’s home — which happens to be upstairs from his “central command center” at Greenbranch Organic Farm, just outside Salisbury — it’s hard not to envy the view.
Picture-windows aplenty frame the rows and rows of vegetables, some just starting out and some ready to be picked. There is everything from arugala to zucchini and most everything in between. There are different varieties of pumpkins, winter and summer squash, many different varieties of potatoes, peas, carrots, beats, scallions, onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet corn, cucumbers, beans, cantaloupes, strawberries, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, bok choy and 30 different varieties of tomatoes.
After majoring in environmental studies at the University of Montana, Wycall moved back to Salisbury, Md., to try to carve out a life for himself. For a few years, he lived in a yurt in the woods on the edge of his grandfather’s land and worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and Eco Hill Outdoor School, as well as for the county parks. That was all before he settled in and started his life as a farmer.
“I had a couple of different careers,” Wycall explained. “I couldn’t find anything locally — all the good-paying jobs were in Annapolis or Baltimore, and I figured I’d rather be poor and live on the farm than make good money and live in Annapolis,” he said, laughing, alluding to the slower pace and different atmosphere of life on this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
He said he always knew he would do something with the environment. Whether that would be to study it or teach it, or use it to grow organic vegetables, it was always known that that was the direction he was headed.
“A scientist, a teacher — it didn’t matter. It just happened that I had the land, so I got into farming,” he said.
Before meeting Jay Martin of Provident Organic Farm in Bellevue, just south of Salisbury, Wycall mistakenly believed a land owner had to have a lot of land to make farming worthwhile.
“I was under the impression you had to have 1,000 or 2,000 acres to make any money farming. And, if you grow corn and soybeans, you do. But, for vegetables, you can have as little as an acre. It doesn’t matter — it just matters what you grow,” he explained.
After meeting and working with Martin, Wycall was inspired to do his own thing. He started construction on his “central command center” last September. And the farm has been raising its crops with organic methods while pursuing organic certification.
This is the second year that Greenbranch Organic Farm has been open for business and their second as a vendor at the Bethany Beach Farmers’ Market. This year, they are a vendor at Fenwick Island’s first farmers’ market as well.
Wycall said they are getting really good at cover-cropping, which he noted is “huge” for soil fertility, erosion prevention and weed control — three hot-button issues in farming, especially organic farming.
“They [soil fertility, erosion prevention and weed control] are half the battle in organic farming. Every farmer should be cover-cropping,” he advised.
Another major focus at Greenbranch is soil tests.
“We soil test every year,” explained Wycall. “You’re farming with a blindfold on if you don’t do a soil test.”
They are also looking into organic no-till methods, where, after the farmer has established the cover crop, they roll it down. The rolling kills the cover crop and then they can plant into that, without tilling the fields. That saves money on diesel fuel and helps maintain organic matter in the soil. This year, they are trying it out, and they hope to have it in place for next year.
For the future, they are planning on getting into grassfed beef and laying hens — two other things that will help with maintenance of soil fertility on the farm.
“Livestock is good for the soil — when done right. When done wrong, it’s really bad,” he said.
“We are trying to make the farm be as closely based on the natural eco-system as possible and be layered as the food chain,” explained Wycall. “And we are always improving upon our farming practices. We are still learning.”
In addition to the education that Wycall is getting as the farmer, he is also giving one to the many Salisbury University students that help out as a labor source in the busy season.
“We have an internship program with SU,” said Wycall. “There’s a huge waiting list. And it’s perfect, because their vacation time overlaps with our busiest season. They are here when we need them, and then they go back when we don’t. It’s awesome. It’s like a farm and a school. They learn while they work here — it’s changed their grocery shopping lives forever!”
Of the four students he had as interns last year, three came back and one started his own farm. This year, they have about eight or nine full-time SU students working on the farm.
For Wycall, though, farming is a year-round, full-time job.
“I wouldn’t have time for another job,” he said. “Especially during the solstice, it demands your full attention.”
Greenbranch Organic Farm is located in Nutter’s Crossroad, outside Salisbury. The “command center” is a brand new barn with an upstairs living area. Sixty acres surround it, 30 of which are tillable.
They saw-milled their own wood from local and sustainably harvested timber, and the house uses many “green” features, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs) and black walnut pine floors that did not need any extra stain. The roof is steel, which will allow Wycall to easily recycle it when its extra-long shelf life is over, and they used passive solar heating when designing the house.
They have no air conditioning. They simply open the windows at night to let in the naturally cool air and keep the windows closed in the daytime. From the kitchen sink on, big picture-windows line up, showing off the farm, with a view of what seems like endless acres of vegetables.
“It’s a great, wonderful experience,” Wycall said of the farming. “There’s no end in sight.”
Greenbranch Organic Farm has a roadside stand and participates in the Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Salisbury farmers’ markets, as well as those in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island. Their roadside stand features a cut-your-own living salad bar. They also provide vegetables to the Provident Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and area restaurants.
For more information, call (443) 783-3495.