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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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From the Ground Up, a First-time Farmer Charts Her Course

July 24, 2013 |

Missy Smith and Brett Ziegler. Photo Credit: Missy Smith.

Missy Smith and Brett Ziegler. Photo Credit: Missy Smith.

Moved to answer a calling to help turn around our broken food system and reverse environmental damages, Missy Smith, Brett Ziegler and their children are embarking on a sustainable farming mission in Central Pennsylvania. Follow them as they start Barefoot Hill Farm, a journey that will begin with renovating an old farmhouse and revitalizing previously vacant farmland and will continue with growing and raising organic food, reaching out to their local communities to spread the healthy eating gospel and acting as good stewards to beautiful farmland. Missy will document the ups, the downs, the triumphs and the setbacks that come with starting a modern organic sustainable farm.

Several years ago, my fiancé Brett and I were up to our eyeballs in news articles and literature about how the food we were putting into our bodies was destroying our health. This drive to learn more about the journey our food was taking from farm to supermarket happened to ramp up around the time that we were getting weary from the daily grind. I was running the rat race each morning through traffic, public transportation and city sidewalks to arrive at my little cubicle destination, where I wrote dry business-to-business stories under fluorescent lights. Brett spent his long workdays laying tile, hanging drywall and building decks for his family-owned construction company. We were both doing things that we loosely enjoyed and were good at, but we were looking for much more. We felt like fish out of water, dreamers forced to conform. We were always looking for some sort of higher purpose.

While we weren’t plugging away at our nine-to-five jobs, we were making diet and lifestyle changes within our household. We kicked our Starbucks, Asian takeout and pizzeria habits. We altered our diets to include only organic foods, and started spending more time in the kitchen preparing homemade, from-scratch meals. We drastically cut back on eating out and now almost always only support local restaurants and cafes that offer organic, natural and local foods. We started supporting local farms and began shopping at farmers’ markets. We became informed consumers and started voting with our dollars every chance we got. But, we were still struggling with the daily grind within our newly healthy lives. We were frustrated that life had become dictated by the real world’s expectations of success: working 40 or more hours a week to buy stuff we don’t need, with little quality time to spend with each other and our children. We wanted out of the real world.

Not only were we jaded, but we were angered by the toll that the corporate, highly processed and genetically modified food monopoly was having on our health and how it left some of our loved ones riddled with illness. We couldn’t keep our energy and excitement contained within our own family. That’s when we decided to do something crazy, something that our families, friends, and frankly, we didn’t see coming. We decided to jump ship and become farmers.

Here I am, the daughter of two retired teachers, a formerly responsible student who rarely went against the social grain, with an English degree as my ticket to potentially high-profile publishing jobs, and I have chosen not to follow modern society’s expectations. Like many other first-time farmers, Brett and I are getting back to the land to stand up against our corrupt, lab-driven food system and to take back the fundamental human right to feed our family and local communities real food, the way nature intended. While farming may seem like a professional detour, the act of growing and eating homegrown food and educating people about healthy living speaks to a rousing desire to make a difference that I had been trying to find for years. But, becoming a farmer and organic food evangelist doesn’t mean I have to let my college degree collect dust. Starting our farm journey has actually allowed me to hone in on a new writing and photography niche, as a budding local food and sustainable agriculture journalist.

As modern sustainable farming renegades, Big Ag dissenters and lovers of wholesome, delicious food, we have a strong penchant for true personal freedom and healthy, nature-driven lives. Combining old traditions with modern political activism, we are joining the next generation of farmers who are working toward a wholesome, untainted food supply and a healthier planet. As a family, we want to help people make healthy choices, ones that aren’t always easily distinguished in big box stores or covered by the mainstream media, because of the big payoffs that happen behind the scenes. Most major food companies and news outlets won’t share the truth or spread the healthy food wealth, so we have set out to do our part. We see no other way to make a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities and environment, and in turn, our children’s future.

We want change. We’ve made personal sacrifices in order to find it. We do not come from farming backgrounds; we are literally learning from the ground up. Most importantly, we hope that we can contribute to the ever-increasing momentum toward a healthier world for everyone. If we don’t step up to the plate to protect and secure the future, who will?

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