Couple Establishes Farm to Feed Friends, Family and Neighborhood Naturally Grown Food
August 19, 2013 | Hana Lurie
Laura Casey of Changing Seasons Farm in Fall City, Washington is a very busy women. Not only does she run a small sustainable farm operation, but she works as an Environmental Scientist almost full-time on the side. Laura and her husband Dave do not employ workers, but instead collaborate with friends and family who help out on the farm.
I recently spoke with Laura to find out more about how the farm runs, what sustainable practices she employs, her Naturally Grown certification and more.
Q: What is the story of how your farm came to be?
Casey: Dave and I have always been gardeners. He was one of the people in Seattle who ripped up his yard and turned it into a garden before we ever moved out here. Then we lived in Carnation on an acre for several years, put in a bunch of gardens there, and eventually we just expanded. We got a bigger piece of property, and decided to grow more food. The farm was established in 2001.
Our operation is very small – it’s about an 18-acre piece of property – and this year we have a couple of acres in various vegetable crops and five or six acres in pasture for a couple of steers.
Q: How did you find the money to lease/buy your land?
Casey: Fortunately, Dave and I have very good off-the-farm jobs, so we had enough saved up by the time we bought the farm in our early to mid-forties. My husband is a Civil Engineer and I’m an Environmental Scientist. In the summertime, I work about 34 hours at my other job and 34 hours on the farm. Dave has arranged it so that he works with the steers, and he’s been spending only maybe 10 to 15 hours on the farm.
Q: What do you grow and raise on the farm?
Casey: We like to say artichokes to zucchini (laughs) – all kinds of vegetables. At the moment, what we have a lot of [...] cucumbers, a greenhouse of tomatoes and chilli peppers, lots of potatoes, a lot of green beans. We also put in blueberries – about 40 plants that seem to produce a lot of blueberries. We have two steers. Dave buys the steers from one of our neighbors in the spring when they’re about a year old, and they stay here through the fall. They are grass-fed beef so they eat nothing but grass, except comfrey. They love comfrey! It’s a treat.
Q: When and why did you decide to embrace sustainable practices?
Casey: Right away. I have a lot of chemical sensitivities, besides the fact that I’m also an environmentalist. Actually, that’s my other job – I’m an environmental scientist when I’m not farming. We’ve been organic and sustainable forever.
Q: Can you describe some unique, sustainable practices that you employ on the farm?
Casey: At the moment we are letting some of our fields be fallow for the summer and using cover crops. We rotate the crops; I have a map, so I know that I don’t grow plants from the same family in the same spot every 3 or 4 years. We don’t use chemically derived fertilizers or pesticides. On the rare occasion, we use something only if it’s approved on the National Organic Board list. We do drip irrigation. At the moment it’s raining, so that’s glorious.
Q: Is your farm certified organic?
Casey: It is not; it is Certified Naturally Grown. Certified Naturally Grown is a grassroots organization and it’s nationwide. The site is naturallygrown.org if you would like to check it out online. We grow using sustainable, organic practices and certify each other. To inspect, you can be a farmer or a group of three or four citizens who are interested in checking the sustainability of local farmers. I can’t certify my neighbor and then have him certify me; we have three or four neighbors out here that certify each other for the standards that Certified Naturally Grown holds us to. These standards happen to be the same as the Organic standards. The only difference is that it’s not government run and we don’t have to pay the money to use the word ‘organic’. There is a detailed inspection sheet that we have to fill out every year. We go over to our neighbors farm and walk through, and it takes about an hour or two. We talk to them about what they’re doing, look at their land and what products they have available or that they might be using.
Q: How does the farm make money?
Casey: This year we scaled back and have a ten member CSA. Last year and the year before we had twenty, but I decided that I need a little more time. This is a family and friend farm – we don’t have employees, so it’s us and a couple of friends who work very part-time: about a couple hours a week. That’s why we only do CSA and Dave sells the beef. We actually do sell to restaurants at times. In the spring we have shallots, and our neighbors have good restaurant contacts, so they sold our shallots to restaurants for us. We’ve been doing the CSA for three years, but before that we did farmer’s markets for eight years.
Q: Would you consider the farm to be profitable, or self-sustaining?
Casey: Marginally profitable. We do make more money than we put into it, but I think that’s because we don’t count our labor. If we counted our labor, we probably wouldn’t be, because we are a very small farm. If I were doing this full-time, I would be going to at least one market and I’d have restaurant contacts while growing a lot more. Though we’re small, we figure we’re feeding at least ten families a week and when we have left-overs, it goes to people we work with or the food bank.
Q: What are some challenges that you face on the farm?
Casey: First of all, our farm is located in the floodway of the Snoqualmie River. What that means is that on most years, it goes under water a couple of times in the winter. The whole valley becomes a big lake, so that’s a challenge. The local government has actually helped the local farmers out here by allowing us to build farm paths which are elevated areas that we can park our equipment on that don’t flood. Another challenge would be weeds – I have an infestation of morning glory which is a pain.
Q: What are the future goals of your farm?
Casey: We want it to stay farmland forever. We don’t want it to be subdivided or anybody’s horse farm or something – we want it to be a place to grow food!