#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Jessica Brown & River Walker of Happy Hearts Farm
Jessica Brown and River Walker are on an ever-expanding agricultural adventure that began with a small kitchen garden and a desire to become part of the revolution of small sustainable farms providing good food for communities.
Brown, 25, who is originally from Southern California, didn’t grow up knowing or seeing the process of how food gets on the plate. But following college, she settled in Fieldbrook in the northern part of the state, and began craving the outdoors and having a hands-on experience with nature. For Walker, 26, who grew up in the area, his desire to farm has grown over the years in tandem with his understanding of permaculture, the soil, and weeds.
Now, Happy Hearts Farm boasts a quarter-acre vegetable garden, which will provide for Walker and Brown’s CSA farm shares, plus their original kitchen garden is being used to grow medicinal herbs, flowers, and is also where they experiment with various vegetables to see if they want to grow them on a larger scale. The couple is focused on no-till methods such as using hugelkultur, swales, and growing perennial plants. They’ve also have goats, chickens, an orchard, and an apiary.
“I feel that the farm-to-table movement is finally gaining the steam it needs to shut out big ag in marketplaces when abundance is to be found locally,” says Walker. “I’m proud that Jess and I can be part of this revolution.”
Modern Farmer: Why do you consider yourself a modern farmer?
Jessica Brown: I strive for connection and farming does just that. It connects me to the Earth, to being outside. … Each time that I attempt to grow a new vegetable, my love and appreciation multiplies for farmers, for seeds, and for the magic that connects the two. Getting outside proves beneficial in so many ways and I feel like that’s what it’s all about. Because the natural cycles and mother earth have so much to teach us. I think being a “modern farmer” means going for it, taking the step towards this small-scale agriculture movement that we all come from. It’s really just the desire to be happy and healthy, and the second you pick a tomato from the vine and bite into it you’re hooked. How could you not want to grow it after that? Supporting humble families dedicated to growing love and nourishment, that’s what it’s all about.
River Walker: We’re picking up farming in an exciting time when carefully managed and intensive small-scale efforts can not only get your hands in the dirt, all day every day, but can pay the bills! We hope. Really, really hope. These days we can take a glance at social media to see our friends on vacations all around the world. We’ll find time to travel (in some distant future), but for now, our dream destination is right here farming. There’s something to be said about waking up and letting the animals out, smelling the morning air, and watching the sun come up behind the redwoods.
MF: Why is it important to you to support local agriculture?
JB: Every time you support local agriculture you are voting … that local matters more to you than supporting big ag. Because the more you spend money on local, the less it goes to a larger source. It just doesn’t make sense to buy something that has traveled so many miles when you could just eat a more seasonal diet and obtain it from someone who grew it in the same town. We are so used to being able to get everything now and that mindset needs to shift so that seasonal eating is more the norm and people aren’t expecting tomatoes all year long.
There’s something to be said about waking up and letting the animals out, smelling the morning air, and watching the sun come up behind the redwoods.
Growing up these are things I didn’t even realize, because I could go to the grocery store and buy a perfect and polished apple every single day. It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized apples had a season; I never even saw the image of it on a tree in my mind. I feel that the food education needs to be instilled early on in kids that maybe don’t have the luxury of living on property with all of the information around them. I am so grateful to live in a place where we have many options to support local farmers. Our farmers markets are brimming with the best of the best, and since I moved here have been such a beautiful part of my experience.
RW: Mass distribution of affordable organic products, although a step in the right direction for big-box stores, does not have the same positive ecological/economical impact that being a patron of your local farmer has. Plain and simple. Supporting your local farmers keeps money and resources local. It puts you back in touch with your food. It can also really help a young farm get a foothold, or an existing one thrive. We have a large amount of excited customers who want to support the farm, and are so thankful for them. They will make the first year a success. I look forward to meeting the people in the community who don’t get out to the local co-ops or farmers markets. We can fill their kitchens with a weekly bounty, and put a flower on their table as well, in thanks. That connection to your food, through your farmer, makes a difference in how you enjoy it. That’s pretty cool.
MF: If you could grow or raise any food or animal, what would it be and why?
JB: Honestly, I love goats. I have [loved them] since I was a little girl visiting my aunt in Colorado, meeting and playing with her goats. I’m dreaming of getting a doeling this year in hopes of starting the milking adventure to make cheese, body products, and such. As for the grow anything part, I would choose medicinal herbs. I dream of providing people with fresh and potent medicine someday.
RW: I can’t wait to raise pigs! I don’t buy meat often, but would not turn down a deep freezer of kunekune fed from our very own garden.
MF: What’s your favorite vegetable?
JB: Carrots always have been my favorite vegetable; shredded carrots are a serious addiction of mine. (And the fact that a “rainbow” carrot variety exists is just the best, too. Anything of rainbow descent is magic and a must-have.)
RW: Tomatoes, of course! The gateway veggie to gardening. We’re growing 20 heirloom varieties this year.
MF: If you could give other modern farmers any advice, what would it be?
JB: Work hard but leave the farm. Seriously. Go adventure, socialize, be with your loved ones. Take time off to travel. I find it so helpful for me to take important time away. I come home balanced and able to see things clearly, so that I can be the most effective. And dance all of the time; take breaks to wiggle and move to some Al Green. The plants love it when you dance with them in the wind and sing your little heart out to their tendrils. Plus, you get those happy endorphins flowing and then giggles pretty much always ensue. Have fun. Let it be playful and enjoyable because today is all we have. So make it awesome.
MF: Do you have a farming/agricultural hero? Why do you admire them?
RW: What really bridged the gap between a love for gardening and working with the land, and wanting to do it full time, for ourselves and the community, was The Market Gardener, by Jean-Martin Fortier. He made the vision possible, and truly I feel we’d be lost without his shared knowledge.
JB: The Market Gardener is our bible. I also feel so grateful for the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and how it shaped my understanding of sustaining yourself fully local. I am, of course, constantly inspired by our local farmers and the divine vegetables they have to offer year round. And last but not least, Tasha Tudor. What a woman. Seriously, have you ever heard of her? If not please look into her; her simple way of life, creative garden space, and witty charm is just the best!
Want a chance at an interview with Modern Farmer and other cool prizes? Just post a picture or a video on Twitter and/or Instagram with the hashtag #iamamodernfarmer and you’ll be entered for a chance to win. Every week, we’ll choose one winner to be profiledonModernFarmer.com. Every month, one of the weekly winners will be picked to win $100 in Modern Farmer swag. One of the monthly winners will also win the grand prize: A VIP trip for two to the Farm Aid 2016 concert!
Added bonus: If you purchase an “I am a modern farmer” t-shirt, you’ll stand in solidarity with the hardworking men and women who produce our food. You certainly don’t have to don the shirt to post and have a chance to win, but with sales of these tees, Modern Farmer supports independent farmers with a donation to Farm Aid.
Need inspiration? Check out all the #iamamodernfarmer posts from across the country—and around the world!