When Terra and Mike Brownback purchased their countryside farm along with an old, rundown farmhouse in 1978, they had no idea that their little dream would become one of the most prominent and successful organic farms in Central Pennsylvania. With big dreams and a little savings, the suburban kids embarked on a mission to make their own small imprint on the future of sustainable agriculture. Included with their 56 acres in Loysville, Perry County, was an 1880 farmhouse in desperate need of a makeover to even make it livable. “Our house was in such bad shape. The windows were even broken out,” says Terra Brownback.
Thirty-seven years of blood, sweat and tears put into fixing up their home, learning how to farm and purchasing additional adjacent acreage have truly paid off. The Brownback’s now run Spiral Path Farm, a 255-acre farm that is home to a 20-year-old, 2,300-member CSA. It is a USDA Organic-certified producer for local farmers markets and a collection of regional organic wholesale warehouses.
At 7:15 on a late May morning, the Arizona sun has yet to bake everything in its path — including the vegetables growing at Desert Roots Farm, on the southeastern outskirts of Phoenix.
Owner Kelly Saxer’s staff is bringing in the day’s harvest, bagging carrots with huge leafy tops and weighing zucchini into bags. The vegetables will eventually make their way to the farm’s roughly 300 Community Supported Agriculture members awaiting the weekly vegetable haul.
Desert Roots sprawls over 25 acres that Saxer farms without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Instead of chemicals, she uses compost or manure and weeds by hand. Crop rotation allows the soil to rest between production.
“We believe the next wars are going to be over food and water. So who better to train than our military in water conservation and food production?” – Karen Archipley
Returning military often find themselves struggling to return to normality after serving overseas. Colin Archipley, co-owner of Archi’s Acres in Escondido, CA knows exactly how they feel. He served three tours of duty during the Iraq War that began in 2003. Between his second and third deployment, Colin, along with his wife Karen, bought an inefficiently run avocado farm. Besides starting their own very successful living basil hydroponics farm on the site, the empathetic couple created an incubator for transitioning veterans. What they created became known as the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training or VSAT program, a way to help veterans train for self-employment in the peaceful profession of hydroponic farming.
The family farmer is making a comeback with a starring role in the new American dream.
In recent years, the number of individual farms in the United States has increased for the first time since World War II, according to the 2007 Agricultural Census, the most recent data compiled by the USDA. A new wave of beginning family farmers have headed back to the fields, driven by a desire to connect with the land, frustration with the industrialized food system, and high unemployment rates.
The majority of new farms are very small, earning less than $10,000 per year. They tend to be run by younger farmers, two thirds of whom rely on off-farm work to supplement farm income, the census revealed. As with any new business venture, it can take several years to begin to turn a profit.
When landscape architect Lisa Jaroch decided to leave her job designing parks and greenways at Hamilton Anderson, a prestigious Detroit architecture firm, she was ready to move in an entirely new direction.
A hands-on landscape designer, she had always possessed a green thumb and a passion for sustainability – interests that led her to pursue a new life as an organic farmer.
“This is my encore career,” she says. “It brings everything together for me.”
Jaroch left her job in 2011 to pursue certification through Michigan State University’s 9-month Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP) program at the Student Organic Farm. The 10-acre farm doubles as a hands-on learning laboratory and a local food producer, offering a 48-week CSA, a 7-month campus farm stand, and supplies MSU dining halls with fresh produce.
Jeff and Laura Hamons manage Synergistic Acres, a sustainable livestock farm in Parker, Kan. Neither Jeff nor Laura grew up on a farm, but the couple decided to go into farming because they believe everyone in the Kansas City-area should have access to healthy, humanely-raised meat.
Synergistic Acres has been operating for a year and the family’s farming lifestyle has synched with their personal belief system. “We had not even considered living on a farm two years ago,” Jeff Hamons said. “We have tried to get a fast start without growing too fast too soon. We had a great first year and connected with a lot of families searching for the same food we raise.”
Last year, the farm raised around 500 broilers, 75 turkeys, breeding sows, a boar, four grower pigs, 18 cattle, and a flock of 70 layers. The Hamons keep livestock in a natural setting. The farm’s animals live their lives outside on pasture.
