Farmer Spotlight: Nick Twyman

by | May 12, 2020 | News

Tiffany making deliveries for the NPP

Farmer Nick holding Sweet Potato slips, which will grow into his favorite crop, Sweet Potatoes!

Farmer Nick holding Sweet Potato slips, which will grow into his favorite crop, Sweet Potatoes!

Meet Farmer Nick, our Farm Manager here at Finca! Nick oversees all production, cultivation, and maintenance here on the farm.

What’s your name and position?

My name is Nick Twyman, and I am the Farm Manager here in Finca Tres Robles. 

How did you learn about Finca Tres Robles and what made you want to join? 

So, I learned about Finca Tres Robles at Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents house. I just returned from Malawi that week before and I was like, “Yeah, I’m trying to find a farm in Houston.” And my Aunt Peggy said, “I know somebody who’s working at a farm and they actually just had an event. I’ll give you their contact.” And so she gave me Jess’ contact and I reached out. Jess and I met, talked about it, and then I followed that up with meeting Tommy and came out to the farm, and that’s kind of how it all started. 

Have you had prior experience or were you just curious about the farming world?

I had prior experience. It’s in my family history, but it kind of skipped a generation because my dad is a lawyer, but my grandparents on either side of my family are farmers. My great grandfather on my mom’s side grew almost everything he consumed. He lived in Conroe and he had beds of all sorts of vegetables– okra and sweet potatoes, potatoes and cucumbers, tomatoes, and all sorts of things. So that was an influence on me, for sure. 

He was also an avid winemaker. It’s interesting, because this is my mom’s side of the family but my dad was working with him and that’s actually how my parents met, so that particular place is special in our family because it’s where my parents met. 

What drew you to farming?

My grandparents still garden, but not to the extent that they used to. It’s interesting because my dad and my mom saw intensive farming and they just didn’t continue. You know, there were other better jobs and farming was—well, no one really wanted to be a farmer back then.

But at the same time, my grandparents were still farming and growing things on the land.

Then I moved out for college, I studied ecology and evolution and I’ve always had a propensity to think about large scale systems and farming fits into that really well. 

I took a job right out of college with Baylor College of Medicine. I was playing with the idea of being a doctor, so I went originally to do some research on preterm birth rates in Malawi, which is a country in Southeast Africa that has the highest rate of pre-term birth. I quickly decided that that life wasn’t for me and I was given some freedom to work on side projects. So on the weekends, I started off farming at one of the health centers I was working at. I started working with two of the farmers there and we had the vision of creating a community garden.

We had somewhere between 3 to 4 acres and we built the garden around the maternity waiting home, where women who are living in this peri-urban area come before they get to give birth. They come from anywhere between two weeks to a month. They could’ve traveled miles and miles and it’s all by foot, and they’re not bringing food with them. We felt that if we’re going to be a health care center, we have to provide everything that’s needed. And so we grew food intensively. We put up drip irrigation systems, we dug a borehole, which is a well, and had it all powered by solar. That started in 2017. 

How long were you in Malawi at this point?

I started about six months in. I arrived in Malawi in July of 2017. I’d say I started full time on this by probably December, mid-November of 2017. So I made the hard shift really fast, but it felt right. And everyone was on board with this because it was a project that people had talked about but nobody was implementing it.

I did that for two years. We grew really fast, maybe too fast, but we grew. And the farm is still going! Still feeding pregnant women and now feeding HIV patients and expanding each and every season.

Can you speak to some of the obstacles that you faced during this time?

At the beginning, I was like, OK, I’m passionate about this, but I need to learn a lot. So I got as many materials as I could and watched as many YouTube videos, read books about anything and everything farming related. About a year into it, I thought that it would be great to have some one-on-one time with a mentor, which I had in Malawi, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I was searching for something else which then led to my experience of farming in Sweden.

I farmed there for three months. It was an intensive internship at a small farm, about twenty five acres. There was a bit of everything. We had vegetable production, egg production, meat/bird production, lambs and cows. 

Since your internship in Sweden was at a much larger scale than what you initially did in Malawi, were there any surprises in that experience?

In that experience, it was kind of presented as, this is how to do it and make money at it, that was kind of the angle of that internship. But farming’s not always about that and that’s important to know. At the same time, you have to be able to keep your head above the water in some way. It was really fascinating for me to go from Malawi, where we weren’t farming for money at all, to a place in Sweden where money is the only factor.

I was working for Baylor College of Medicine, an NGO, where all the money that’s funding the program is from donors.  I’ve raised money myself, I had my family members help me raise money and other colleagues. We applied for grants and all that, but when you farm and have that as your framework for operations, you’re restricted.

But in Sweden, Richard, who owns the farm, is not as restricted and to me it was the ultimate farmers playground, like a learning center because there’s a little bit of everything and it’s showing what works and giving an understanding of where the value is, which is important when farming, 

What motivates you to farm? 

