Interview with Founding Farmer Mary Ackley
What is your background and how did you discover you had a love of growing things?
I studied Environmental Engineering and Natural Resources Management in undergraduate and graduate school, respectively. My professional experience includes both private sector engineering and international development work related to natural resources management and conflict mitigation, most recently as Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development. I've always loved working and being outdoors and I would say I discovered my love of plants in a graduate school field botany course at the University of Vermont.
What inspired you to take the leap to start your own business?
I've always been a 'doer' - I tend to dive in and learn as I go. I was inspired to start by other successful farmers that I read about including Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Curtis Stone of Green City Acres, Jean Martin-Fortier, and many other business-savvy farmers in a group called 'SPIN-farming', which stands for 'Small Plot Intensive' farming.
What has been the most surprising aspect of starting your own business?
The cost and administrative burden of operating a small business in DC.
What has been the hardest part about growing your business?
Growing a business is challenging in every way. I'm constantly learning new skills and problem-solving in real-time. I thrive on the fast pace and multi-tasking required, but the pace is absolutely relentless at the rate of growth we're experiencing.
How do you find balance in your life in the midst of owning a business?
I'll admit that balance isn't easily achieved during the first few years starting a business. I used to be much better about it but I have been making more of an effort lately. I get up early for Crossfit most days, which helps me stay focused and feel energized for the day. I also recently started meditating to help with the constant to-do list running through my mind.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
I love the inherent hands-on creativity of farming. It provides the best combination of physical, intellectual, and creative challenge on a daily basis.
What do you wish your customers understood better about supporting urban farmers? Are there any small steps they can take to further support the work you do?
Our customers are already incredibly supportive, more than I ever imagined. Many people are realizing that if you want good quality food, you have to be willing to pay a price that can support a real livelihood for the producer. We are very diligent about understanding our costs of production and setting our prices accordingly, but it is still difficult sometimes when you're producing a commodity. We strive to offer superior value not only in terms of the quality of our produce, but also our service, including recent innovations like our online ordering platform and even same-day delivery on-demand within DC.
What are microgreens? Can you share some interesting facts about them?
Microgreens are tiny edible greens that are approximately 8-20 days old at harvest. Younger than baby greens and older than sprouts, microgreens provide a variety of leaf flavors, such as sweet and spicy, and come in many vibrant colors. They are also very healthy, with approximately 4-6 times the nutrient density of their fully-grown vegetable counterparts.
What is your hope for the future of Little Wild Things Farm?
I hope we are able to demonstrate that sustainable farming is commercially viable in urban landscapes, and that we continue to provide good local jobs for talented, creative people. We are well on our way and have had success beyond what I ever imagined, but we aren't quite there yet. I've learned that even with the best of luck and hard work, a successful business take years to mature. You have to put in an incredible amount of work to get there.
Where can we find your products?
Wholesale customers can request an account and order online at www.littlewildthingsfarm.com. Retail customers can find our products at Each Peach Market in Mt. Pleasant, Glen's Garden Market in Shaw, online at Washington's Green Grocer, and at the Bloomingdale and Penn Quarter Farmer's Markets. We also encourage customers to follow us on Instagram @littlewildthingsfarm where we announce special events and share photos and recipes from the farm.