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May 2013 Feature Article

Sol Harvest Farm:  The greens behind Farm & Table


Aimee and Ric at Sol Harvest Farm

Photo courtesy of Milou Andolin. Farmer Ric & Aimee in the greenhouse (2012).

Abq Academy student volunteers at the farm

Albuquerque Academy student volunteers helping on the farm (2013).

Intern Maria Sandoval at the wash station

Intern, Maria Sandoval, at the wash station (2013).  

It's been just over a year now since Farmer Ric Murphy, his significant other, Aimee Conlee, and many friends and family stood in the field behind the soon-to-be Farm & Table restaurant, surveying the two acres, and making plans. Though not much time has passed, so much has changed!

Today, well-established greens are just inside the Sol Harvest Farm greenhouse, growing many pounds of produce for the booming Farm & Table restaurant, plus a harvest box membership, a farm stand, and a farmers' market!

Learn more about the year-long partnership from Farmer Ric and Cherie Montoya Austin, owner of Farm & Table.


Farm & Table:  Cherie Montoya Austin

In her own words

Chef Jaye and Cherie

Chef Jaye (left) and Cherie (right) discuss preparations for the evening's special "Beer Dinner".

What was most important to you in considering who would farm the 1.5 acre parcel that Sol Harvest currently has in production?

Number one:  willing (laughs). Having someone who shares a philosophy of community and embraces the opportunities that come out of it. Farming year round is important, yes. We're not too pushy about '˜X number of pounds'. We're flexible. We knew there's a strong community piece and wanted someone to embrace community events, etc., and to share the spotlight. One of my main jobs is shining the spotlight. We're making it work, together.

We had a full year before the restaurant was open. We were still working on the community events and linkages, like Local Food Day. Ric is amazing. He just naturally goes there. Like, recently, he had [40 volunteer students from] the Albuquerque Academy out. He has organized volunteer days and tours. Personality is important, too--a good match--since we work so closely. I think of him as "the meditative farmer":  steady, steady, steady.

What has made the partnership between the farm and the restaurant so successful in year 1?

Regular meetings, every week. Farmer Ric hears about the restaurant, and we get to know about the farm. He works with Chef Jaye. We push the envelope in terms of "Hey, can you grow this?" and most of the time, it's worked.

What guidance would you give other restaurateurs considering a similar venture?

Accept the extra work as a wonderful challenge and consider it opening doors instead. We change the paradigm and ask, "How can we grow local and support farmers?" With flexible, seasonal menus that support farmers. It's a really cool challenge. We tell people about the reality [of sourcing local food] and they're actually supportive. For example, when we no longer have tomatoes on the salads because there was an early freeze. Or when Kaiser Farms, who supplies our pork belly, was running low, we took it off the menu for a time, and some people were disappointed. But we sold the pork belly in the first place because we asked Kaiser Farm, "What part of the pig isn't selling?", and it was pork belly. We went through so much of it that we had to switch over to something else. So we had ribs with a great apricot barbeque sauce. We're educating customers, and then they get it.

How does your restaurant staff engage with the farm? Or, what does it look like--on a daily basis--having the farm behind the restaurant?

We are in contact every single day. Even on his day off, Ric shows up. Chef Jaye, last weekend, got permission to go out during the brunch shift to get a pound of greens--amazing! The diners get to see it, too, but they sometimes don't entirely understand it--that we actually use produce from that field right there, or that we can't get all of our produce from there, either.

What's new for Farm & Table in 2013?

Ric's working on a new greenhouse for a higher volume of winter vegetables for the restaurant. We don't want to always try to scale up. We want to maintain and improve. We have no plans on expanding. We just work hard on what we have and fine tune.

My background is non-profit. We want to be good stewards of the land and of our customers. So we fine tune instead of getting ahead of ourselves. We have a community focus, and we're becoming more consistent with the monthly special dinners. We'll bring Shakespeare out to the field in partnership with the Vortex Theatre.

What are your aspirations for the farm to restaurant relationship?

We're both being very conscientious and methodical. Imagining the potential is so exciting, and we know there's room to grow.

We've had a lot of dialogue with Lloyd Kreitzer, the Fig Man. So fig trees, other fruit trees, and grapes.

Anything else you'd like to mention?

My dad has a genuine passion for farming and taking care of the land. He's rotating 60 head of cattle in the North Valley. It's improved the grass here. They eat weeds in addition to the alfalfa, which helps the alfalfa since it doesn't have to compete as much. And we've only flooded the field once this year, and the growth has been great.


 Sol Harvest Farm:  Farmer Ric Murphy

In his own words

Farmer Ric and Riley the farm dog

Farmer Ric Murphy with farm dog, Riley, on the front patio of Farm & Table.

How big is Sol Harvest Farm including the number of beds?

Two acres total, including infrastructure like compost pile, washing station, etc. 1.5 acres are in production with 35 beds right now, but another 15 are expected by mid-May. My role is about half management and half field work. I receive a lot of help in the field from the farm intern, Maria Sandoval, plus the eight workshares who have the same five hour shift each week in exchange for a harvest box.

