After interning on a farm following her college graduation, Chloe Diegel spent the better part of the last decade around farming and food. With husband Alex McKiernan by her side, and 5-month-old Nina securely strapped to dad's chest, the Diegel/McKiernan clan isn't your typical farm family. But they are a shining example of a new breed: the small organic family farm.
(Scroll down for an audio slideshow about Alex and Chloe's food life)
Chloe: "With our age and generation there's definitely a resurgence of people interested in small-scale organics, but on a commercial level. It's not just a garden. A lot of people are really trying to make their living doing this. It's something different than just a hobby."
What they grow
On rented land from Sunwest Farms, northeast of Lincoln, their farm, called Robinette, grows more than 80 varieties of vegetables. They distribute their vegetables through a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program, to nearly 65 families each week and also to local restaurants. You can catch them weekly at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market.
With the first year of Robinette Farms almost under their belt, they've leased new land near Sprague with a farmhouse and increased acreage and room to grow. Plans for next year include finally relocating their cattle and adding pigs, chickens, honeybees and interns.
Sunday: Old Cheney Road Farmers Market from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (through Nov. 7).
Monday: "Day off" that usually turns into fieldwork and projects around the farm.
Tuesday: Harvest day for restaurants and CSA, deliver to restaurants.
Wednesday: Finish harvesting, pack all the boxes, distribute CSA from 4-7.
Thursday: Field day, weeding, planting and other projects.
Friday: Deliver to restaurants.
Saturday: Harvesting for Old Cheney Road Farmers Market on Sunday.
Even after the heavy rains that preceded the unforgiving heat this summer, Robinette still met its goals in CSA shares and even exceeded its goal for average weekly sales at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market.
Alex: "Any farm has challenges every year with soil and weather and pests. I think, all in all, we've done a really good job being that this is our first year."
Chloe: "Being on new land, being new parents."
Alex: "We have a new baby. That's a lot of learning all at once."
Nina on the farm
Literally a bundle of joy, 5-month-old Nina spends a good part of her day nestled against Mom or Dad.
Chloe: "Alex and I kind of consider ourselves one and a quarter people maybe one and a half, because she's with us all the time."
Alex: "We wear her. We have a wrap that allows us to work while she's with us. She's out there every day, in the weather. She's got a hat or long sleeves or a raincoat over her."
After passing on using their own last names and deciding to avoid words related to the organic movement that may be regulated in the future, they named the farm after the maiden name of Chloe's mother.
"It was unique and interesting and different and easy to spell. Which is useful," says Alex. "Chloe's mom has sisters and her dad was an only child, so the name Robinette isn't going past their generation. We thought it was kind of a neat way to have the family name carry on."
The future of farming?
Chloe: "I think in the grand scheme of things there's room for everybody. We still need people growing grains and corn and beans and wheat. But I think there is kind of a national pull that's finally making its way to the middle of the country to reconnect people with everyday food people consume, like meat and cheeses, vegetables and breads."
Alex: "I think one thing people really want is to know where their food comes from. We still need large-scale commodity farms growing all sorts of things, but you don't sell commodity corn or wheat directly to who's going to be consuming it. There's a lot of room for smaller, not necessarily organic, but smaller farms that sell directly to consumers, to grow into.
Chloe: "Truly what we do doesn't take that much acreage. It's kind of a lifestyle. The requirement typically is someplace to live with a little bit of acreage and a decent amount of water.
"And you can grow a lot, a lot of food on one acre and feed a lot of people."
Know someone living the Food Life? Send your suggestions, questions or comments to Erin Duerr to firstname.lastname@example.org.