Search
  • The Check Podcast

Episode 10: Farm by the Sea

Jenna Rodriguez met her husband Casey while living in Chicago. Both are Virginia natives and moved back to their home state after starting a family. They now juggle an organic farm on the Eastern Shore, two young boys, and a teaching job.




Jenna Rodriguez and husband Casey sell their produce at local farmers' markets.


After the podcast, Alvin, Jenna and Brady catch up on old times.


Links


Scenes from Seafield Farm in Cape Charles, Virginia, and the Old Beach Farmers Market.


Episode Transcript

July 9, 2020


Alvin Williams

Welcome to The Check everyone. For us here, it's the Fourth of July. Happy Fourth, Brady. How you doing?

Brady Viccellio

I'm doing well Alvin, how are you sir?

Alvin Williams

I am awesome. Happy to be here today with Jenna Rodriguez from Seafield Farm. She's taken some time out of a busy day. She was at the farmers market this morning. And on her way back to the Eastern Shore she decided to stop in with us and do this podcast. So thank you, Jenna.

Brady Viccellio

And Jenna, you had mentioned that you had an adventure on your way over here.

Jenna Rodriguez

I did. So hopefully the people who were behind me are not going to be listening to. We packed the truck and one of the crates that we use for our display was a little loose. On the interstate, I saw it go everywhere. I was talking to my husband and he's losing it, like, “They're gonna pull you over. It didn't hit anybody. I mean, people swerved a little. The whole crate just kind of fell apart. It was a very light and it was a small little crate. But it's kind of funny, because everyone's safe.

Alvin Williams

Nothing to see here. We should maybe have a little background on Jenna. Before she became this super farmer on the Eastern Shore. She actually used to work for both of us at some point. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Jenna Rodriguez

Sure. Well, my first job when I was 15, probably maybe 16. I worked as a salad girl in the back of Steiny’s. I think, for a year or two. So Brady was my boss when I just got started,

Alvin Williams

Let's say 16. We don't want Brady to get in trouble. Oh, child labor law.

Jenna Rodriguez

I think you could be 15 and a half.

Brady Viccellio

I know for a fact that she was legal.

Jenna Rodriguez

And then Alvin was my boss at Cobalt Grille prior to 2010 because I moved to Chicago then.

Brady Viccellio

So let's talk about Chicago a little bit--what was going on in Chicago?

Jenna Rodriguez

Well, I went to grad school in Chicago to go to Columbia College. It's an art school there. And it was a to get my master's. And while I was there, that's actually where I met my husband, who is from Virginia--from Williamsburg. I was waiting on him at a bar. And I said, “How are y'all doing?” And he heard y'all and asked where I was from, and we realized we were from Virginia, and he went to college with some friends of mine that I grew up with. So we just started hanging out.

Alvin Williams

All it took was one word, y'all.

Jenna Rodriguez

It was yeah, y'all. Y'all did it.

Brady Viccellio

How did you get from Chicago to the Eastern Shore, being a farmer.

Jenna Rodriguez

We were in Chicago. He was there for about 10 years, right after college. He actually worked for the stock market as an options trader in Chicago, and I was doing art and then teaching out there. And we knew we wanted to come back to Virginia once we had kids to be close to our family. We just started looking, and we just fell in love with the shore and we found this house it had been on the market for like two weeks and we bought it sight unseen. And we moved there, no intention of farming. I have a teaching degree. So I started teaching right away, and we did do a garden. And that's kind of how everything quickly transformed. So we started growing a garden and we realized “Oh, we're, you know, we're kind of good at this.” And we just hopped into a market. We kind of completely BS’d, like we know are doing. Yeah, we do all this. Yeah, we're farmers, but we had no idea. And we just kept saying “Fake it till you make it.” So that's what we were doing. And we just started hustling. And year one, we were ready to quit. Because we…

Alvin Williams

…realized how hard it is.

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, we realized how hard it is. We're like, we don't know what we're doing. But after a winter, we were like, “Okay, do we really want to try to make this a business?” We actually took a farm course from this guy in upstate New York. And it was the biggest game changer for us. Once we did that we understood how to grow things and he just put everything in line to operate as a business. And we were last year we're like, “Oh my god, we just we made profit. We're doing this.”

