Season Reflection from Madison

November 3, 2022

By Madison Aldrich

Farms for the Future
Quail Hill Farm

I started at Quail Hill in 2020 as an apprentice, fascinated with farming and eager to learn, and two years later (just this spring!) I became the Farm Manager. Coming into the season I felt nervous: Quail Hill is an institution and in being part of leadership, I did not take that responsibility lightly. Being an apprentice at QHF and growing up out here in this community gave me a clear picture of how the farm needed to be led. The purpose of the apprenticeship is to create a space where young farmers can develop farm management skills, and I feel honored to have been given the opportunity to see that through at the very place that planted the seed for me.


I view Quail Hill as having three main principles: Community, Education, and Production, each of which supports the other and needs to be nurtured properly. On a “normal” production farm, one’s to-do list for the week may include tasks like weed the carrots, irrigate the lettuce, harvest the beans etc. At Quail Hill, we do all of our production tasks in addition to other education and community-centered projects.

As farm manager, I am constantly faced with the question: How do I make time for all these principles that are equally important to us as the Quail Hill Community?


How does one sacrifice that bed of eggplant that desperately needs to be weeded, for an educational moment in training an apprentice to use the transplanter implement? How do we make time to mow the orchard for the Potluck when the brussels sprouts need to be sown?

These are the types of choices we face throughout the season.

I feel hopeful about the new technologies we are bringing in to help run this farm: We will dial in our Birch Hill water reel irrigation system and invest in a torsion weeder, a super helpful form of mechanical cultivation which will give our staff back time that they may had spent hoeing. Collecting information for crop planning will also help us move through future seasons with confidence.


However, there are only so many ways you can look at challenges on the farm before it comes down to staffing. For us, being understaffed is directly related to lack of affordable housing. This continues to be a problem for us at Quail Hill. We want to grow as much food as we can, as well as we can. We also want to invite as many eaters into our sphere as are interested, all while creating a space for learning and community. But if we can’t solve for housing, we may need to re-assess our scale. We are looking forward and holding onto all the wisdom that this season has offered as we plan for the next.

As the season winds down, I feel tired. There’s a lot to unpack, and I feel overwhelmed in thinking about all the things that we could’ve done differently. But then I remember our triumphs! We are paving the way here in rewriting the narrative on a historically exploitative field. Farm workers can be happy and healthy and have pride in their work. They can learn and be invested in. We can grow an amazing melon crop and go home after work with enough energy and time to enjoy the rest of our lives. These social aspects are all part of a healthy food system that you help support. Overall, we grew a ton of food and fed a bunch of people. 😊


Running the farm is a balancing act, and October has felt like we found balance. Apprentices are learning weekly with educational workshops, were moving through our task lists in a sustainable way and Birch Hill has a lot of food to pick from! It’s especially gratifying for me at this moment because of how well our crew is doing. They’re autonomous in the work and know how to manage themselves. This is what I’ve been working towards this season, and I’m savoring the moment.

I’m still figuring it out, how to uphold all these priorities at once. I feel peaceful knowing the winter holds plenty of time to plan for next.

As the farm manager at Quail Hill, I’ve learned to measure our success not just on how productive and weed-free our fields look, but also on the overall health of the workplace. I want to thank Layton for their mentorship and the ways in which they have supported me. And I want to thank our farm members for a successful season, you’ve supported countless young apprentices but also a now fully realized farm manager.

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