For me the true passion was born in Malawi, the true passion of farming. Tied into that there’s so many things– community, connection with the people, to the place-wherever the place may be,-and that connection catalyzes the base level of health.

Basically, if you’re living in a place where there’s not communication between the people, health isn’t going to be visible or as evident as it could be. 

What really motivated me was healing the land and then through healing the land, like the physical land, seeing how everything else is healed simultaneously. 

In Malawi, there’s almost no topsoil whatsoever, and within the health care facility there’s trash littered everywhere: open needles, syringes, metal. I mean, that’s why I’m wearing these big boots because I got these when I was there, but people were walking barefoot! 

That’s a huge biohazard!

Biohazard, there’s nails, there’s snakes, you name it. So much danger out there, so I wanted to find a way to make it more manageable for people. 

The first step was starting a composting system for the health care and a waste management system for the health center. We tried to talk to the nearby chiefs about what they could do to help and how we can maybe promote a different kind of interaction with waste.

That was part of it, but our specific place was kind of the melting pot of all these things. It was one place that we were trying to do a little bit of everything. And it’s still growing, which I’m thrilled about. And now 10 years from now, I can go back and see how much is grown.

I planted a seed there, I planted many seeds there! There was a bigger seed that is now seeing the difference. 

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your work?

There’s just a lot! There’s many things I can say about that, but I think the two main things are there’s so much to know, and there’s just constant learning for everybody, which is a draw, but it’s also a challenge. I really like to learn every day, and in farming I do learn every day. Another challenge is how farming is perceived. Its’ perception, especially among different groups and generations. It’s not as “noble” of an occupation. That did used to get to me a little bit.

But at the same time, when I was in Malawi I collaborated with a lot of youth organizations like Young Farmers Incubator and other youth movements, because we need farmers, especially in Malawi where food is so scarce. There’s practices that really should be implemented, but aren’t being on a larger scale, but that’s the background that I’m coming from.

You said that communities were one of the motivations for why you chose farming, so what does community mean to you? 

A loving connection. Of course between people, but more than just between people. Community is giving and taking constantly, and understanding communities is understanding the entire ecological systems that are in place.

Not only applied technology, but applied to social life. It’s really complex, but I think a healthy community is one in which there’s as many connections as possible, that’s loving and positively reinforcing other aspects of that community. I just see myself as one piece of that, but through the connections that I have and that Tommy, Jess, Dan, we all have, I think it creates a stronger community and it ripples out.

Easy one, what foods do you like that you’ve grown here so far? 

Beets, I love beets!

I’ve been eating a lot of the green onions, they’re one of my favorites. I’d been at a farm that grew kohlrabi, I haven’t grown it, but it was cool to see it and it tastes really good! I took it home and my mom’s like, what is this? What do I do with this? And I was like, “let’s find out!”

What’s the most interesting vegetable you’ve grown?

Yeah, I’ll tell you my favorite vegetable to grow and then one that was weird. 

So, my favorite is sweet potato. There’s just so, so satisfying to plant. And then you wait, you wait a while. You could wait six months or something like that. In Malawi where there’s a three month rainy season and the rest of the year it’s dry, you don’t want to harvest it as soon as you can because you want to harvest it when you’re ready to eat it. That’s another part of just understanding where you are in farming.

But I really enjoyed the sweet potato because it’s delicious. There’s so many varieties, there’s a lot of diversity within sweet potatoes. We had orange ones, we had white ones, red-purple ones, we had all sorts. And then we’d also eat the leaves, so it’s like a full eat. You have the starch, the tuber, but then you also have the leaves that we would prepare. They’re really tender and delicious, and they’re easy to plant. All you do is take a cutting from the stem, about a foot long piece, stick it on the ground and then keep going. 

One of the weirdest things I grew was, so there are two. One of them is an air potato. So it’s like a potato, just a normal small potato about the size of a golf ball, and you plop it down and dig a hole, put it in the ground next to a tree or at your house or something and it grows as a vine. It’s a perennial so it will stay. It’ll produce for a while and you’ll just find potatoes littered throughout your yard or underneath the tree and harvest them that way. You don’t have to go climbing up, there ready when they fall.

They taste exactly like potatoes, but they have a unique look to them. And then the other one was the giant yam. Picture a log, like one you’d throw in a campfire, it’s about that size. It’s like a long papaya. And we would take a piece off, stick it in the ground, dig a hole and put it in a ceramic pot so that it would prevent it from travelling too far down and made it easier to harvest. That one would also become a crazy bind and had a really unique look. 

How do you practice wellness?

I do practice yoga, so in the past I did it every single day, not so much now, but I’ll use techniques I’ve learned from yoga actually in the field when I’m harvesting, like focus on my breathing. I eat healthy, eat locally, eat things that I grow or people I know grow. I think learning is also part of wellness so I try to learn something new everyday. 

If you could have a message broadcasted to everyone in the world, what would you say?

I would say try to find someone you don’t know anything about and share a meal with them. The more different the lifestyle, the more different the person, the better. Try to do it as many times as you can.