Eric Kelly, founder of Charm City Farms, has always appreciated the great outdoors. Since he was a kid, Kelly dreamed of working outside with his hands and communing with critters. But when he became an adult, reality set in—he had to get a 9-to-5 job.
But Kelly’s life took a turn after he was in a car accident. He decided to make a change. So, he left his job and hiked part of the Appalachian trail. “I tried to reconnect to myself,” he says. “I already liked plants and had a great relationship with animals, but I wanted to learn more.”
“Conventional-farmers call us bioterrorists,” says Joel Salatin of the much heralded Polyface Farm.
“They are literally scared to death that one of our unvaccinated animals is going to get sick and then bring a disease to the area and shut down everybody’s farming and destroy the planet’s food supply. They would like us to pack up and leave. I could either respond with viciousness, depression, frustration and you know, ulcers or whatever, or I can just have fun with it. I decided to have fun with it.”
Joel Salatin is a holistic farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, and an iconic figure in the sustainable food movement. Salatin practices a healing-the-land approach to farming in the face of much criticism from both traditional and sustainable agriculture advocates. Salatin self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a “lunatic” and is rather proud of it. A wordsmith and wise meat producer, Salatin offers perspective on all things farmer related.
People become farmers for many different reasons—family tradition, a love of the land, a desire to make a difference, and so on. But for Indiana-based This Old Farm co-founder Jessica Smith, motherhood was the main motivator.
“I started looking at agriculture from the standpoint of having children and wanting to feed them well,” says Smith. “Our kids motivate us and that’s really the motivation for looking at agriculture.”
Jessica and her husband Erick started This Old Farm in 2000 because they wanted to bring healthy food to their family and other local families as well. The operation began as an 88-acre row crop farm that they gradually converted to pasture. They have focused primarily on livestock, raising Katahdin lamb, pastured pork, and pastured poultry. They are, however, looking to increase their produce production, and have 10 acres of lettuce going out this year.
What was once a vacant lot in the heart of San Francisco is now a 3/4-acre urban farm bridging the gap between production and consumption.
“I think making sustainable agriculture visible and accessible within city limits is an important tool for education and awareness about the larger movement of small scale farming,” says Little City Gardens co-founder and head farmer Caitlyn Galloway.
Galloway’s fellow co-founder Brooke Budner first decided to start an urban garden in 2007 after spotting an overgrown abandoned lot from her rooftop. By the time Galloway and Budner met in 2008, Budner had already created a thriving garden on the spot. The two women began gardening together and eventually developed the vision and business plan for Little City Gardens.
Brought together by a shared love of sustainable agriculture, Lars Prillaman and Leslie Randall launched 8.5-acre Green Gate Farm in the small, historic town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Prillaman and Randall see agriculture not as an efficiency and profit-maximizing endeavor, but as an intricate process guided by natural cycles, ethical responsibility, and community enrichment, and work hard to maintain a farm that realizes their vision of what agriculture should be.
That being said, these young, new farm owners have been tremendously successful for a first-year start-up.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about making money doing it,” says Prillaman, “If I didn’t make money doing it I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Thus far, the pair runs a thriving CSA which currently has a wait-list for next season, sells to a popular local restaurant, has tables at two farmer’s markets, and has received accolades from established farmers who are impressed and astonished with their first year success.
An Ohio native who moved to the bright sunny state of Southern California, Jeff Mott decided his life had a different purpose. That purpose meant leaving behind the SoCal lifestyle, buying an Amish homestead on the Virginia/Ohio border and initiating a lifestyle change that has not only proven to be profitable, but has also changed his entire perspective.
35 miles outside of Wheeling, West Virginia lies the Mott Family Farm, the Ohio-based haven of two former California residents, Jeff and Shelley Mott, who craved a back to basics approach to life, a slowing down of pace and an opportunity to share a love of growing that began in California. Land prices and moving closer to Jeff’s father were only part of the equation. Mott felt his California lifestyle was missing a sense of community.
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.
Funny enough, when we first realized our strong desire to get back to the land, the first thing we did was connect with technology. Our farm journey began with a lot of internet researching: What it takes to run a farm. What we needed to get started. How we can secure farming land.
Much of our research kept coming up with the same two answers: land and money—two resources that we had in quite a limited supply. At that point, we were living in Bucks County, Pa., an area that is historically rich in agriculture, but had been developed in lightening speed over the almost thirty years we lived there. Each time I entered my hometown of Quakertown on visits home from Millersville University, I noticed that more and more land was being gobbled up in the name of housing developments, retail stores and restaurants.
Skip Connett, 57, is co-owner of Austin’s approximately 40-acre certified organic Green Gate Farms. The operation is a realization of a vision he had to cultivate a healthy farm that feeds mind, body and soul. He and his co-owner wife, Erin Flynn, 51, established Green Gate Farms in May 2006, five acres of which are in what was once a blighted neighborhood, eight miles east of downtown Austin, Texas. Another four to six acres of a 35-acre plot located 23 miles from downtown Austin are presently being developed with cover cropping, fruit trees and vegetables.
Skip, formerly a writer for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, saw firsthand the dilemmas of poor health and that, combined with a passion for organic farming, drove him to cultivating the soil.