Alvin Williams

Profit. You remember that Brady?

Jenna Rodriguez

So we've just kind of hit the ground running and we don't stop working. I don't think people understand what farming means or how many hours a day of the week—at night, three in the morning, headlamps. People don't realize what goes into it especially since we don't really have employees. So it's a lot of work.

Brady Viccellio

How large is your farm?

Jenna Rodriguez

We live on like 12 acres but we farm under an acre of that land in the type of farming we do is very tight crops. We don't till the ground. It's very different than traditional farming so we can get a lot out of small beds. All of our beds are only like 30 inches by 25 feet long, and we can get so much from one bed.


Alvin Williams

Are you still teaching? You teach and you farm?

Jenna Rodriguez

I do. Yes. I teach art at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach. So I do that during the school year, and then basically farm in the summer and after school.

Alvin Williams

Gotcha. Do you wrangle these kids from your class to help you on the farm?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, I would like to. They have offered but because I live on the Eastern Shore I think it makes it a little difficult because the commute is probably about 50 minutes and then paying the toll. But I wish I could.

Alvin Williams

What about your kids? You have you two boys?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, they're in the field. The two-year-old and four-year-old, they're picking tomatoes all day.

Alvin Williams

Talk about child labor laws.

Jenna Rodriguez

Oh, shhh!

Alvin Williams

That's gonna be really cool. I hope someday my daughter will be out there helping with me. She comes out there but she's, you know, she's not picking yet.

Brady Viccellio

I see on your social media she's helping now quite a bit.

Alvin Williams

Well, she's certainly head of marketing.

Jenna Rodriguez

That does work.

Brady Viccellio

Out there in the early morning suckering the tomatoes.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, she she's awesome.

Brady Viccellio

That's great.

Alvin Williams

So what's it like raising kids on a farm?

Jenna Rodriguez

I think raising kids and itself and having a farm are probably the two hardest things we've ever done in our life. And for anyone who has done it, it's probably the hardest thing. Our kids aren't in daycare. And so we are balancing trying to give them this valuable life of being outside in the dirt and us trying to farm and operate a business at the same time. So it's wonderful because I think they're going to have such wonderful memories and they're learning. They know so much. I mean, my four year old understands the concept of seeds and plants. He can look at every crop and tell you what it is. He knows if it's garlic, onion, whatever. The two year old walks just completely across beds, he doesn't care. He's pulling green tomatoes instead of red ones. But they also run out to the field and pull a carrot and eat it right out of the dirt. So to see something like that is so beautiful. But it's challenging, you know. We work, my husband and I, especially in the summertime, we wake up around four, and we work till eight when the kids get up, and then one chooses, “Okay, who's feeding the kids today?” Who's in the field, and then one stays with the kids until 10. And then the little one goes to a nap. And then the older one comes out in the field with us or is like in the sandbox while we're working. Then we feed them lunch, and then the other one wakes up and we rotate who's going to take the kids one stays in the field, and that's kind of how it goes. And then sometimes we have to do things at night. And so who's laying the kids down and doing dinner while someone's in the field. You know, finishing up, so it's constant juggle.

Alvin Williams

And then back up at 4am again.

Jenna Rodriguez

And then back up at 4am.

Brady Viccellio

Well, I think now is the time that we not only thank Jenna again being here, but also her husband.

Alvin Williams

Yeah, cuz that's a hell of a schedule.

Brady Viccellio

I want to read your growing philosophy. We live where we grow, and we love where we live. So we use organic growing methods including no spraying and no chemical use. We keep bees raise chickens and children. We don't harm them. Or you.

Alvin Williams

It's a great philosophy.

Brady Viccellio

What my mom says is you have to plan right one for you and one for the bugs.

