Dirty Girl Farmette “was a passion that organically evolved,” Summer Lewton said, describing her wholesale produce operation in Patagonia that has recently opened a retail farm stand at 283 W. North Ave. “We began the farm stand to feed the local community last fall,” she said.
Dirty Girl Farmette has been in business since
2013, growing produce on 2 ½ acres of land leased from the Patagonia Montessori School. Lewton provides her certified naturally grown vegetables to upscale restaurants and markets in Tucson, including Feast, Miraval, Agustin Kitchen, Five Points, Time Market and the 4th Ave Co-op, and locally at Red Mountain Foods and the Nogales Mercado.
She chose to become certified as ‘naturally grown’ rather than organic. “There isn’t the bureaucracy and red tape involved,” she said, “so the vegetables are more affordable than organic.”
Lewton puts in long days. She personally delivers her produce twice a week to Tucson. “One of my favorite things, when I deliver, I go in the back door into the kitchen or the packing room, and my customers are excited to see my vegetables. It keeps me excited to see what they are doing with the produce,” she said.
She has one part-time person to help with harvesting and packing, and her four children help during the summer. Her husband, Sasha Lewton, who works Sundays in the field, has installed the extensive drip irrigation system and does the tractor work.
“He has a lot of growing knowledge,” she said about her husband, who grew up on an organic farm. “The first vehicle he drove was a John Deere tractor when he was eight.” Her daughter Hannah Woodard runs the farm stand, which is open Saturday mornings at their house.
Lewton estimates that she works ten hours a day in the field during the summer and six to eight hours a day in the winter season. Her winter crops are lettuce, kale, chards, arugula and mixed greens. She has 50,000 lettuce plants growing at this time.
Next summer, in addition to more traditional vegetables, she is going to experiment with wild jungle peanuts, which will not only produce a crop of peanuts, but will act as a cover crop, capturing nitrogen and adding it to the soil.
She keeps 30 chickens and would like to start raising ducks, turkeys, meat chickens and pigs, as well. She also plans to expand the number of fruit trees in their yard. “I would like my property to be a food forest,” she said. Plans for the future include starting a farm to table restaurant. “I love feeding people,” Lewton said.
The Lewtons have been generous with the community. “We donate produce every Monday
to the Patagonia Public Schools for their salad bar and donate to the Senior Center for their lunches. We’re going to begin donating on a weekly basis to the Patagonia Youth Center, and we donate to the Montessori School,” she said.
She is working to partner with the Montessori School at the farmers market at Red Mountain Foods on Thursday mornings. She will supply the produce, the kids will sell it, and the school will get a portion of the profits.
Lewton spends a lot of time studying data from previous seasons, researching and planning upcoming growing seasons. “I listen to my customers and find out what they want and then go back to my drawing board,” she said. She also analyzes data to determine what to plant. “Our number one moneymakers per square foot are eggplant and okra,” she said. “We lost money on onions last year, so ‘bye, bye, onions.’”
“I’m crazy about soil. If you have healthy soil, you have healthy plants,” she said. “I’m constantly researching and looking at my plants because they tell me what’s going on in the soil.” She amends her soil with chicken manure, compost, plant clippings and fish emulsion. She also releases beneficial insects to control pests.
“I truly believe that food is medicine. It’s pretty awesome to be able to walk out my door and go to work and be around these plants,” she said. “The plants talk. There is an energy and a vibration in them. If you are quiet enough and still enough, they talk to you. They tell you what they need.”