Farm Kid Turned Anthropologist Returns to a Life in Sustainable Agriculture
July 29, 2013 | Missy Smith
As a fourth generation farmer, Elaine Lemmon has a fond relationship with dirt. But growing up, she didn’t plan on becoming a farmer later in her life. When the real world called, she answered, studying anthropology and archeology at Penn State University. But, her studies would later steer her back to farming. “I soon got disenchanted with how science-for-profit really wasn’t good science,” says Lemmon. “The part of archeology I really loved was working outside and working in the soil.”
She spent her college days trying to hone in on a career within her field of study. It wasn’t until she worked on a sustainable agriculture project in a botany class that she really got the farming bug. “Through the project, I realized the dire state of food in our country,” she reflects. “Small farmers were just squeezed right out. Great food wasn’t available locally anymore. I was seeing that we were in the position in this country to turn this around—in a romantic way, in a food security way, to have our food become more local to us. That all sounded really good to me.
While working on an organic farming apprenticeship in 2002, she decided she would head back to her family’s farm. “I got hooked on it and thought, ‘This is really what I want to do.’ I realized it was my passion and a really great way to live,” she reflects. “My dad carved out some acres for me, and I started a CSA (in 2004) while still working part-time on my apprenticeship. Here we are about 10 years later and I still love it.”
Today, Lemmon’s Everblossom Farm, located in East Berlin, Pa., grows more than 50 varieties of vegetables, for sale at local farmers’ markets, through its summer and winter CSAs, at local high-end restaurants and at natural food stores. The farm is constantly looking for ways to meet market demand and will be expanding its winter CSA, which Lemmon says is becoming more popular than the summer CSA. “We are also looking into some organic small greens,” she says. “People are very interested in fresh, local greens.”
Dirt is a serious matter on Everblossom Farm, and the farm crew takes strides to ensure that the ground is healthy and rich in nutrients, allowing for the tastiest, most nutrient-dense food to grow. The farm team constantly observes what is happening with its soil and conducts regular soil tests. Using compost, cover crops, naturally derived minerals and beneficial insects, Everblossom Farm relies on sustainable practices, instead of pesticides.
“While there are a lot of different sprays approved for organic production, we don’t buy into that. Beneficial insects are way better than coming in and [eliminating the pests] yourself,” explains Lemmon. “What I learned early on is if you really want to be successful in growing food outside, you have to let go of the idea that you are in control. You are trying to direct an orchestra. You have to work within that system and be patient.”
Lemmon explains that letting nature take its course has been the most effective approach on Everblossom Farm. This sometimes means that crops are lost to pests. “If aphids are taking over our fava beans, and we see [beneficial insects like] soldier beetles and ladybugs, we step back,” she explains. “If we lose the fava beans, we lose them. We have 50 other crops. The knee-jerk reaction is to spray it with something that someone can sell to you. We don’t subscribe to that, so I think that sets us apart.”
While Everblossom Farm uses some techniques that help attract beneficial insects—like providing ample pollination—Lemmon says that the chemical-free nature of the farm alone attracts the good bugs. “Because we haven’t been heavy handed with spray, they’ve just showed up,” she relays. “Everything is blooming, and we have some weeds—it’s not a pristine garden. It’s sort of a wild place that is pretty attractive to beneficial insects.”
Getting Back to the Land
Lemmon says that the trend of college-educated professionals getting back to a simpler life with farming is not overly surprising. “People are starting to realize that farming is mentally stimulating and challenging,” she says. “It’s more than just plugging plants into the ground. You need some serious problem solving skills to be able to hang.”
Farming has allowed Lemmon to use her intellect and schooling, not in an office, but in nature, where she can leave a positive footprint on the future. “I want to feel awesome about the work the I do,” says Lemmon. “I love hard work and feeling productive. I really like to look down a road and see where I’ve been, but I also like having a greater purpose in helping a community and leaving a sound legacy, where I wasn’t just a person at desk.”