Husband and wife duo start small permaculture farm

Posted 6/25/20

It was literature that brought Cass Curl and Jules Spruill-Smith to farming.

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Husband and wife duo start small permaculture farm

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It was literature that brought Cass Curl and Jules Spruill-Smith to farming.

The two bibliophiles grew up in suburban neighborhoods — far from the world of food production — where vegetables were bought in grocery stores, instead of foraged from the backyard.

But as both Curl and Spruill-Smith studied literature in college, they discovered an internal desire to be closer to nature through reading the works of environmental writers such as Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry.

“I realized that there were producers in the world and there were consumers,” Curl said. “And I felt passionate about going down the road as a producer.”

When the two met, going into their senior years of college, they bonded over their love of literature. But they also realized they wanted to learn more about food production and farming.

“We both decided we wanted to investigate farming and learn more about food,” Spruill-Smith said. “It was while we were in college that we were becoming more curious about the world and the big gaping hole in the understanding of our lives became food.”

In 2014, while Spruill-Smith was finishing graduate school, Curl was working on a ship and through his shipmate had the opportunity to meet Kateen Fitzgerald, owner of Compass Rose Farms and director of the Dirt Rich School, a permaculture education and mentorship program.

Spending two seasons working and learning at Compass Rose, Curl and Spruill-Smith discovered their interest in farming was more than just a passing phase.

“It has changed the course of our lives,” Spruill-Smith said. “It was a huge paradigm shift.”

They moved back to San Diego, where Spruill-Smith worked for two years as a teacher while Curl took a permaculture design course.

“We realized we just wanted to throw our chips down on farming,” Spruill-Smith said. “We took a leap of faith in 2018 and used our marriage as the launch of a new chapter.”

Now, Curl and Spruill-Smith are back at Compass Rose — not as students, but as business owners. In exchange for helping out at the farm, the duo have some of their own space at Compass Rose to grow seasonal produce, herbs and flowers to sell at the Port Townsend Farmers Market.

Their business, called Space Twins Provisions, is an opportunity for them to learn how to operate a small market farm, and also an opportunity for Fitzgerald to test-run having a nested business thriving at Compass Rose.

“We came back in November and used the winter hours inside to read and brainstorm and do our best to shell out a business plan,” Spruill-Smith said.

As soon as spring arrived, they were out on the farm, sowing seeds and preparing for the market to open in April.

“It’s a ton of work, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Spruill-Smith said. “I’m super grateful every day to be here.”

Their farm at Compass Rose is part of the larger permaculture demonstration site, which means that the land is managed with the most responsible and regenerative methods of agriculture. In addition to abstaining from tilling and chemical sprays, the farmers plant vegetables, flowers and herbs in a way that supports the biodiversity of the landscape.

Learning along the way, the two have interplanted a variety of vegetables, including salad greens, kale, beets, onions, turnips, and more. Each bed contains three to four different crops, planted in a way that promotes the best growth and the best pest prevention.

For example, pest-repellent crops like garlic are planted in between more pest-vulnerable crops.

In addition to learning the best growing methods, the two are also learning how to harvest the right amount of food to bring to the Port Townsend Farmers Market.

And even in the midst of a global pandemic, their stand at the market has been successful so far.

“I think the importance of local food has become even more apparent now,” Spruill-Smith said.

Beyond learning how to operate a small farm and work a market booth, the two have also been able to get to know the small farming community in Jefferson County.

“The responsibility is overwhelming at times, but the reward is the community we’ve found ourselves in,” Curl said.

As they continue growing food all summer, Curl and Spruill-Smith plan to study what techniques work best, so they can re-evaluate over the winter and have an even more productive year next season.

“We want to get better at optimizing the space,” Spruill-Smith said. “But we’re also being patient with ourselves and humble with the fact that we’re in our first year.”

For the most part, they are enjoying spending days in the sun and being able to sustain themselves with the food they grow. Maybe in the distant future, they will own property and expand, but for now they are appreciating the learning process and holding a bit of their own space in the world.

That idea harkens back to the name of their businesses, “Space Twins,” — although the name itself came from when Curl was working on a ship and Spruill-Smith would send him letters, creating nicknames for each other with each penned note.

“The Space Twin thing was born out of that correspondence,” Spruill-Smith said. “But space is also a metaphor for that other place you can create for a friend or a lover.”

In this space they have created, Curl and Spruill-Smith find inspiration in the food they grow, in each other, and in the words of the writers they love.

And by growing food for their community, the farming duo hopes to fulfill the mantra written by one of their favorite writers, Gary Snyder, in his poem, “For the Children,” which he ends with these three lines: “stay together/ learn the flowers/ go light.”

The Space Twins can be found each Saturday at the Port Townsend Farmers Market, or online at
spacetwinsprovisions.com.

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