Jenna Rodriguez

Oh, of course. Yes. And one for the animals and for the bunnies you know, all of the above. The reason we actually started growing our own garden and you know, quote unquote farming was because we only have a Food Lion where we live. It's one grocery store for our whole county. And they have some organic produce, but not

much. And so that's why we started growing. And then, you know, it turned into the farm. And we still have challenges. We're still figuring out things I always say, I think that's the beautiful thing about farming is you're never gonna stop learning. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, because it's going to always be something new. And I always say we're more than organic, because we're not certified by the government, but the government still allows you to use lots of chemicals that they say that are organic. Some of them are fine, but there are ones that still will hurt other bees, or other insects and so you have to be really mindful about when you're spraying, what's going into the plants and so we try to use no chemicals, and we lose crops. But we also use a lot of insect netting so like our brassicas, which would be like kale, and radishes, turnips, or we don't grow it during that time. Like turnips we can't do right now it will get so attacked, it's just not worth it. Arugula, I love it so much, but right now, it just gets attacked. So we choose not to grow it. And that really comes down to if you think about it, what the ideas were a long time ago of eating through the seasons, eating what you're supposed to be eating during that time of year. There are challenges, but I think it also makes you more in tune with your plants if you're on top of it, we have to be very in tuned with our plants. We do walkthroughs and check on them and sometimes we don't and then I go to plan and I’m like, “Oh, this whole plan has aphids. Great.” But we put beneficial bugs in our garden. So there called lace lace wings, I believe lacewing bugs, lacewing fly, something like that. And every week I have a company deliver lacewings to us, and I sprinkle the eggs out at night. And in three days they hatch and they eat moth eggs, grasshopper eggs, and aphids and some of the bad bugs.

Alvin Williams

So Jenna, what kind of things are you growing on your farm?

Jenna Rodriguez

A lot of things we do are like quick rotation crops so they're a little bit quicker to mature so that we can sell them faster. So we do a lot of lettuce, salad mix, radishes, carrots, beets, a lot of root vegs. We'll do turnips in the fall. We do flowers. We also do some summer crops that take longer like tomatoes because that's the most popular thing we probably grow. And squash, zucchini, peppers, okra, cucumbers.

Alvin Williams

That's quite a variety.

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, I guess it is.

Brady Viccellio

And you sell all those at the farmers market?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yes. So our main outlet to sell our produce is through the farmers markets. So we do two over here in Virginia Beach, at Old Beach and King’s Grant. So Old Beach is at Crocs. It's on 19th street right next to WRV at the oceanfront. That is every Saturday from nine to 12. And then, King’s Grant is only every other week, and it's on Thursdays from four to seven. And that's the neighborhood. My parents live there and I grew up there. So I feel like I have, you know, a little bit of my heart there.

Alvin Williams

Do you have the opportunity to sell anything on the Shore? Or do you just come over to the beach?

Jenna Rodriguez

That's a good question. So as things started to happen with COVID and things were shutting down and then the farmers market shut down. I had a little bit of a meltdown, because we have all this stuff in the field. This is our year we knew what we're doing. I was ready to hit the ground running like we're gonna kill it this year and then that happened. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, how are we gonna sell all this stuff?” It doesn't stop growing, nothing stops growing with a pandemic. But I started because of social media. I follow a lot of farms and a farm in Washington or Seattle that got hit really hard first with COVID. I saw them transition very quickly to do home deliveries and online pre orders. And I did some web design in school. So I set up a store immediately and started doing this pre order and because of social media, I just started to push it and it was crazy. Our sales for March and April were the highest they've ever been in March and April with COVID going on and us doing the home delivery. So we still today are doing home deliveries and we do it in our town of Cape Charles and the Northampton county where we live. And we do a CSA over there for members in our town.

Alvin Williams

So explain to me a little bit about the CSA. What exactly is that for people who don't know?

Jenna Rodriguez

Sure. A CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The idea behind it was to get support from customers ahead of time. So you'll pay for a weekly box, and you pay say it's a 10 week CSA. So you pay ahead of time for 10 weeks, and then that helps the farmer get everything started, get the seed going. And then whenever it starts, every week, on a certain day of the week, you get a box of their veggies. You don't really know what it is--you're kind of eating through seasons, which is basically the original way you know, food is grown. So it's kind of a surprise every week of what they what they will get.

Alvin Williams

And it cuts out that fear that you have all this produce growing, and not knowing where it's gonna go.

Jenna Rodriguez

You already have a home for it.

