next step greens and solar panels

Next Step Produce’s fall crops and farm’s solar panels

When you meet Heinz Thomet, his Swiss accent tells you right away that he is a transplant from elsewhere, but after you spend some time with him, you learn that he comes with a deep appreciation for soil science and pride for his Charles County farm.

Heinz did not arrive in Charles County by accident. He was attracted to a good growing climate, good soils and proximity to a major urban market. I did not arrive on the farm by accident either. I had heard from several farmers who I respect that Heinz was a top notch sustainable farmer who can successfully conjure from the ground a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Heinz and Gabrielle in their celery high tunnel

Heinz and Gabrielle in their celery high tunnel

I called and asked if I could purchase 12 pounds of hard red wheat flour (his is organic, of course). But I asked if he would give me a tour as well.  A date was arranged and I carefully followed the directions of a friend who knew about mislabeled roads and the long winding driveway that makes you think that you are hopelessly lost.

Next Step Produce found a ready market in Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market. The farm also sells to a CSA in Vienna, VA, to on-farm customers and to top local restaurants, such as Restaurant Nora in Washington D.C. and Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, MD. Full-time farmers Heinz Thomet, Gabrielle Lajoie and their children run the farm with additional help. The farm is also mechanized to help workers through some of the back-breaking toil of farm production.

Tillage Radish at Next Step Produce

A student of the work of William Albrecht, Ph.D., Heinz believes that calcium is a key to soil health and plant resistance to pests. In my tour, I found the plants to be healthy and surprisingly free of pests. The family also makes its own compost which is compromised of on-farm hay and straw (about 70%), leaves from the Charles County Landfill, and about 10% subsoil/clay from a pond expansion. Then the compost is fortified with Calcium and trace elements missing in the soil.

By the time of my tour in early November, lulless barley, hard wheat (several varieties), soft wheat and rye were already up. In addition, the fall/winter greens were up and growing, including a wide variety of lettuces, spinach, kale, etc.

We wrapped up the tour at the grain mill. In a walk-in cooler, there were tons of grain waiting to be milled, including grains you do not always find locally. The handsome mill is just a few months old and took no time grinding my flour.

I was hoping the flour would last all winter. However, after finishing off two loaves, I am not sure. At least I know where to find him for more!