Interview: Extending the Growing Season — Organic Farmer, Author Eliot Coleman Shares Strategies for Successful Year-Round Growing

Eliot Coleman Interview

Eliot Coleman

Eliot Coleman interviewed by: Chris Walters

Anyone attempting to grow fruits and vegetables in the winter will likely come across the work of Eliot Coleman. A tireless innovator and skilled communicator, Coleman began writing about organic growing an astonishing 39 years ago. Along with fellow writer and wife Barbara, he was the host of the TV series, Gardening Naturally, on The Learning Channel. He and Barbara currently operate a commercial, year-round market garden at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, where he conducts the experiments he describes in this interview. He served for two years as the executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and was an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture during their landmark 1979-80 study, “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming.” Coleman’s books include The New Organic Grower, Four Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook.

ACRES U.S.A. Didn’t your wife, Barbara Damrosch, play a large part in your story? Not only personally but professionally?

ELIOT COLEMAN. No question, she is the best thing that ever happened to me. We’ve been married 23 years this December. She writes a weekly column for the Washington Post called “A Cook’s Garden,” and she has written two books by herself and one with me. I’ve written three by myself. When my first book, The New Organic Grower, came out in 1989 my publisher told me the competition for it was something called The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch. After I moved back here in 1991, I was down at Helen Nearing’s place, helping her tie up tomatoes in her greenhouse, and this very attractive brunette wandered in to visit Helen. I invited her to go for pizza, and we were married six months later. She had heard about my book, and obviously I’d heard about hers. She said she had always wanted to live on a farm, so I tell everybody that she stalked me.


Meet an Eco-Farmer: Spellcast Farm

Spellcast Farm Eco-Farmer

Michelle Bernard & Wally McSwain, Spellcast Farm. Photo by David O. Brown.

Why did you begin farming?

I began farming the day I was laid off from my high-paying job as a commercial real estate paralegal. The day I was laid off, I was due to pick up my first dairy goat. I almost did not due to worries about finances, but I’m glad I did. That dairy goat started the journey to what is now Spellcast Farm.

Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?

We’ve always tried to be sustainable; this was by necessity. Early on, I did not have a lot of money to invest in the farm. When Wally joined Spellcast Farm, he helped financially, but we have to be creative about what we do. We elected to work with heritage breed rabbits (Silver Fox and American Chinchilla) and ducks (Ancona) to preserve genetic diversity. We use locally grown grains whenever possible and avoid soy and GMO feed.