Alvin Williams

So you were saying that you grow the vegetables based on the time of the year and that kind of thing. So the vegetables that you take to the market, and you kind of have to educate your customers as to what they are and why they're there, or does everyone know what you grow and what they are? Is there any kind of education?

Jenna Rodriguez

You know, the biggest thing I teach people, and we have to learn it the hard way is how to store produce. No one knows how to store it. They just go home and throw it in the fridge so I constantly try to tell my customers, “Hey, you know root veg--cut the greens off immediately, put the root veg in` a Tupperware with a lid it will last a month, maybe two months. It’s a root. The greens on top are trying to survive over the root. So the greens suck the energy out of the root. So the radishes go soft, the beets go soft, carrots go soft. Cut the tops, and they're gonna last. So stuff like that I try to give little tips in my CSA too.

Brady Viccellio

Great. Do you have any more tips?

Alvin Williams

That's excellent information right there. Yeah, so I'm writing it right now.

Jenna Rodriguez

We do lots of trial and error. Constantly we're like, “Alright, when we sell our salad mix, do we leave it in the bag that we sell it to them and do we put it in a Tupperware? Do we put the paper towel in? Do we not put the paper towel in? Do we buy one of those lettuce Tupperwares with a little tray on the bottom so the water can drip below it.” We actually use that for our lettuce, that when we learn or we figure it out, I give that information. I think that's really important because I want our produce to last as long as possible for our customers. I think that's something really important.

Brady Viccellio

One tip that actually Alvin's wife gave me was to store the tomatoes upside down.

Jenna Rodriguez

And not refrigerated.

Brady Viccellio

Yeah, I knew that before but upside down -- the stem side down.

Jenna Rodriguez

And people think that if you put your tomatoes on a window sill they’ll ripen, but actually cardboard or brown bags and dark. They actually will ripen faster. The ideal temperature is darkness and around 50 degrees. Tomatoes are really happy. And a lot of the bigger farmers have tomato rooms where they maintain that.

Alvin Williams

I find myself buying stuff from you weekly for personal use at the house. Do you have many restaurant owners that visit you at the farmers market and buy produce for their restaurants?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, we do. Last year we would send out a fresh sheet to restaurants and they would order every week and we would deliver it. This year, we were planning to do that. And then things just happened with the COVID, and everything. So we haven't done that. But we still have ones that just text me or come to the market and pick it up. But we haven't pushed it as much this year, to be honest, we're selling out. People have reached out to us, and we're just selling out at the market, which is, you know, going to be our highest profit. So we've just been pushing it that way. But there are still some restaurants that we have connections with within our town or over here that we still will do things with them.

Alvin Williams

You find yourself selling out of many items. Is this a time for you to expand and get bigger?

Jenna Rodriguez

We've talked about it. And I don't know, I think we need to get better. I think it's important to get better at what you're doing before you get bigger, and I would rather have quality over quantity. Maybe we get bigger with the crops we do that we're really successful at. But we have room to expand. We have lots of room to grow.

Alvin Williams

You have the acreage.

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah. But maybe in time. We want it to happen organically. And right now we can sustain--kind of. I’ve been up since four. But in time, if it happens, we'll see.

Brady Viccellio

Jenna, I understand that you're working with Virginia Tech, which is where I went to school, with some little wasps. What's that all about?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yes, so this past week, we had a student from Virginia Tech. He is studying to get his PhD there. And he wanted he was looking for organic farms to drop these wasps. He's like, it's gonna help your squash bugs, which just attack your squash very quickly. They do every year. It's just a matter of time of when they're going to do it. And he got there and he opens up his jar and these wasps are like the size of fruit flies, they’re like teeny tiny. I was worried about my kids getting stung. No, it's not that kind of wasps. So he just placed them in our field. I think he did like 500 of them, and they release and they lay their eggs inside squash bug eggs. So a squash bug lays their eggs underneath, squash leaves, and they'll hatch and basically they start eating your squash and killing it. So these wasps lay inside the squash, squash bug eggs and then those they eat the squash bug egg to survive. So essentially, they're eating the baby squash bugs that will never be produced or hatched and hopefully cut down on the population.


