Monday, March 15, 2010

La Buena Vida

I first learned of La Buena Vida Farm from Dennis over at 47 Ranch just a couple of days before Aaron and I made our way 84 miles (in a single day! a new record! woo hoo!) to this agricultural model of self-sufficiency in southeastern Arizona. I enjoyed the food and the company during my time at the organic farm, but what I loved most was the story of the family that runs it.

Neither Jennifer nor Jerry grew up on a farm, nor did they study agriculture. Far from it. And yet they are two of the most inspired farmers I have met. A few years ago the pair left successful careers in Los Angeles -- as a high-end boutique manager and a fashion photographer, respectively -- in search of a place to raise their family. After scouting out possible new homes across the country over the course of many months, they landed in a tiny ranching town on the New Mexican border and took up residence at a former vineyard where Jerry's dad had graciously put a down payment on the property. The city slickers were self-proclaimed foodies, however, and quickly realized that while rural life had many charms food options in the area were slim. (This part of the state of Arizona is truly a food desert: 2 sandwich shops and no grocers for about a 50-mile radius. I know this because I was looking for a snack along the entire ride from Douglas, AZ. It's true, ask Aaron.) The couple started teaching themselves about growing their own edibles. Maybe... a modern homestead? They set themselves to building a self-supported operation run on wind and solar and elbow grease (alternative energy sources are abundant here... especially the wind... *sigh*), using mostly human-powered equipment (like the snazzy, bicycle wagon that Jen is sporting above) and DIY contraptions (like the homemade poultry plucker that Jerry built). They began growing just a little bit extra for the neighbors. Jennifer started dabbling with animal husbandry, raising heritage goats, sheep, geese and turkeys. Word spread quickly as a growing number of folks learned of the farm and not long afterward Jerry and Jennifer started selling produce at a farm stand in Portal.

Actually, they are the farmers market: one stand offering produce, eggs, freshly baked sourdough bread, and meat. Demand continued to grow, prompting the couple to take a serious look at their ability to feed the community, a philosophy aligned with their strong Christian values. They discussed how many families the land could support: 20 for the first year with the two of them working full time plus periodic volunteers, close to 30 the second if they could hire help.

In an area with a surprisingly high incidence of folks with extreme health issues (and subsequent dietary restrictions), interest in organic food continues to grow. As we worked together one afternoon on the farm, Jen mentioned an ongoing challenge trying to explain the concept of a CSA to neighbors. If only they checked out the clear and concise explanation on the farm's blog, I thought: "Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets is a way for community members to participate in a small farm like ours by paying at the beginning of the growing season for weekly baskets of freshly harvested produce. This provides farmers like us with some predictable revenue so that we can concentrate on providing a valuable local food source." Folks in the area might not use the term "CSA," but through it the farm and community are supporting each other.

In just a couple of years, Jerry and the farm have become known throughout the region. (No, really. Even as far east as Hachita, NM, I discovered when chatting with the kind folks who let me sleep in their gas station. "Oh? You were working with the organic farmers near Rodeo? Yeah, we know 'em. Good people.") I share in the admiration of these determined, imminently thoughtful and generous family farmers. And not just because they sent me off with a loaf of bread, hunk of cheese, dried fruit and nuts, and bag of fresh produce -- I'd already formed my opinion before the sendoff with unexpected, delicious treats. Theirs not a glamorous life, but it's a good one. Their small home is hardly the lap of luxury, but it in many ways encapsulates la buena vida: comfortable, happy, and filled with good food and people.

I am fascinated by tales of folks who dare to try to live differently, who leave behind successful careers to follow a path their heart calls them to pursue. And I am inspired by them. (My parents were, to put it mildly, concerned that I was leaving my teaching job -- the one with a steady, if paltry, paycheck -- to bike around the country on my savings and volunteer on farms.) Without this pursuit of something greater, what are we left with? I'm not advocating for everyone to leave their less-than-ideal day jobs, but consider ways in which you, too, might seek your own version of la buena vida.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment! Just making sure this isn't spam.... Thanks for your patience. :)Ibti