Valerie Garcia became interested in farming while studying nutrition in college. She was driven by a desire to know the origins of food that sustains us. She wanted to actually grow nutritious food, so she started a small home garden from seed. With that first bountiful garden she was hooked. Working as an intern at the Rodale Institute she has learned more from organic gardening to soil biology. She is excited because the Seed Farm Program offers a place to expand her knowledge and get hands-on experience in production, marketing and business management as well as tractor and farm equipment training. Valerie says, “I hope to be a part of the local, organic, and sustainable movement by starting my own market garden and continuing to do what I love to do—grow and provide good, nutritious food to the local community!”
From her early high school start reading Bon Appetite and making apple pies at sleep-overs, Jennie Merkel has always been interested in food. When she and her husband moved to their first house; eating perfectly ripe, super sweet strawberries still warm from the sun in her new backyard inspired her to start her first garden. And, like anyone who’s ever been serious about gardening, that initial garden grew and grew. Finally Jennie and her husband decided to move to their new house, where Jennie is starting her first year running Merkel Mountain Farm. She has a small mixed vegetable CSA, as well as a flock of laying hens, and a flock of broilers. Jennie is taking everything she learns at the Seed Farm and putting it to use immediately on her own farm. In the future she hopes to expand her CSA and maybe start a small flock of sheep.
Jason Slipp is a Instructional Technologist at Lehigh University. Since completing his Master’s degree in Environmental Policy Design focusing on urban food systems, Jason has worked to start multiple community gardens. He currently manages small-scale organic farming projects and the Lehigh University Community Garden. Jason’s dream is to operate a small scale farm selling directly to urban schools and businesses.
With four years of gardening and nursery experience at a family-owned landscaping business Judy Zarach wants to start a small-farm business. Her love of nature started as a child with mushrooms and berry picking in the forest and long walks in botanical gardens. Hiking the forests evolved to stewardship of trails and employment at a family-owned farm growing landscaping plants. At the Seed Farm, she looks forward to learning the farm business as well as organic vegetable production. She hopes to join the Seed Farm Stewardship Program next year and grow vegetables for a wholesale market. Diversification with a farmers market will keep the business in the black. She is looking forward to learning the farm business as well as production ends, from farm logo and land options to tractor time.
Marguerite Viola moved to the area with her partner this year to pursue their farm dream. With 16 years of organic gardening experience she is ready to look at the nitty gritty of starting a farm business, from financing to scaling up production. Their dream is to start a small vegetable farm specializing in garlic, tomatoes and basil in order to supply their wood oven pizza company as well as a small CSA.
Christopher Akinwuntan - Newark, NJ
I am interested in The Seed Farm program due to the fact that I love farming. I have more than 25 years of farming experince. I obtained a Bsc degree in Fisheries Technology and a Certificate in General Agriculture. In Nigeria, before coming to the USA eight years ago, I farmed rice, corn, vegetables, soybeans, watermelon, and groundnuts. I also had a fish pond; reared goats, sheep, and pigs; and had a snailry pen. I am presently a social worker but want do what I love doing - I WANT TO BE A FARMER.
Blake Unis - Allentown, PA
I currently reside in the West Side of Allentown. I was born in Allentown and spent most of my life in the Lehigh Valley. I have always respected the resident people’s appreciation of the local agricultural community. I desire to become part of this continuing relationship between the community and its farmers by becoming a knowledgeable steward of the land. After graduating from college, I went to work with Steve and Gayle Ganser at Eagle Point Farm. I was fortunate to have such great bosses, as well as mentors during my first full growing season. I look forward to farming with them again in addition to working at the Seed Farm. I felt sincerely fortunate that The Seed Farm selected me as an apprentice for the upcoming growing season. I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity presented to me in order to become a truly productive steward of the land.
Ken Dikeman - Emmaus, PA
Ken Dikeman was born and raised in the Lehigh Valley. After attending Penn State, he spent a few years in New York and New Jersey before returning home to the Valley. Ken worked in chemical engineering for too many years before deciding a career change was essential. Ken’s motivation to become a farmer is based upon his desire to live a healthy and sustainable lifestyle and teach his 6 children how to live in so too. Having raised herbs organically for over 20 years, in recent years he expanded to organic vegetables and just this season added fruit trees as well. The animal menagerie living on Ken’s farm includes Boer/La Mancha goats, heritage Cayuga ducks, heritage Old English geese, and heritage Dominique chickens. He plans on starting a CSA this spring in order to help others live healthily and sustainably.
Victoria Ligon- Havre de Grace, MD
Growing up my father taught me the value of having a kitchen garden to grow fresh vegetables during the summer. We composted everything we could from our kitchen and had beautiful black dirt wriggling with worms at the end of the season. This is where my fascination for farming started, in my backyard. I went to school for photography in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and fell in love with the local food movement there. That is where I had my first experience with Farmer’s Markets and buying fresh from the farmer. Recently I met my husband and with both shared a passion for nature. We want to have more involvement in stewarding the land by developing our own sustainable farm and joining the fresh local food movement. I was very excited to join the Seed Farm’s apprenticeship program to get more hands on experience and put the knowledge I have read in books to practical use. Upon completion of this apprenticeship, my husband and I hope to start our sustainable farm in Southern PA.
DeVida McKevitt - Philadelphia, PA
DeVida was the General Manager of the Merriam Theater for the last fifteen years. She became a Master Gardener in Philadelphia County in January 2011. She is currently the chair of two Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens in Philadelphia (vegetable and butterfly). DeVida wants to grow old growing vegetables, raising a few chickens, goats and rabbits.