Farmer Spotlight: New Growth with Farm Co-Managers Kari Bender and Chrissie Edgeworth

If you’ve spent time at Gaining Ground in the last few years—or attended one of our free no-till training sessions—you’ve likely had the pleasure of working with and learning from Kari Bender and Chrissie Edgeworth. Combined, Kari and Chrissie have almost a decade of farm experience, including their leadership last season as Co-Assistant Farm Managers. 

Now we’re thrilled to share that Kari and Chrissie have been promoted to Farm Co-Managers! 

With spring on the horizon, we sat down with Kari and Chrissie to hear how they have grown as farmers over the years, how they create beauty beyond the fields, and what they’re most looking forward to in their new roles.

How are you a different farmer today than you were in your first year, or even last season?

Chrissie – One thing that has remained constant is how breathtaking it is to watch a plant go from seed to harvest. What has changed is how I think about the larger landscape of agriculture in the U.S. 

Our present day food system was built off of the expulsion of indigenous peoples from their lands, colonization, and chattel slavery, and it continues to thrive off of the exploited labor of undocumented immigrants. I feel incredibly privileged to work somewhere that allows me to engage with the land in a safe and supportive way, yet most of the people who produce our food experience high rates of food insecurity and utilize SNAP benefits at double the rate of all other US workers; and many of them are excluded from basic labor protections

While I continue to find joy in seeding, transplanting, weeding, mulching, trellising, cover cropping, and harvesting, I also hold the reality that our food system perpetuates cycles of exploitation and violence that we must collectively imagine alternatives to. The longer I farm, the more questions I have about how folks are envisioning and striving towards a food system that supports the land, the living beings on it – both human and non-human, and the folks who are eating the food.

What are you most looking forward to on the farm in the months ahead?

Kari – I’m so excited to have the team all together on the farm again. The winter months have their charm in allowing for more reflection, and the opportunity to work on projects that you think about doing all season long. But having our whole team of incredible farmers moving together in the field brings a kind of life to the farm that can’t exist without them.

Chrissie – I love that there’s something to get excited about each week in our plan. Maybe it’s seeding the first carrots, or harvesting the first bed of arugula, or seeding the sugar snap peas, or transplanting the high tunnel tomatoes, or bed prepping an entire field, or mulching the summer squash, or leading a group of volunteers. There is always something to look forward to and people to work alongside that I enjoy sharing time with.

Farm Co-Manager Kari Bender

Kari, in your first Q&A for the blog, you said you wanted to learn more about native plants and herbal medicine. What have you learned since then? Does it show up in your work at Gaining Ground?

KariThis is definitely an ongoing learning area and passion for me. All of these amazing plants are just at the periphery of our cultivated crops, so you get to encounter them all season long as weeds in the beds, in hedgerows, and on field edges. And the more I interact with them passively or actively, the more tidbits of information I gain. I think learning more about the plants helps me move through the farm in a way that feels respectful and even reverent to the land and all of the work it does around us without our involvement. It’s humbling to be growing, say, a head of lettuce in a bed, when mugwort is thriving on the edge of the lawn despite being mowed back time and time again.

Farming is expressive work. Readers may not realize that you’re both artists and creators outside of Gaining Ground, as well. Could you tell us a little about your craft, and any connections you see between your artistry and agriculture?

Kari – Yes! I love sewing and fiber arts. I’ve made all sorts of garments over the years, and I love doing it. I think there’s overlap in the type of work that is farming and sewing. You can start with raw materials and after some patience and hard work with your hands, have an incredibly practical and satisfying end product. I think it’s that tangible outcome and intricate physical labor that draws me to both. Not to mention that our fibers are generally farmed too. I’ve tried to move to only sewing with natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk rather than synthetics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Though it makes the process more expensive, I end up with a much higher quality garment that can eventually break down back into the soil.

Chrissie – I love to work with my hands and craft things into being. When I’m not farming, I’m making jewelry out of fabrics and metals. As much as I love a colorful plate of vegetables in front of me, I also love colorful little pieces of art dangling from my ears. There is so much beauty in the process of bringing creativity into form. I love taking photos on the farm, from the contrast of beetroots to their beet greens, to the marbling of reds and greens in our lettuce varieties, to the ombre hues of cherry tomatoes on their vines, and these rich colors fuel the pops of color in my art. I named my shop Ramblejoy Jewelry Co:  ramble meaning to walk for pleasure, typically without a definite route, and joy being the state of being full of life, exuberance or energy. These are two ways of being that I strive for in farming and in crafting.

Farm Co-Manager Chrissie Edgeworth

Winter is prime time for hard working farmers to catch up on all sorts of things—like reading! Is there a book you’d recommend right now? 

KariI picked up a book this fall that I loved and tore through quickly. It’s called “Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry”, edited by David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli. I love reading short stories because you can have a sense of accomplishment after just a few pages. This anthology was particularly fun and thought provoking and I’d definitely recommend it!

Is there a quote or a phrase that is really speaking to you right now?

Chrissie – Right now I’m thinking about wisdom from Anna, our former farm manager, who said, “A farmer’s footprints are the best fertilizer.” This is a reminder to me that my attention is care. It’s a reminder to take field walks and make time for observation amongst the bustle of the seasons. It’s a reminder to stay grounded and be present on the land with open eyes and ears.

If you could be any crop that we grow at Gaining Ground, what would you choose and why?

Chrissie – I think it’d be fun to be a sugar snap pea! I like that their little tendrils are all reaching toward one another and connecting. They’re a spring crop so they feel like a burst of energy and sweetness after a cold winter. They’re bountiful and steady for the duration of their lives and keep on giving. They take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form that they can use for food and fix it in the soil for future plants. They bloom beautifully and the pollinators love them. And they have cute little “hats” for stems.

Banner photo by Tony Rinaldo Photography