What was the volume of produce you sold last year, and much of it goes to the restaurant and how much to the CSA?

In the last year, Sol Harvest Farm has produced a minimum of 5,000 pounds or 2.5 tons of food. The portions that go to Farm & Table restaurant and to the CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] membership vary depending on the season, as well as the size of the CSA membership. During the summer, about a third of the farm's produce reaches the customers of Farm & Table. In the winter, once the CSA season is done, all the produce just goes to the restaurant and the winter markets.

As of May, Sol Harvest Farm CSA will be one year old, right? How would you describe Year 1 in retrospect?

Year 1... I was very pleased with the first year of Sol Harvest Farm. There are lots of first year farms that struggle and I definitely had my challenges, but, overall, I felt very good about the year and had realistic expectations. I have to give props to Farmer Monte and Skarsgard Farms where I saw every aspect of large scale organic farming. [T]he transition to small scale was easier with that foundation in place. (Farmer Ric worked at Skarsgard Farms--formerly Los Poblanos Organics--before becoming a farmer entrepreneur, himself.)

Aside from all the volunteers, what else has contributed to Sol Harvest's success?

Being partnered with Farm & Table has had a very positive influence on the success of the farm. And Aimee. She was a huge, huge factor. Aimee was probably the biggest reason year one was so successful. She keeps me grounded. I can bounce ideas off of her. She's a visionary. She is, without a doubt, the soul of Sol Harvest Farm.

What were the most important things you got into place before starting the farm?

The soil was excellent, so I inherited that. First thing we put up was the 1,400 square foot greenhouse. Those two things were key. The help of friends, family, volunteers and workshares got the farm off the ground. And the farm community peers were tremendous in sharing advice and help.

What's still most important to maintaining the farm today?

It goes back to what Cherie says, staying calm. There are so many variables in farming that are out of your control--the intense sun, the heat, the wind--a random freeze in April or May, for example. It's really important to just stay focused and positive. You have no choice. The farm really grounds you. Farming humbles you for sure. I've made my peace with bindweed. Almost with squash bugs, and I'm still fighting with wind. But I'm working on it.

How has farming for a restaurant influenced your farm business?

Before starting Sol Harvest, I'd never harvested specifically for a restaurant. I'm accustomed to picking for a certain number of members for a CSA or a number of bunches for the market. I had to learn '˜what does 5 pounds of salad greens look like', not just when you're picking it, but when you're planting it, too. Like in the winter, there were tons of greens in the greenhouse because I knew she [Chef Jaye] needed it. They've also introduced me to new varieties of plants.

I constantly go back to the originally agreed upon arrangement with Cherie, maintaining the balance between wholesale and retail prices. There are times when I have to tell Chef, "I can't sell that to you because it's committed to the CSA members." They [the CSA members] also play a huge role in the financial stability of the farm.

Are you where you thought you'd be one year out?

I cleared the calendar for 2012. I tried to calculate everything out, but until you do it, you don't know. I only scheduled a friend's wedding in, but otherwise it was just the farm. As much as I could, I tried for one to two days off, in a row if possible, but then I knew there were too many unknown variables. And getting to know the land--will it hold water, and the winds, the pests--and I'm not talking about interns or workshares here (grins). I had to go through the first year to know what year two would be like. This year is really "Year 1" for the farm.

The farm didn't start producing until April 2012, and it's been producing ever since. Last month, we hit a milestone:  52 straight weeks of production.

People think '˜October must be busy for you', but I don't know what kind of farm that is. Just this week, for example, we have the special dinner harvest, the UNM harvest [UNM Sustainability Studies Expo & Lobo Growers Market was on Tuesday, April 23rd; Sol Harvest intern, Maria Sandoval, staffed the CSA stand at the event], the CSA harvest, and the Saturday Farm Stand.

For the '˜special dinner' harvest [the sold out "Beer Dinner" at Farm & Table had 5 courses, each paired with a different La Cumbre brew, and was held for 70 people that evening, April 23rd], we harvested corn mache and napa cabbage.

Anything else, Farmer Ric?

Farm and Table is more than a restaurant selling food. And Sol Harvest Farm is more than growing food. Both are about building community around food. I could just grow everything for them and find a way to make it work, but they don't want that, and neither do I. Community is key.

 To get involved with Sol Harvest Farm:

Become a member of the farm's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This year, the CSA offers new ways to subscribe:

  • Weekly pick up (all 26 weeks of the season)
  • Every-other-week pick up (or 13 weeks throughout the season)
  • Weekly pick up for a month (just 4 weeks of the season)

See the payment plans online:

 Visit the Farm Stand each week:  Wed 3-7pm and Sat 10am-2pm. It's located at 8917 4th St. NW (north of Paseo del Norte). Park at Farm & Table Restaurant. Or find Sol Harvest at the Los Ranchos Growers' Market. You can also volunteer; read about volunteer opportunities at The farm is on Facebook, too! Farm & Table, La Parada and Sol Harvest Farm often co-host events, so stay tuned to all of their websites for future fun!



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