Little Eorthe Farm
Carrie and Ken Little, Member Spotlight, September, 2013
By Jacqueline Cramer
I caught up with Carrie and Ken Little of Little Eorthe Farm in Orting, Pierce County, amidst August harvest. Little Eorthe Farm strives to improve habitat, community, and connections for all farmers. Carrie manages crop production on ten acres with two excellent interns she found through the Tilth Producers website; Ken works the infrastructure and is also the egg man.
TP: What has this year’s growing season been like?
C&K: Great weather so far. Forgood crops, it’s been another bountiful bean year. We grow many varieties and some always do well. Also potatoes and we have some good onions. Diversity pays.
TP: How is business?
C&K: As far as paying bills, we are about breaking even. Things are improving year after year. Being a farmer means evolving on a daily basis. We have learned some lessons – including hard ones – and take them all into account. The bottom line is the long term goal. We are just as excited as when we started.
TP: You moved to this farm in 2010. How is the farm doing overall?
C&K: We bought the farm in 2009 but were delayed in moving when Ken fell off the ladder. He broke his femur, and we discovered additional medical issues when that happened.
TP: Were you covered under medical insurance?
C&K: We have catastrophic insurance, which saved our farm and saved Ken’s life. I think we would not be farmers now if we did not have catastrophic health insurance; we would have lost everything.
TP: What wildlife has taken up residency at Little Eorthe Farm?
C&K: The land has 7 acres of forest and a creek at the base of the hill. We give all wild critters a 100 foot or larger boundary around the creek and fence. For the most part we respect each other, and the bigger critters tend to be really respectful. This year we have not had elk make a big lay-down in the potato patch. They find it a good place to flop, though it does not affect the crop.
We planted 1100 trees in the riparian zone and the animals now have a corridor in the trees. It’s all about balance: they were here way before we were; we are borrowing the space. We try to live with those we share it with. We love our swallows, bats, owls, and other predator birds. So, we have to be mindful of how we care for our chickens. I wouldn’t trade any of the relationships we have or give up the space we share with them.
TP: Have you considered getting support from Salmon Safe, NRCS, or your conservation district when enhancing the habitat? If so, how?
C&K: An NRCS EQIP grant helped with the native plantings. NRCS provides ideas that truly help us: a high tunnel, plantings, support on cover cropping. It is a long term perspective and solution.
We are Salmon Safe certified. When we put in 1100 trees, they worked hand-in-hand with the conservation district and we did not have to pay for the plants. On our end it took mowing, mulching, monitoring, and months of follow through. Most of the trees are thriving and doing beautifully.
TP: How is pollination?
C&K: We don’t have any problems with pollination. We have many types of pollinators in the area, and our honey bees are doing well. We have a field in hay with clover.
TP: What do you do for soil fertility?
C&K: The biggest is cover cropping, and the best bang for buck is rotational grazing: working with the animals and having them move off for the crops. Where chickens have been, pumpkins follow. We grow eating pumpkins to die for.
TP: Are you getting better results with animals in the equation?
C&K: Yes. Alpacas are also part of the equation and you can use their manure directly. And they can mix with the other animals.
TP: What is a recent “big” mistake you have made?
C&K: [quickly answering:] Raising 31 piglets! We are now pig free and are done raising pigs. We raised them because everyone was asking for organic pork. We had three sows last year, and then struggled to sell them. We had a meat CSA which we thought would be a big hit but only ten people signed up. You might as well dig a big hole, put all your money in it, and light it on fire. After all the big meanies left, we had a few 14 month-olds. The last three were joyful pigs and had a happy time; it was bittersweet to see them go. It is certainly a mistake we can now say is behind us.
TP: How did you learn about seed saving and what is your success? How much of your seed needs do you grow?
C&K: More than half of our seed needs are met by our seed saving practices. It’s not only economically an advantage; we now have varieties suited to our farm. I’m a big advocate of preserving heirloom varieties and participated in the Farmer Cooperative Genome Project, getting seeds out to farmers to keep the stock alive. Abundant Life Seed Foundation which used to be in Port Townsend connected us with OSU. I grow out a multitude of things, developing seed strains, and a lot of varieties. I just found a variety of cucumber in the [hoop house] tunnel that is striped, which we’ll save. I am working with Redbor [kale] and playing with other hybrids. I find I can grow them out and find them true to type. Dave Mitman of South Sound Seed Stewards in Yelm is doing great work. I have done this work since 1992; we are out there, and we are growing.
TP: You are clearly regenerating the land, and your food and relationships are helping to regenerate the community. Are your customers coming out to the farm and making connections, too?
C&K: People want to see the farm and some do come out. Animals in pasture next to the house bring a smile and a lot of attention. Being just south of Orting, it is all an hour away.
We are hoping as a county that farmers will receive more attention. The farm ombudsman position went away, at times leaving us in a quandary for help. Nonetheless it is exciting to see the relationships being built among farmers. We are going to have a lot of fun working together – and many are young and have strong backs!
We want the emphasis to be on, “How we can support our local farmer?” We see support in our CSA and the farmers markets. You can save the farm land, but you have to save the farmer, too. Affecting change, getting more people to eat local, whole foods, is an ongoing process.
TP: Do you use CSA Software?
C&K: We have 45 members and we are not using CSA software. I use Quicken – nothing fancy.
TP: Do you need to continue growing in size and sales?
C&K: We won’t grow any more in size, and may actually shrink a bit to allow more time in our commercial kitchen to produce value-added products. That is the beauty of growing with cover crops and working with the animals and working the soil.
TP: Is your family involved on the farm?
C&K: Our son manages Mother Earth Farm where he grows food for Pierce County food banks. He too will be a big part of our commercial kitchen interest. You raise kids hoping they won’t fall far from the tree, and that little nut didn’t! Our daughter is a zoo keeper at Tulsa Oklahoma zoo. She always brought home wayward animals and cared for them. Our family will be here if anything ever happened, and they would continue with the farm.
TP: Who has been a mentor or an inspiration?
C&K: I have to acknowledge John Gunning of Collinwood Farms, in Chimacum near Port Townsend. I call him my guru. Since I started Guadalupe Gardens in Tacoma he has been my inspiration and a great advisor. I bounce ideas off of him and we chat on the phone; John has always been there for me.
TP: Tell us about one of your greatest successes as a farmer.
C&K: I measure my success as a farmer from what I learn from others: a former intern or the women I had worked with in the prison project at Mother Earth Farm. I hear of their gardens and involvement in agriculture, in any form it takes. I measure my success on the gardens that come out. It gives me hope. My whole goal is planting seeds literally and metaphorically.
TP: What advice would you give to new farmers in your area?
C&K: Take care of yourself and honor yourself. If you work hard for nine months take time off in the winter. Take mini vacations in the summer – go to a concert.
TP: Why are you members of Tilth Producers?
C&K: It has been a great resource – both educational and learning what different folks are doing. I love going to the conference. Being connected to the community and knowing that we are not alone in farming.
TP: Why certified organic?
C&K: I don’t want to have people come back to me in ten years and say, “Thanks for the cancer.” I don’t want to poison the earth, the people or animals. Work smarter, harder, honor all living things. When we look at the earth and all the living things, we see that there are so many more than there are humans. We need to share the earth. Growing organically is definitely a step in the right direction.