Farm At Waters Edge

Sara Roberts, Member Spotlight, July, 2013

Sara Roberts

By Jacqueline Cramer
Sarah Roberts works at Farm at Waters Edge, and is a recent graduate of Evergreen State College. The Farm at Water’s Edge (FAWE) is a demonstration farm run by the non-profit Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. The Farm is a work in progress as staff and volunteers are dedicated to providing the community with a place to acquire fresh vegetables and learn about how agriculture and salmon ecosystems can co-exist. FAWE is currently working toward Organic Certification through WSDA.

How did you come to this farm?
I am here currently in an Americorps position. I worked at the Evergreen State College Farm. I was already a gardener. I have had my hands in the dirt since I was 5 or 6. I studied generally environmental studies- focusing on agrocecology and sustainable ecosystems – I created that. I graduated in August [2012].

What was your experience like at Evergreen?
I took Practices in Sustainable Agriculture (PSA) which helped me practice farm experience. Then I took ecological agriculture which really got me hooked.

What or who inspired you there?
Dylan Fischer – no question. He was my field ecology and temperate rainforest professor, one of my most inspiring professors. He does work with cottonwood and ecosystem restoration and carbon cycling. I learned field sampling. We did research in the Grand Canyon. I learned forest functions, ecological agriculture, nutrient cycling within food systems, food security, farm bill issues.
Also, I took a Permaculture Design Course in September [2012] with Larry Corn, and Chuck Burr.

What are your responsibilities at the Farm now?
I am the farm manager’s assistant. We work closely together. We have 7 goats: 3 pygmies, 4 milking goats, 12 alpacas, one lama, and 23 chickens. We have had an acre under vegetable production, more this year at 2.25 acres. A lot of it is under restoration since the farm is on the Hood Canal and The Union River. Washington Fish and Wildlife is doing restoration on half of the farm’s 90 acres. We are part of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement group. A lot of the land is housing soil and equipment, and we are going through a big transition. It was owned by Jack Johnson before and had cattle and hay.

What are some of the differences working on a farm now, compared to learning in school?
Evergreen didn’t have the livestock, but it does have an orchard, and my farm doesn’t have that.
Evergreen farm is well established with on-farm composting and my farm doesn’t have that. The Evergreen Farm had farm stands and a CSA, and my farm is in the beginning stages. This will be our third year of production. We realized a u-pick was more energy than it is worth. People would come sporadically at varying times of the day, and we had to orient them in the garden, which took a lot of our time. Plus, improper harvesting affected the crop. I could see it working in a field where the product was noticeably ripe, and you had someone who could orient them

Was farming in your family?
No. My mom grew up on a homestead farm. Our house had a garden, and I wanted to grow something in it at a very young age. I found a pack of seeds and wanted to plant it, and I did. That was the beginning of it. As I learned more, I realized I was passionate about it, something I wanted to dedicate my life to. I wanted to be a farmer.

Do you have any unique farming practices or “farm hacks” you’d like to share?
Permaculture methods and styles with the permculture principles in mind. There are so many different practices that I agree with, and permaculture is the one large body of knowledge I agree with.

Can you talk about the struggles of farming that you have found?
Within my own life. I am in a limbo state, wondering if I should become a full-time farmer now, or go to grad school and head into it that way. My hardest struggle is choosing grad school and do a demo garden, or start my own fram. I recognize how crucial an effective business plan is, to crunch all the numbers ahead of time and recognize what is plausible. Evergreen is great for that orientation. For example, dealing with alpacas, the expense and effort, we need to have a market for them.

What advice would you give to new farmers?
Process everything you are thinking about and work through all your numbers. Talk to farmers who are doing what you want to do, find out their struggle. Ask how they got themselves established. Find out about markets. Have patience to get yourself well-known. I am not in it yet, but I’m observing how important it is to have a business plan, enterprise budgets. Then, get out and do farming, working on a variety of different farms.

Why are you members of Tilth Producers?
I became a member when I was at Evergreen, getting involved to go to the conference, and to connect with other farmers , be involved in the loop of what is going on.

What philosophy guides your farming choices? What ethics are important for you to stand by?
Permaculture seems to be a better orientation- to plant perennial crops. My parents have an acre and I am doing some experimentation on the land, using permaculture methods: doing a huglekulture, biochar , symbiotic relationship with mushrooms, and companion planting, to understand what’s going on in the soil.

Who have been your inspirations?
Bill Mollison and John Jeavons. They have been inspiring in their amount of knowledge, all the work he [Jeavons] has done on yields, caloric value of crops, cultivation methods.

What is your favorite crop to grow or eat?
I love perennial fruit a lot: raspberries, apples, strawberries. They are less work. For annuals I love carrots and tomatoes.

Where do you think you’ll be in ten years-
Between now and then, grad school, making an influence with people in the scientific world on the benefits of permaculture methods – not row crops and bare soil.

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