So you farm full time?
We didn't used to.
Not that long ago, we both worked in very different sorts of fields: Mary was teaching biology at a small college in Oregon, and Noah worked as a sustainable agriculture consultant in the tropics of Asia and Africa, running independent conservation and storytelling projects as well. Though our graduate degrees from the University of Montana took us in very different directions for several years, growing and eating good food were always close to home. After we nested in together when Noah moved back to the US, we used every available inch of our urban backyard for food, restoring weedy raised beds and a forgotten asparagus patch, building our first chicken coop, and foraging for wild edibles through the neighborhood and surrounding forest.
We’ve come a long way since that first homely chicken coop, including a move back to Montana, a year of homestead farming (not selling produce, but growing a full year’s worth of our own vegetables, meat, and eggs), and eventually buying a farm of our own, with a determination to grow enough to feed our community and provide our own living.
When you understand that we see food and farming as a way to be a part of our community, both local and global, it may seem like less of a jump from our former work in education, ecology, conservation, and storytelling, to being a farm. Growing food for people, bringing the community together around that food, and growing it in a way that always keeps in mind the complex ecology of a farm and its surroundings allows us to be immersed in conservation and community building in a very applied and relevant way. We grow using organic practices, and will be applying for certification this year, but those organic practices are just the beginning. We are constantly learning and looking for ways to go deeper, building our soil, learning the details of our particular place and which varieties grow well, trying to understand what everyone needs to thrive here. Our growing practices include integrating animals for pest management, fertility building, and providing healthy locally grown protein. We place an immense focus on feeding the soil to build up the health of our plants through cover drops, deep mulching, and large on-farm composting.
Farming is also perhaps the hardest thing we’ve done. To put that in perspective, between the two of us we have run 7 marathons, earned two bachelor's degrees, a master's and a doctorate, climbed dozens of mountains, completed a 55-mile sea kayak paddle in day, been lost in Denali State park, lived or traveled in six continents, and survived Dengue fever (twice) and a 600 mile drive with two cats (several times). Not to mention raising three stubborn husky-mix dogs and putting up with each other (at least as stubborn as the huskies) for over five years now. On the worst days, we wonder how we will ever make it. On the best days, we wouldn’t trade farming for anything else.