Farming in Southern California has advantages not available to growers in other parts of the country. The extended growing season, accommodating microclimates and fertile soil can encourage novice farmers to try something they might not normally take on. In the case of All Good Things Organic Seeds, newbie farmers Justin Huhn and Quin Shakra were inspired to go beyond organic farming of their 1.3-acre plot to establishing a seed sourcing company that aims to expand the available varietals of certified organic seeds on offer to backyard growers and small-scale commercial farmers.
A simple passion for great tasting food and sustainability fueled the founding of Amelia’s Farm, a hydroponic farm based in Bells, Texas. Amelia Von Kennel, co-founder and executive vice president, and Ben Von Kennel, co-founder and chief executive officer, established the Farm in October 2011. The couple sold their house in Dallas, Texas, and moved their family ranch to Bells, Texas. Since the move, the Von Kennel’s focus has concerned strengthening the Amelia’s Farm brand, and building a 6,000 square-foot, commercial, hydroponic greenhouse. The Farm grows pesticide-free, non-GMO produce all year round.
I recently had a conversation with Amelia Von Kennel. She discussed how the couple started farming, why she and Ben value healthy food and how the Farm stays sustainable.
First Time Farmers in Hopewell, NJ Embrace Unique Business Model, Hope to Grow Sustainable Farm MovementFebruary 25, 2013 | Missy Smith
Like many people jumping aboard the local food revolution, Robin and Jon McConaughy’s sustainable farming journey all started with an article that took a peek behind the conventional farming curtain. Ten years ago, as Robin McConaughy was flipping through the New York Times’ Sunday newspaper, she came across Michael Pollan’s article “Power Steer”, which chronicled the life of a conventionally raised cow from birth to dinner table.
“It disgusted me. It was such an eye opener,” reflects McConaughy, who says that neither she nor her husband have farming backgrounds. “I actually thought people farmed on green fields. I never [considered] what the meat from the supermarket actually was.” Already having a desire to own some land where their now 10- and 12-year-old boys could grow up forming a first-hand understanding of nature, McConaughy and her husband Jon found Pollan’s belly-turning piece to be the final push in a healthy, sustainable direction.
In 2003, the McConaughys purchased their 60-acre farm in Hopewell Township, N.J., and got to work raising some animals for their family’s consumption.
Few look at a weed-choked city lot fowled by disemboweled cars and see a future of health enhancing vegetables by the bushel full. But this is what the founders of the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT) saw 30 years ago in a down and out neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island. That ¾ acre lot, now called City Farm, represented the start of something now a whole lot of lots bigger. In following its mission to provide access to land, education and other resources to enable people in Greater Providence to grow food in environmentally sustainable ways, SCLT has grown the number of community gardens it oversees to 16.
While interest in local and organic food was once dismissed as a passing trend, it seems that consumer demand is only steadily increasing, to the point where demand for organic food is now growing faster than the domestic supply. Luckily, we are also seeing a burgeoning movement for sustainable agriculture, including in urban areas where local access to such foods can be scarce. Clear Creek Organics, a first generation urban farm located in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, is one example of this growing movement. Stephen and Lauren Cochenour began Clear Creek Organics out of a desire to provide local and organic food for their surrounding community.
Neither Stephen nor Lauren come from farming backgrounds. When asked about what initially sparked his interest in farming, Stephen laughed, saying, “It’s a bit ironic, as I grew up in Wisconsin and it wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that I realized I wanted to grow food for people.
The following is a candid conversation with young farmers, Matt Hyde and Sarah Wertz about their operation, Rabbit Run Farm in Skull Valley, Arizona.
What compelled you, especially as a young couple to get into sustainable farming?
We both enjoy working outdoors and eating good food. The farming lifestyle represents our values and beliefs. Also, we took the class Small Scale Agriculture at Prescott College held at Whipstone Farm in Paulden, Arizona. Following the class, we talked with the farmers Cory and Shanti and asked if we could work for them the following season. We really enjoyed it! The next season, Byrnie at Ridgeview Farms offered us land to use as kind of a trial for farming on our own The next season we were offered the farm manager position at Jenner Farm in Skull Valley and moved our farming operation there. We’ve been farming ever since.
News Release – MEMPHIS, Jan. 15, 2013 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new microloan program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed to help small and family operations, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers secure loans under $35,000. The new microloan program is aimed at bolstering the progress of producers through their start-up years by providing needed resources and helping to increase equity so that farmers may eventually graduate to commercial credit and expand their operations. The microloan program will also provide a less burdensome, more simplified application process in comparison to traditional farm loans.