Podcast - Special Episode 1: A Tale of Destruction
Transcript of Interview with founding farmer, Stepheni Norton.
What is the Genesis of Dickinson Farms?
I’m a vet and I came home from deployment and I was very ill and after confusion as to what was really wrong they finally figured it out. And as part of my treatment plan they were afraid that if I ate anything that wasn’t healthy – so processed foods, chemicals, anything like that— of course my doctor says go ahead and eat organically or chemically free fruits and vegetables, lean protein, things like that.
Well we had just purchased our house in National City and the majority of my day was spent in the IV center, so on our way back and forth we realized that there was no place where we could easily stop and get the foods I needed to eat. So after spending between five and seven hours in the clinic, on the way home my husband was exhausted, I was exhausted and trying to stop and get something is when we really felt the fact of what we found out later which was that the USDA had made our town a food desert and that we were experiencing that was true.
So with that we started growing a little bit of our own as well as still going to the market and doing things like that – but really starting to grow some of our own. Then what we realized was that I don’t need 27 tomatoes at the end of each week when we had our top harvest, I only needed 2 or 3. So we started giving some to our neighbors and donating anything that we could. And more and more our neighbors started to see that this is something real—we can have fresh fruits and vegetables here. So we grew a little more and a little more and now we’re at about a fifth of an acre we’re growing. Prior to us getting our license we were donating all the excess. Now on June 6th we’re actually going to start our first market.
Why did you choose to participate in Unreasonable Lab San Diego?
It was an amazing opportunity to solidify and really rethink our opportunity of how do we make this bigger.
This is great, we can feed the families that we’re feeding but we can’t feed all of National City. We can’t create a sustainable agriculture and rid ourselves of that food desert if we’re just one farm. So how do we teach people to fish, right, and how do we teach people to grow and how do we help them help our neighbors eat fresh food.
So we wanted to take our idea and really shake it out and say how is it a business. And it was key for us to make it a business vs. a nonprofit that we had donations to fund because we thought if this is going to be sustainable, there has to be value in what we are doing and we are going to have to make money to really keep it going. It has to be a sustainable environment. And we felt that Unreasonable and Impact San Diego could help us do that.
What were to biggest challenges to you faced coming into the lab and were any of those addressed?
I think some of the logistical challenges was how do you get off the farm for five days. So that was certainly something for us to look at. And priorities and that this was a key priority for us, because we had talked earlier about the priorities for founders and what they need to be focusing on. And then our other challenges were just thinking through the whole process.
We were getting caught up in this idea, and the idea was: we’ll put an educational plan together and all of our neighbors are going to want to farm and they’re going to want to learn. And just even from the first conversation with Impact SD to being here that kind of prompted the discussion and thoughtfulness and activities.
So I think the challenges became useful nuggets that Impact San Diego and Unreasonable really helped us shake out. Every night I’ve been talking to my partners – my husband and my father who are both vets as well—and really looking at it and saying – this is changing and it’s going to be impactful to not just our town but to every town that wants to do this.