Across the country, a new generation of farmsteaders embraces the enduring values of healthful living, family traditions, and sustainability.
As a recovering health nut, scientist, and all-around curious human, I enjoy food that makes me feel good, and I like to know where it comes from. Over the last few years, I have toured ranches, gardens, and farmsteads across the U.S. In doing so, I was immersed in a landscape of sustainable foods and family values.
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The Farmstead Lifestyle
Farmsteading is, in short, the production of sustainable food through farming, gardening, and ranching in order to provide for your family and community through the most nutritious and conscientious means available. “We raise our own chickens, lamb, and beef and strive to sustain ourselves with gardening and fruit orchards,” says Rebeccah Salmeri of Brush Creek Creamery in Deary, Idaho. Among the many advantages of a farmstead are locally sourced natural foods and holistic environmental care. “It’s hard work,” says Jenny Sabo of Sabo Ranch in Harrison, Montana. “You have to learn a lot of different skills and stay focused.”
From the Northwest to the ranches of east Montana, there is a common sense of pride passed through generations of farmsteaders. This is certainly true for Joe Rocha, owner of Tideland Dairy Goats in Tillamook, Oregon. “We are a third-generation farm,” he says. “My family has been involved in the dairy industry since they came to California from Portugal in the early 1900s.” Rocha, his wife Sarah, and their three boys have been working the dairy since his parents moved it from California to Oregon when he was a child. They are a living embodiment of enduring value. When asked what motivates him to continue the trade, he says:
We value the stewardship of our livestock and our land. It’s our heritage, and it’s a noble lifestyle.
Natural Food from the Source
Regardless of location, we are all increasingly reminded of the importance of saving money, enjoying family, and eating responsibly. Farmsteading tends to facilitate these values in spades. While most of us are entering a new REM cycle, families of farmsteaders are busy tending the land together and providing for the animals they love, come rain or snow. As even the most dedicated farmsteaders will tell you, living a sustainable lifestyle is not for everyone – it takes work and persistence – but for those committed to it, the rewards tend to come back tenfold in production and healthfulness.
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In the farmsteading community, few things are as important as providing the animals with healthful foods. Julie Steil, owner of River Valley Cheese in Fall City, Washington, begins many of her cheesemaking classes with the maxim: We are what we eat. “Cheesemaking is such an ancient process,” she says. “Yet many people don’t know what effect quality of feed can have on the flavor of the cheese.” The health benefits gained through natural products are plentiful. For example, research shows raw milk has up to 11 times more omega fatty acids than a piece of salmon. Additionally, it has demonstrated that the sweet flavor of milk from cows raised in natural dairies is directly related to the animal’s consumption of fresh grass.
Sustainability isn’t just for rural folk. While visiting Brooklyn, New York, I had the privilege of touring Battery Urban Farm, a community garden where many students and families cooperatively grow a wide variety of fruits, veggies, and flowers for school cafeterias. Not long afterward, I toured a balcony garden in Miami, Florida, where the Garrett family has grown tomatoes, peppers, and a variety of leafy greens. In Seattle, Washington, the Emert family has dedicated their patio to sustainable gardening. No matter where one lives, there are many ways in and around a home to supplement the grocery list, decrease carbon footprints, and live more sustainably.
Education, Respect, and Responsibility
Clearly, there is an ever-increasing momentum in society toward healthier living and sustainable foods. Few of us, however, are fortunate enough to have traditional farming knowledge handed down to us, let alone the space for a greenhouse.
It’s fortunate, then, that there are farmsteads, family creameries, organic ranches, urban gardens, and local cooperatives across the country. The people who maintain these tend to take great pride in their lifestyle and, more often than not, are thrilled to share their wealth of knowledge with the public.
Lessons passed from generation to generation at these farmsteads ensure that the values will endure. As Joe Rocha tells his kids, a fourth generation of farmsteaders: “Be humble, remember where you came from, and remember all of the hard work that got you where you are.” Those who enjoy learning, are invested in their health, and love the taste and experiences that come with natural foods might find meaningful value in seeking out farmsteads in their areas. Ultimately, they might incorporate the knowledge they acquire into their family’s diet – or even try their hand at a bit of farmsteading themselves in an extra space in the backyard, porch, or windowsill. As they say, it all starts with a seed.
Farmsteading is all about family traditions, sustainable food, and, of course, great eating. There are few better ways to showcase fresh ingredients than tried-and-true family recipes handed down over generations. In that spirit, below, we suggest several classics. Regardless of which recipe readers try, when the dishes are made with locally grown, sustainable ingredients, flavor profiles are likely to wow.
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