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“I think it is important that farms can conduct their own trials and research in a practical way"

Nathan Lada is one of the four co-owners of Green Things Farm Collective, a diversified vegetable farm located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The farmers produce an array of fresh market vegetables and cut flowers for CSA memberships, farmers markets, small grocery and small wholesale markets. The bulk of the production takes place in 5 acres of permanent no till/low till, deep mulch bed system from early April to October. The farmers also raise beef cattle and manage 40 acres of woods.

Nathan and his wife Jill started farming in this farm location in 2011, but the farm became what it is now when a longtime employee and two other independent farmers joined them in 2020. Since then, they have managed the farm as a single unit LLC. The farm has been certified organic under the USDA since 2015, and has been Real Organic Project certified since 2020.

At right: Collective Farmers in 2020: Eric Kampe (left the farm in 2022), Hannah Weber, Jill Lada, Nate Lada, Michelle Brosius.

Figuring out plant spacing and densities
"Our primary focus is producing high yielding species and varieties with lots of hand labor," said Nathan. The farm operation employs between 15 to 20 people in the main season with the goal of maximizing production. "It's hard to find information from other growers about their trials on spacing and plant densities, especially for high organic matter, high fertility, and fast turnover bed systems," continued Nathan. When he heard about OFRF's Farmer-Led Trial program from one of his employees, it immediately piqued his interest.

While the farm has done some limited experiments, they do not have comprehensive data to help them determine which row spacings are best for their production practices. Nathan and his colleagues hope that maximizing yield per bed will help the farm increase production without needing to develop new growing spaces. Nathan is excited to see the results and share the outcome of this trial with other growers looking for similar information.

"I think it is important that farms can conduct their own trials and research in a practical way to figure out what will work best under their cultivation systems. Our opportunity to work with OFRF will not only inform us about specific densities to improve production on our farm, but will also hopefully inform a repeatable pathway for us and others to make small improvements to our production based on practical farm based trials that are simple and bring value to the farm," said Nathan Lada.

Farm trial plan
Beets and radishes are the focus of the farm trial because they are among the most produced crops at the farm, being planted in succession every week or every other week during the season. Although the farm already collects yield and some crop quality data per bed, conducting the on-farm trial with OFRF will provide the direct technical support to be more methodical and comprehensive in designing the farm trial, conducting data collection, and drawing trustworthy results.

Preliminary farm trial plans include comparing two crop configurations for one beet variety and two crop configurations for two varieties of radishes for yield and crop marketability. Potential measurements identified include overall yield (bunches per bed, pounds per bed), losses due to undersized or oversized crops, losses to disease, days to maturity, and crop quality.

The farmers have participated in on-farm research in the past, but felt that those trials did not reflect farm working conditions. One goal Nathan expressed was to integrate the trial in their existing production plan, so OFRF is working with Nathan and his team to design an on-farm trial that is both useful and practical for the farm without disrupting their seasonal production. At OFRF, we are excited to be a part of Green Things Farm Collective's journey, and hope that their work will inspire more farmers to conduct research trials on their farms.


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