STONINGTON — There’s an energetic gardener in town and she wants fresh, organic vegetables in every kitchen.
Anna Goff has built a farm stand at her house at 88 Burnt Cove Road where customers can pay a bit extra for their produce in order to direct the difference to a fund for those who need a reduced price.
The Stonington farmer grows her herbs, vegetables and flowers in accordance with an ethical, spiritual and ecological method of farming called biodynamics. Early 20th century philosopher, social reformer and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) pioneered and promoted the approach to address worsening soil erosion and degradation in the 1920s.
In biodynamic agriculture, planting and other farming practices are driven by and carried out during natural cycles such as lunar phases.
Goff also grows and tests seed for Maine’s cooperative seed and garden supply company Fedco in Clinton. This summer, she is growing spinach and cantaloupe for seed. Her results will inform what varieties Fedco features in its catalog.
A lot of spinach has been hybridized so it doesn’t seed.
“I will grow many plants of a certain variety and then save the seed from the plants that exhibit the traits that are desirable in that variety,” she explained. “Plants that do not exhibit the chosen desirable traits may be removed from the field before they have a chance to flower and pass on their genes to the next generation.”
Originally from Evanston, Ill., Goff earned degrees in botany and environmental biology from Beloit College. After graduating, she worked in a Cornell University laboratory but being in a building all the time didn’t suit.
Goff was introduced to biodynamic gardening “very much by chance.”
She was going to see an Andrew Wyeth exhibit in Pennsylvania and wound up staying with a friend because of a snowstorm. The friend worked and lived at a farming, gardening and handcrafts community called Camphill Village Kimberton Hills in Chester County, Pa. It is among scores of Camphill communities worldwide, where a “healthy home” and life to adults with developmental disabilities.
The community needed another gardener so Goff signed on in 2010 and stayed until 2014.
“I had so much fun and felt so much joy, I just loved it,” Goff said.
Coming from a hard science background, Goff was pretty slow to embrace biodynamics. She thought it was kind of kooky. Over time, though, she has come to see firsthand how crops and livestock are affected by astronomical rhythms and forces in the soil. As best as she can, she now gardens in synch with those natural cycles like lunar phases.
Sherry Wildfeuer, creator of the Stella Natura Biodynamic Planting Calendar, which guides biodynamic gardeners and farmers around the world, has been a mentor for Goff.
Biodynamics also espouses the belief that societal problems can arise when people lack enough good food. Farming in a “needs-based economy” is another underlying tenet.
After her time in Pennsylvania, Goff spent a season working for herbalist Deb Soule at Avena Botanicals in Rockport. She eventually found her way to Deer Isle after running into an old friend at the Belfast Co-op who knew the area.
Goff has several gardening occupations. She grows flowers on her property on Route 15A. She raises vegetables on plots at two different properties, in part because the soil on her land is “injured.”
Goff didn’t intend to have two vegetable plots. One garden is at a seasonal residence overlooking Penobscot Bay.
“The other garden, the guy just stopped and asked, ‘do you want more land to use?’ Goff’s answer was of course, ‘yes.’ The man’s late father had been a gardener and the son wanted to keep the garden going.
Goff is also trialing different varieties of Persian cucumbers, butternut squash, carrots and beets.
To trial means to grow for either quality control or to compare different varieties of a given fruit or vegetable.
“One year I grew 17 different varieties of spinach, paying attention to plant vigor, color, flavor, texture, leaf shape, yield, and other traits,” she said. “Heron Breen, who runs the trialing program at Fedco, comes out here, takes notes on the veggies, and brings samples of each variety that I grow back to Fedco. The Fedco seed staff enjoy a taste testing party that informs which- varieties Fedco will offer in their seed catalog in the future.”
Goff also works for longtime island gardener Mary Cevasco who does business as Rose Gardens.
Gardening is in Goff’s blood. Her grandmother had worked as a guide at the New York Botanical Garden. More inspiration came from her godmother who is a painter and owned a beautiful garden.
She recalls a story that her mother allegedly enjoys telling. When Goff was a very young child she would tell people, “I was born in a city but my heart’s in the country.”