Q&A With Cycle Farm

Bicycles and growing cycles—everything’s a-spinning to keep this small-scale farm in business.

by Sarah Miller
PHOTO: Trish Jenkins

Why reinvent the wheel? While that might seem unnecessary, farmers like Trish Jenkins and Jeremy Smith often have innovative minds, dreaming up ways to do things more efficiently and, well, simply better. Their Cycle Farm, in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota, is a small, diversified mixed vegetable farm. With over 40 different crops and an active CSA, the duo is committed to building community through the use of human-powered and regenerative farming practices. We spoke with Trish Jenkins about the creative ways they use bicycles on their farm to keep things in motion.

1. Why did you name your farm Cycle Farm?

Trish Jenkins: We’re excited about bicycles as transportation and smart, efficient tools for small scale farms— they’re also irresistibly fun, engaging and offer a great way to interact with your community, neighborhood or city. The name Cycle Farm encapsulates our love for bicycles, as well as honors all the profoundly important natural cycles that we work with as farmers—everything from days and seasons, life and death, to soil nutrient cycling and the hydrologic cycle. We’re committed to producing food in a way that fosters soil health and promotes a diverse local ecology, and part of this is minimizing our inputs and fossil fuel use by using bicycles and human power.

2. How do you use bicycles in your farming?

Cycle Farm
Trish Jenkins

TJ: Primarily, we use bikes for delivery of produce to restaurants and farmers market and running errands to town. We also use our cargo bike to haul things back and forth from the field. It’s got a flatbed for hauling fencing, straw bales, boxes of potatoes and special racks adapted for carry buckets or unwinding rolls of drip tape. We also have a few tools that are made from recycled bike parts, like a wheel hoe, rotary dibbler and a garden cart.

3. What have you found to be the biggest advantages of cycle farming?

TJ: By choosing to use bicycles and organic, no-till farming practices, we had lower startup costs than if we had opted for mechanization. The annual expenses of fuel and maintenance are also greatly reduced. But more important than monetary savings, we really appreciate how directly we can engage with our land and community through working by hand and foot.

Working by hand allows us the opportunity to be more present and observant than if we were sitting in a tractor seat. There are no motors running, we have our hands in the soil, and we can hear birds and all the buzzing pollinators. Also, delivering by bicycle offers us a chance to stop and visit with neighbors, something we wouldn’t be able to do if loaded up in a truck. Our community is the backbone of our farm, and we value opportunities for meaningful engagement—and frequently this happens along the bike path.

4. Any limitations you’ve found with using bicycles? How do you address these issues?

Cycle Farm
Trish Jenkins

TJ: For our scale and management goals, bicycles really are the most appropriate tool. We can carry up to 350 pounds, so we can carry most things and routine work is all done by bike. However, we’ve found that in operating a farm, there are some things that exceed this capacity. We source compost, chicken feed and straw bales for mulch from off-farm. For these we borrow a pickup and trailer. Another limitation is time. Some things take longer to do by hand and bike. We’re still working on solving the time-management challenges, but increasingly we’re doing better at managing the stresses they cause.

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5. Do you retrofit the bicycles yourself?

TJ: Jeremy apprenticed at the Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, Ore., a bicycle frame-building shop, and built his cargo bike there. We have two other bicycles we built up from used parts. We are big fans of community bicycle co-ops and workspaces.

6. You have some really interesting bike pictures on your website. Tell us about those unique inventions.

Cycle Farm
Trish Jenkins

TJ: Jeremy’s bike is a bakfiet or long john-style bicycle. It’s an old design from northern Europe, where the cargo area sits between the rider and the front wheel. Often this cargo area is a wooden box, but we opted for a flatbed to allow for more versatility. Two wheels keep the bike easily maneuverable and the low center of gravity of the cargo area provides stability. FarmHack.org has great resources on other bicycle derived farm equipment.

Our new garden cart is quickly becoming a favorite tool on the farm. It’s a modified design from Farm Hand Carts, using 24-inch bike wheels and sized for our beds. The feet on the cart are shaped like hearts, so it leaves fun footprints around the farm.

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