Farmers Guild Field Day: Table Top Farm with Arron Wilder

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Arron Wilder (left) and Farmers Guild members discuss economic challenges of small-scale farming

Written by Evan Wiig of The Farmers Guild & FarmsReach.

At 2 a.m. last week, a cool draft launched Arron Wilder from his bed. In bare feet, he went running outside into the autumn night toward his car. With a hurried twist of the ignition, there above the dashboard shone a little thermometer: just below forty degrees. Arron went back to bed.

In the few years since starting Table Top Farm, a three-plot diversified vegetable farm in west Marin County, the soil has gotten as much into Arron’s head as it has beneath his fingernails. “Farming is cut throat in the most literal way,” Arron said to a group of fellow members of the Farmers Guild visiting his farm last week. “If I didn’t come out at 2 a.m., when it feels like it’s going to freeze, I’d lose my seedlings and my income.”

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Arron Wilder

Arron doesn’t come from a background in agriculture and he certainly isn’t in it to get rich. He began like so many of the new wave of beginning farmers who comprise the growing network of Farmers Guilds: He wanted to change the world, one acre at a time. Actually, he began with less than that – just a single half-acre plot owned by a neighbor in town. From food politics to local economies, all of Arron’s ideals have pointed him in a single direction: to farm!

“I began very idealistically,” Arron said, who arrived for that afternoon’s visit not only to show off his greenhouse and last crop of cherry tomatoes, but also with a big bag of books on progressive farming practices. “I’ve become far more practical than I ever imagined.”

Arron started out using only hand tools. But as his operation grew and his body began to strain, he bought an old tractor. To fund his new operation, he also held onto a second job.  As his goals of sustainability grew to include not only ecology but also economy, however, he’s begun to struggle with the viability of small-scale agriculture.

“I began this as a community farm,” he said, pointing around at the surrounding homes. Besides the local farmers market, many of Arron’s customers live within walking distance to Table Top. On the edge of his field, he built a small farm stand and now neighbors can swing by at any time to pick up their uber-local groceries. And he doesn’t even need to be there. Inside the farm stand hangs a price list and an honor-based cash box where customers can leave their money and head home with vegetables. It starts with customer investment and, in turn, his customers think not only of the food they just bought, but of the farmer’s livelihood too.

Beyond connecting with his customers, Arron also reaches out to other farmers. When you’re new to the game, making connections within the agricultural community can be tough. So the bonds you do make are invaluable. When in a rut, Arron calls his friend Jesse Kuhn of Marin Roots Farm. “It’s amazing how resilient he is,” Arron says of Jesse. “He planted acres of tomatoes and other crops at another site, but didn’t have time to tend it. He came back later in the season and the whole thing was overrun with pickleweed, so he harvested that and made way more money than he would have [with the tomatoes]. Now he just grows the pickleweed. He shoots way beyond his capacity, and finds a way to make it.” The lesson here: There are as many ways to farm as there are farmers.

Which was why the Farmers Guild gathered there that day.  We bring the agricultural community together to learn collectively, to brainstorm, to visit one another’s farms, ask questions, and offer solutions. One large, audacious goal: To ensure that only one person within any given Guild can make a mistake for the entire group.

When Arron showed us some mangled drip tape and asked for advice on better ways to mend it, we could only offer a few ideas: He could try catching his buddy Jesse on the phone, he could wait until our monthly gathering at the North Coast Farmers Guild, or he could take a minute and post his question to the FarmsReach community. Lucky for him, the Farmers Guild just launched their new Groups on the FarmsReach site, and it’s already getting a lot of activity. Instead of waiting, why not ask a hundred farmers all at once? After that, the only remaining challenge is picking the best answer.

Arron has since quit his second job to focus full-time on his farm.  By bringing more farmers of all experience levels together to share information and wisdom, the growing network of Farmers Guilds aim to ensure that small scale farms such as Table Top Farm can continue to grow, evolve and thrive!


To learn more about the Table Top Farm CSA, farm stand or newsletter, get in touch with Arron!

To see the latest resources and wisdom shared among regional farmers, check out the Farmers Guild Groups pages and general FarmsReach Conversations.

For more information about the Sebastopol, Sonoma Valley, or Mendocino Farmers Guild meet-ups, contact Evan Wiig

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