Farmer Jeff of Not Enough Acres: More Than Organic
Jeff Deck’s 4.125 acres of land are shy of the five acres formally required to be a legal working farm, hence the name, Not Enough Acres. Deck’s farming and the land he works were the subject of an in-depth feature seven years ago in the winter 2008 issue of Edible Cape Cod, by writer Mary Blair Petiet. Here’s what’s happened since then.
Save for one full- and two part-time workers in the summer growing season, Jeff Deck works solo 70-80 hours a week for three seasons, easing off to 40-50 hours in the winter. His wife, Beth Deck, couldn’t join him on the land if she wanted to, her husband says, as almost every farmer desperately needs the benefits and health care a job elsewhere can provide.
Situated just north of Route 6A, Not Enough Acres is beyond The Marshside Restaurant in East Dennis, and reached by turning left at the juncture away from Sesuit Harbor. Before the sign for Not Enough Acres, there is a field on the right. Deck leases these two-anda- half acres from his father-in-law, who has earmarked this and other land for future farmers for agricultural use. Three centuries ago Beth Deck’s ancestors received this property, originally stretching from Sesuit creek all the way to the bay, as one of the King’s land divisions in colonial America.
The homestead where the Decks reside is the just beyond their farm stand. They raised their two children, now adults, in the same building where Beth’s father was born. Deck has renovated the entire structure, one of his many talents. Beyond the home are two greenhouses that Deck erected, and a barn. Employed many years in landscape maintenance and later as a chef, Deck has secured his niche: “I absolutely love farming to make good healthy food accessible to all.”
Passionate about growing organically, Deck forgoes the yearly inspections, fees and record keeping that would add at least several thousand dollars to his overhead, but that would also gain him the certified organic designation.
“I know how to grow organically, and it’s what I’ve done since I began raising produce here. It’s what has been done off and on every time this land has been farmed since my wife’s family acquired it in 1710. I’m more than organic,” says Deck. “The people who eat my food know that, too.”
Instead he puts his energies into a five-year rotational growing plan that maximizes the nutrients available to the vegetables in each field. A big fan of Maine farmer, agricultural researcher and author Eliot Coleman’s methods and French intensive gardening principles, and a member of NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Deck is largely self-taught. He relies on cover crops like barley, shallow tilling, and manure to optimize his soil.
Deck begins with seeds from High Mowing and Johnny’s, plus starts from Matt’s Organic Gardens in Dennis. Some are directly sown into the fields, while others are launched in the two greenhouses. Weathering a winter like the last one was tough. Deck hauls water to his seedlings when waterlines freeze and keeps the structures clear of weighty snow. With the farm only 13.5 feet above sea level, Deck anxiously watched for several days last winter as the salt water ice blocks edged to within feet of his greenhouses.
Not Enough Acres produces an extensive array of vegetables, berries and herbs, including several varieties each of cucumbers, garlic, tomatoes, Swiss chard, beets, spinach, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce, squash, rhubarb, broccoli, dill, beans, basil, cilantro, carrots, pac choi, cauliflower, potatoes and onions as well as asparagus, kohlrabi, snow peas, strawberries, several colors of raspberries, and some of the loveliest plumed fennel around. Veggies especially in vogue this year are kale and arugula, Deck observes. His offerings slam the perception that organics out-price traditionally grown vegetables. “The volume does it,” he says.
Presently Deck delivers produce boxes two to three days a week on his restaurant routes, and also delivers on demand for several restaurants. Clients include The Red Pheasant Inn (where Deck cooked years ago), Pain D’Avignon, Gina’s by the Sea, Orleans Public House, The Mercantile, Harvest Gallery Wine Bar, Viera, Spoon and Seed and others. He also supplies vegetables like Portuguese kale for The Local Juice, which presses, blends and bottles juices from local organics.
Deck notes that he is blessed with two wells on his property from which he can draw for irrigation. The wells are deep, the water pure and plentiful. “I can pump from a half cup to 70 gallons a minute,” Deck declares.
Deer, too, are plentiful. Clearly Deck has a running battle with them as they trample his ripening produce, rip the fabric row cover off his plants, and munch their way dawn to dusk as if his farm were theirs alone. Deck points ahead and I follow to his rows of ready-to-harvest romaine; at least 200 heads have been chomped in last evening’s lettuce romp.
In the dark of night Deck depends on solar powered red lights that blink, resembling the eyes of coyotes, one of deer’s primary predators. Small open plastic bottles dangle on strings from stakes at the end of each planting row. Before I’m able to ask, Deck blurts out, “Fox urine. I don’t know and I don’t want to know how they get it, but it does help deter the deer somewhat.”
Yet still they roam, hunting for things like apples, one of their favorite treats. “I finally resorted to planting electric wired poles near the fruit trees on my father-in-law’s fields,” says Deck. “One walked right up to a seven-foot fence and jumped it, that’s how good apples are to deer.”
Love of apples is something Deck knows firsthand. “I’m an apple guy. I can’t store them in my cold storage because of the ethylene gas apples emit. [It causes potatoes to sprout excessively.] The reality is they’d never make it into storage, because there aren’t any left,” says Deck. “I eat them plain or make applesauce.”
Sheep, along with a few chickens, are the critters that the Decks have selected to reside on Not Enough Acres. Chickens lay eggs for the farm stand, and the sheep provide the wool Beth Deck spins into yarn for her weavings. An agreement with the town allows the sheep to graze on adjacent town conservation land, for which the Decks are most grateful. Of the ten in their original flock, eight remain. Once the sheep have passed on, they will not be replaced. It’s possible to find someone to water crops and the greenhouses, but it’s quite another thing to feed and care for eight sheep.
“Their wool is high quality for only a few years while they are young,” says Deck, who points to the stump in a penned area adjacent to their barn, where fruit trees once grew. “Then they seemed taken with destroying the apple trees that were here.”
Deck is slowly replacing the apple trees, but this time outside the sheep pen, nearer his beehives. One collection of hives produces golden nectar, while a group sited near a bamboo grove yields a honey the hue of dark chocolate. Deck sells both at his stand, and alongside his produce at two weekly farmers’ markets. A customer at the Harwich Market calls out, “Jeff, that dark stuff is incredible!”
A few years back, the Decks put their historic farm on the market, planning to relocate to Western Massachusetts. They hoped its sale would afford them the capital to expand to a 20-30 acre tract or larger, land enough to expand into animal husbandry, specifically heritage pigs and Shetland sheep. However, a buyer never bit.
“I kind of liked those hills out west,” says Deck, pausing. “But then again, my favorite time of day may be late afternoon. My dog Sadie is ready for her walk and we go down the road for a swim.” Turning his gaze from me to Sadie, Deck motions goodbye and smiles, “I may just be here forever.”
After piling purchases from the meticulously stocked farm stand into my back seat, I drive onto the main road. In the distance Deck and Sadie are nearing the bay.
Not enough acres? Not a chance.
Not Enough Acres
107 Sesuit Neck Road, Dennis
In season, you can also find Not Enough Acres at Harwich Farmers’ Market (Thursday 3:00-6:00 pm) and Chatham Farmers’ Market (Tuesdays 3:00-6:30 pm).
Michelle Koch now has yet another reason to take the long way home on 6A: the chance to detour to Not Enough Acres. She lives in Orleans with daughters Chloe and Camille and their dog, Woof, who will do just about anything for asparagus.