Jo Parent has spent her life surrounded by gardens — and if she has anything to do with it, her children will be able to say the same thing.
Jo’s passion for organic farming began with her father, a conscientious objecter and member of a Peace Church who spent World War II growing food in a work camp. Following a not-too-dissimilar trajectory, Jo and her husband Steve learned to market garden while living in an intentional community, and today apply their lessons learned at Sunflower Flat Farm.
When they moved to their Rockbridge County property in 2000, Jo and Steve immediately began a postage stamp-size garden, accented with a variety fruit trees. Twelve years later, the garden isn’t much bigger — just a smidge over an acre — but their farming team has grown significantly.
Jo, Steve, and their daughter Emma now manage Sunflower Flats together. “In February we sit down with the catalogs – all the catalogs – and plan our schedule and our succession plantings,” says Jo. “About 80 or 90% will turn out as we planned, but we always throw in something extra for fun.”
True to that story, Sunflower Flats boasts neat rows of healthy vegetables — bulb onions peeking from the soil, cucumbers coiling up a trellis — while the ‘just for fun’ rows of tiny soybeans and frilly celery plants look like illustrations from an organic gardening book. Jo, Emma, and Steve have also become well known in our region for their adventures in growing ginger using high tunnels. The final product is tender, fragrant, and pink — no need for peeling and perfect for pickling.
Sunflower Flats is organically managed and intensively planted, with multiple successions per season to maximize harvest. Compost is a mainstay and they incorporate beneficial soil-born organisms into their beds as well. Just this year, they have received the loan of a 1953 Farmall tractor — prior to this, they were cultivating with a tiller and will continue to do most planting, weeding, and harvesting by hand.