Alvin Williams

Squash bugs are the worst -- those are the little square ones, right?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah, they're like little stinkbugs.

Brady Viccellio

And they make these perfect little rows.

Jenna Rodriguez

Yeah. So perfect. I think the first time I saw it, I was like, This is so beautiful. I'm gonna take a picture and post it and then someone's like, you want to get rid of those. Yeah. I mean, nature is beautiful. The bugs. Oh my gosh, even the bad bugs are so gorgeous.

Brady Viccellio

They’re like little dinosaurs.

Jenna Rodriguez

Yes, yes.

Brady Viccellio

Maybe there's more farms close by you. So those bugs are more prevalent. And looking for home. Particularly the ones that got run out from the non-organic farms.

Jenna Rodriguez

That is so funny you just said that. So we live on the Eastern Shore. There's a lot of mono cropping, which is just fields of corn, soybeans, wheat. And so there's these conventional farmers that live all around us. We would never even be able to get certified because they're too close to us. In front of our house, they're growing potatoes. Well, we have so many potato beetles in our tomatoes, and I said, “Oh, the farmer came in sprayed those and they're like, ‘Alright guys, I know where we can go next.’” And they just haul butt to our tomatoes and they're attacking them. I think they were getting sprayed and they're like, “Everyone move out.”

Brady Viccellio

Jenna, you gave a lot of tips on storing vegetables. Do you have any tips on preparing them?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yes, well, kind of. So I'm not the chef. My husband is. I don't really cook. I used to but the longer I don't do it, I get worse at it. So he is the go to guy with food and it just comes natural to him. Like I need measurements. He can't measure anything. If you follow us on social media, we always try to post meals or just different things that he makes with the produce.

Alvin Williams

And what would be your Instagram or Facebook address?

Jenna Rodriguez

You can follow us at seafieldfarmva. My husband came up with the name because we live on the ocean and we have a field, so Seafield. Oh, the website is www.seafieldva.com.

Alvin Williams

Jenna, I find sometimes at the restaurant I have guests and customers telling me how to cook and what to do to make it better for them. Do you have any stories or anybody telling you how to grow your vegetables on what you should do?

Jenna Rodriguez

Yes. I have lots of customers telling me how to do things and what I should do and what I should grow. Something that does stick out right now. We have something called a lemon cucumber. And it's not them telling me what to do but it is so funny. You almost become autopilot because almost every customer says, “A lemon cucumber. What's that?” It looks like a lemon, tastes like a cucumber, a little more mild than a cucumber, you can eat at home, my husband even eats it like apples. You don't need to skin it. Like it's literally like autopilot. I said I can just you know, recite it. We have one girl helping us now. I say “Get prepared. They're gonna ask you this a lot.” But people are always intrigued with it because it's, it's not too exotic. It's a cucumber. They know what that is. So they’ll always try it because they're intrigued and they know what a cucumber is.

Brady Viccellio

Jenna, thank you for coming over to Steinhilbers again and making a new appearance.

Jenna Rodriguez

It’s been since prom. Our limo driver stole our Captain Morgan. Just kidding.

Alvin Williams

Jenna, it's great to see you again. You're always welcome to come back and work at Cobalt if farming doesn’t work out.

Jenna Rodriguez

I like waiting tables. Maybe I'll take you up on it.

Alvin Williams

Do you like waiting tables or do you like working with me?

Jenna Rodriguez

Well, a little of both.

Brady Viccellio

What am I chopped liver over here?

Jenna Rodriguez

I don't know if I want to make any more salads. I cut enough of the lettuce.

Brady Viccellio

Well, we could we get you a promotion. Well, thank you for joining us.

Jenna Rodriguez

Thank you for having me. It's been lovely. It's great to see you all again.

Alvin Williams

It was awesome. Thanks for being here. We appreciate it. And folks out there you can get links to Jenna's website and Instagram and Facebook, you can also view other photographs and points of interest from our podcast at thecheckpodcast.com.

Brady Viccellio

And I'm Brady.

Alvin Williams

I'm Alvin.

Both

This is The Check.

123 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

© 2020 by The Check 

  • Facebook
  • iTunes
  • Spotify