An Orchard in Bloom Heralds
the Beginning of Four Seasons on the Farm
BY SANNE KURE-JENSEN PHOTOS BY STEPHANIE EWENS
Idyllic summers riding tractors, triumphing over weeds and harvesting delicious potatoes and corn were the inspiration for a new generation of
farmers carving out a life in Little Compton. Tyler and Karla Young didn’t grow up down on the farm but both got hooked on farm- ing during teenage summers working on the farms of their grandparents.
The Youngs now operate Young Family Farm, offering three seasons of fruit, vegeta- bles, flowers and fun for their customers.
Tyler Young spent his childhood summers raising potatoes and working side by side with his maternal grandfather, Bernard “Bink” Peckham, at Ferolbink Farm in Tiverton. Inspired by his grandparents, Tyler went on to study agronomy and business at the University of Minnesota, where he met Karla, a retail merchandising student. Karla Young sprouted her own agriculture roots during summers on her grandparents’ farm in Minnesota’s Red River Valley.
After graduation, the couple settled in Little Compton and took up farming with Tyler’s uncle, Jason “Pete” Peckham.
In the ensuing years, the Youngs worked long and hard, like all farmers, and they carefully saved their money. In 1997, Tyler and Karla purchased their own 200-acre farm on West Main Road in Little Compton. Now they lease an additional 70 acres to meet their growing needs.
Tyler and Karla have raised three daughters on their farm, teaching them the value of hard work. Growing up, the girls experienced daily farm chores, plus plenty of work at the stand (and still do when they’re home).
“This farm is a great place to raise a family,” says Tyler, telling his girls, “See that sign? It says Young Family Farm, not Mom and Dad’s Farm.” Karla says if the girls ever complained of boredom, they earned extra chores.
Clearly, the daughters love farm life too. Emma graduated with a business degree and is the farm’s marketing and social network manager. Hattie, majoring in sustainable agriculture, manages retail merchandising and seasonal events. Sarah, a college fresh- man, is responsible for the farm stand field picking team.
The changing seasons on the farm come with both opportunities and challenges. “The farm’s greatest challenges are the un- certainties of Mother Nature … and too many government regulations,” says Tyler.
The Youngs look forward to watching seedlings pop and flowers bloom each spring. Karla’s energy builds as flower, herb and vegetable seedlings begin to sprout in their six greenhouses—the young plants are then sold at the stand, to wholesale cus- tomers, or they are planted for harvest. Meanwhile, Tyler tills in his cover crops, runs soil tests on each field and spreads fer- tilizers, mineral supplements and lime as needed. Lengthening days provide light for seeding and transplanting.
In April and May, the farm’s beautiful blooming fruit orchards are buzzing with the activity of native pollinators and honey- bees. Each spring Jeff Mello of Aquidneck Honey in Portsmouth lends three to five beehives to ensure productive fruit pollina-
tion. (Honeybees are crucial to setting fruits and berries.)
In 2006 the Youngs started planting their six-acre fruit orchard to diversify their pro- duce offerings. The earliest blueberries (of
10 varieties) are the first orchard crop to ripen each season. The Youngs planted for an extended harvest period with multiple varieties of peaches (20), dwarf apple trees (13), Asian pears (five) and pluots (two plum-apricot crosses).
As the solstice approaches, Tyler’s harvest focus shifts from lettuces and spinach to broccoli, cauliflower and onions. Each year Tyler grows 40 acres of corn—the earliest varieties will be ready in early July. “We start picking corn at 4 am. After stocking our stand first, we deliver corn to local super- markets by noon,” says Tyler. Karla often enjoys taste-testing an ear or two for break- fast. Just days after the first corn is ready, their early peaches are ripe and juicy.
While Tyler raises vegetables and manages the fruit orchards, Karla grows long rows of cheerful, colorful flowers such as peonies, gladiolas, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, orien- tal lilies and hydrangeas for her stand and pick-your-own customers.
“Land is our gold,” says Tyler, who strives to improve farmland quality and productivity. Tyler is also vice president of the Rhode Is- land Farm Bureau and is committed to pro- tecting the rights of farmers. “The Farm Bureau is the voice of agriculture and we are proud of our accomplishments, including the right-to-farm statutes,” notes Tyler.
In late summer, Tyler plants oats after har- vesting the summer corn; he will plant rye after the squash and potatoes. These cover crops build soil fertility, add organic matter and prevent erosion.
As the late peaches are harvested, the early apples ripen and life at the Young Family Farm gets even busier. Families come from across southern New England to pick farm- fresh apples through late October, especially favorites like Honeycrisp and Macoun.
In autumn, Tyler’s days are often 16 to 18 hours long while he harvests 100 acres of potatoes, 15 acres of winter squashes, seven to 10 acres of peppers and plenty of his favorite Westport white turnips. Squash and other produce are processed (peeled and chopped) offsite before heading to area restaurants and schools. Like a number of Rhode Island farmers, the Youngs gener- ously donate produce to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
For nine years before Karla opened her farm stand, she and Tyler sold most of their pro- duce to wholesale customers and a small percentage to passersby from a stonewall stand. Now their greenhouse-style farm stand, adjacent to the fruit trees, offers a bright space and orchard views. Karla says, “Our customers feel like they’re already in the orchard and can’t help but go out and pick a few ripe peaches or colorful apples.”
Many people wrongly assume that farmers have nothing to do between harvest and planting times. After the trees drop their last leaves, it is time to cut next year’s fire- wood. The Youngs maintain a forest buffer around their farm for their heating needs and to protect their neighbors from dust and farm noises.
On bitter winter days, Tyler catches up on mechanical projects. He repairs his tractors and rebuilds used farm trucks picked up at bargain prices. After long hours of painstak- ing restoration and fresh paint, the vehicles wear the farm’s logo in honor of Tyler’s first green Oliver tractor. The logo reminds the family of the quarters Tyler saved from his early jobs in order to buy that tractor.
Other winter farm jobs include managing unwanted visitors like Canada geese. Tyler says, “Without our efforts to scare them away, geese would eat a field of rye clean in no time.” Deer can devour young apple branches and mice can strip the bark off orchard trees during long, snowy winters.
Thankfully the challenges haven’t outweighed the benefits of living and working on the farm. As the Youngs strive to maintain it, they look forward to the next generation they hope will keep farming in the family. eR
Sanne Kure-Jensen is the administrator for the Rhode Island chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. She takes a keen interest in and writes about agricul- ture and land stewardship.
Visit YoungFamilyFarm.com to find out about fun seasonal events, the farm stand and pick-your-own.
Open daily from May–September
(weekends through Thanksgiving).
260 W. Main Rd.