The compost maker is a farmer of microbes, no less a farmer than a dairy farmer or a vegetable grower.Grace Gershuny, Feeding the Soil on the Organic Farm
Crooked Farmz is a backyard “microfarm” about 500 sq.ft in size. We grow a wide assortment of veggies, from brassicas and beans, to tomatoes and peppers, to greens, curcubits and potatoes for our family, friends, and the local community. We also have a small “orchard” space with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, currants, and rhubarb. We are also trying mushrooms for the first time this year.
We are passionate about organic, regenerative practices of growing food, and we mainly use compost and compost tea to feed our plants. The teas are applied weekly to biweekly during the summer as either a soil drench or foliar spray to ensure that beneficial microbes are continually present and enriching the soil.
Crooked Farmz is also an experiment in local community logistics to brew and deliver to your home fresh and timely aerobic compost teas so that you too can benefit from active organic principles in gardening your vegetables and ornamentals—while also reducing your reliance on chemical fertilizers and commercial pesticides.
The 4 aerobic compost teas are divided into 4 different varieties to support a variety of microbial growth activity in your living soil web. These 4 teas are cycled on a loose program over the summer to organically balance the different needs of your garden at different times of the season. As a CSA subscriber you receive a delivery of compost tea to your doorstep each month, which you will dilute and use to feed your garden vegetables.
Voilà! Ongoing replenishment of your living soil food web, boosting the capacity of your plants to absorb nutrients and naturally resist pathogens.
We work together with our subscribers to create a sustainable partnership of skill-sharing, information, and care. Every batch of compost tea we brew is also going into our own vegetable gardens at home, so you know we share a common interest with you to have a successful season of growing!
The Crooked Farmz compostery features six dalek-style bin composters, five of which are used for small-batch hot composting cycles (4-6 weeks in length), and one of which acts as an add-as-you-go ‘furnace’ bin for fresh food scraps on a daily basis. The compost bins sit on a ‘living floor’ of cedar mulch that will retain water and gradually break down over time to encourage a thriving population of microbes and worms in the immediate vicinity.
Feedstocks to produce the compost are primarily sourced from the local area on a ‘just-in-time’ basis for batch production: grass clippings from nearby neighbours, autumn leaves from the park, spent coffee grounds from an independent coffee house, banana peels from a smoothie manufacturer, and more.
These are ‘cooked’ at temperatures around 140°F for several days to encourage ‘thermophilic’ heat-loving microbes, kill off pathogens, and eliminate weed seeds. This ‘house blend’ compost is the basis of all Crooked Farmz compost teas.
In 2021 we are also launching a vermicomposting component to our compostery to improve our capacity for handling fresh kitchen waste, producing our own worm castings for feeding the soil, and tapping worm leachate to supplement our compost teas.
The Crooked Farmz compost tea brewery features a custom-designed scalable grid array brewer with a 90-gallon capacity—which won the Professional Innovation category in the 2020 Best in GrowTO urban gardening competition.
In addition, to meet our anticipated growth for the upcoming season and ensure the highest standard of quality across all of our teas, we will be introducing a brand-new 300-gallon compost tea brewer to the operation in Spring 2021.
Brewing cycles for a batch of Crooked Farmz aerobic compost tea are between 36-48 hours in length, after which we bottle in 1-litre mason jars to be delivered fresh that day directly to your home or local farmers’ market.
Our goal at Crooked Farmz is to be at the forefront of a new low-carbon economy in the East York area—and we understand this guiding principle is a significant consideration for our customers as well. Not only is this to recognize the wave of the future, but also to acknowledge the importance of history and honour our obligations to care for the land and water on which we live, work, and grow.
Some of the ways we’re attempting to reduce our carbon footprint every day include:
Sourcing and Distribution: 95% of the materials used to make our compost and compost tea are sourced from the immediate neighbourhood, while 95% of our finished compost tea products and amendments are distributed by bike and trailer to our ‘very local’ CSA subscribers and farmer’s markets. This allows us to dramatically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for the logistics of the business.
Packaging: The compost tea brewed for our CSA subscription program and for sale at farmer’s markets is bottled in 1-litre glass mason jars. We retrieve and reuse all of the bottles from our subscribers and accept all used mason jars for return at our farmer’s market stall, reducing our reliance on disposable plastic packaging. The bulk quantities sold as part of our Pro Desk program to professional horticulturalists, landscapers, and backyard farmers are packaged in 5-gallon CFIA-certified food-grade HDPE plastic buckets. We also accept these for return or encourage consumers to donate them to neighbourhood container gardening projects.
Solar Power: To the best degree possible we are attempting to use solar power for our operations: the water we use for cleaning mason jars and brewery equipment is heated with solar energy, and as we continue to add capacity we plan for all of our brewery pumps to likewise be powered by zero-emission solar.
The Product: Research is increasingly demonstrating that compost tea itself has the potential to sequester atmospheric carbon and store it in the soil. As we increase the number of homeowners and backyard farmers who are using compost and compost tea on their vegetable gardens, ornamentals, perennial shrubs, lawns, etc., we can begin to imagine a patchwork acreage taking shape across East York capturing carbon in its soil ecology.
Sean Smith, the head proprietor and brewer of Crooked Farmz, is originally from Kingston, ON, but has been growing vegetables in the East York area for the past 17 years. His interest in developing a local CSA for composting and compost tea brewing emerges from deeper underlying concerns about soil health, microbial life, climate change, and our relationships with land and water.
In 2019 Sean won first place in the DIY Innovation category in the Best in GrowTO urban gardening competition for improvements to an urban composting method, and he repeated in 2020 in the Professional Innovation category with an inexpensive design for a scalable compost tea brewer. In Spring 2020 Crooked Farmz won a Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association bursary to develop compost tea workshop resources in the Greater Toronto Area. Sean has received awards for entrepreneurial distinction from Acadia University and the University of Alberta, and was recently profiled by the web site Humans Who Grow Food.