#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Angela Ferraro-Fanning

In 2012, Angela Ferraro-Fanning and her husband, Shawn, were settling into their new home in Bernardsville, New Jersey, when she began suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of their son, Anthony. She turned to working with the soil as a way to heal, provide fresh, organic produce for her family, and to teach Anthony where his food came from.

“It is through this work of being outdoors, working in the soil, and sharing the experiences, knowledge, and actual fruits of my labor with friends and family that I believe I healed,” Ferraro-Fanning tells Modern Farmer in an email.

She and her husband turned their .67-acre property into an urban organic mini-farm they named Axe and Root Homestead and converted the majority of their landscaping from ornamental plants to edible ones. They now grow more than 70 varieties of produce including herbs, greens, squash, peppers, and berries. They also have a small orchard, laying ducks for eggs, a small greenhouse for citrus, avocado, and olive trees, and will be getting honeybees soon. The couple’s latest project involves restoring a 10-acre, circa-1800 farm in Bedminster, New Jersey, into a working organic farm.

Modern Farmer: Why do you consider yourself a modern farmer?

Angela Ferraro-Fanning: Shawn and I firmly believe that a farm-to-table lifestyle and way of eating is right for us, our family, and for future generations to come. We strive to grow as much of our own food as we can and to share our knowledge and our passion with those around us. We know exactly how our food was grown, what went into the soil, and how it was harvested. That said, growing our own food, sharing local organic produce with the community, and trying to be self-sufficient is a major part of our value system.

MF: Why is it important to you to support local agriculture?

AFF: For me the reasons are both economic and environmental. If people can use their dollars to buy produce from a local farmer, they’re keeping the money within the community and supporting a local asset. At the same time, the customer is also receiving a fresher, therefore more nutrient-rich, product that requires little shipping and transportation resources. Less shipping of fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. means less emissions into the atmosphere, thus a greener approach to buying food products.

I think there’s something to be said for connecting on a personal level with the farmer who is growing and producing your food. Your local farmer can tell you exactly what fertilizer was used to help that sweet corn along or what sort of pest control approaches may have been used on that broccoli. We then can actually connect the dots from soil and seed to plant to harvest to farm-stand and that’s something, I feel, that has been removed from our society, and from consumers over recent decades as shopping at grocery stores for large-scale farm products has become the norm.

MF: If you could grow or raise any food or animal, what would it be and why?

AFF: I would love to try my hand at growing coffee beans. Shawn and I are serious about our love of coffee, and growing, harvesting, and roasting our own coffee would fit right in with all of the other efforts we make here to be self-sufficient. Unfortunately I don’t think coffee plantations would like New Jersey weather too much so I’ll just have to be content with my two arabica plants I grow now in small pots within the house.

MF: What’s your favorite vegetable?

AFF: I can’t pick just one! I think my top favorites are fennel, bok choy, and arugula. Shawn’s definitely a potato guy.

MF: If you could give other modern farmers any advice, what would it be?

AFF: Try to work with nature and not against it. When you’re dealing with growing food, you’re dealing directly with Mother Nature. Knowledge is power so learning as much as possible is surely helpful—but so is having the ability to be creative and problem solve. One year we lost all of our apples to coddling moths and apple maggots—every single one. I had to learn from that and figure out what solutions would work better for our specific ecosystem. We’ve also lost three ducks to predators and the rawness that comes with seeing the food chain in nature like that first-hand was hard for me. But we’ve adapted our ways when it comes to the ducks free-ranging as a result and, I think, we’re better for it. And our apple trees are ready for pest control, organically, extra early every year since our heavily wooded landscape provokes early insect activity. Perhaps most of this is just having the patience to gain experience.

MF: Do you have a farming/agricultural hero? Why do you admire them?

AFF: Novella Carpenter’s book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, was an eye-opener for me. I always had a small vegetable garden but figured I would be limited to that since I didn’t have lots of land, a barn, or a tractor. However, the book helped me to step outside of that box I had placed farming in, and I began to realize that very small-scale farming is still farming, and there are still lots of ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

I am truly most inspired by people that just want to grow their own food or who express an interest in knowing more about gardening, farming, or finding local farmers. I spend a lot of time on Instagram finding other homesteaders, farmers, and beekeepers, and the knowledge that I gain from them is invaluable. I’m in awe at the vertical gardening solutions, hydroponic, and permaculture efforts people implement. There are so many amazing authors, documentary-featured farmers, and people out there that I respect, but people I can learn from and bounce ideas off of are truly the most inspirational to me. I guess it just feels more tangible.

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#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Angela Ferraro-Fanning