Seeds of Sustainability Build Community

Christian Schultz and Kayla Prismore are new generation farmers – neither grew up farming. Through Woodchuck Community Farms, they rent land from Kayla’s family near Moorhead, where they live and work.

The couple met in high school in Minneapolis and began farming right after college. His interest in sustainable, organic food production derived partly from his restaurant kitchen experience with fresh produce; hers through her college study of climate change.

They had hoped to travel and work on other farms before settling down on her family’s land, but her grandfather’s sudden death during her senior year of college fast-tracked their plans. To get up to speed they interned that year on a Moorhead area farm, learning about local soils and pests they’d face, networking at the weekend farmers market.

Today they grow 40 vegetables each year such as spinach and peas in spring; zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes in summer; winter squash – and this year, popcorn. Their methods are 100% organic, though they aren’t certified. Woodchuck includes a 30-member CSA that generates about half their farming income. The other half comes from what they sell at local farmers markets.

They are pleased the Fargo-Moorhead food community is blossoming. A food cooperative is in the works. And in its third season, the farmers market doing very well, including with people using SNAP benefits, who comprise about a quarter of its customers by Christian’s estimate.

In fact, this season Kayla was able to quit her “day job” to work full-time on the farm. But they know that’s unusual especially for young farmers.

“If we didn’t have access to this land, if my family was not so generous, we wouldn’t be farming. We both graduated with student debt and it would have been impossible to buy land, or find a reasonable lease,” Kayla said. “Access to land has to be addressed if we want to see more young farmers around.”

Christian has pondered a “Farm for America” program similar to Teach for America, offering debt forgiveness for student loans.

If Kayla and Christian initially came to farming with a sense of romance and idealism, they’re even more enamored now with building community as farmers and advocates of healthy, locally and sustainably grown food.

And they’re sowing seeds among even younger people in their community.

They give tours to children who accompany their parents to the Woodchuck CSA to show them the plants they eat — what carrots look like above ground, and broccoli below, and which weeds you can eat.

And Christian and another farmer helped design a preschool gardening program at a local YMCA that includes classroom curriculum and hands-on experience.

For example, on the first day, the teacher and children may read stories or talk about pollinators, and how plants need bee visits to grow and make fruit from flowers. The next class they’d go outdoors to find bees on the flowers.

“We have in-classroom activities that go with the theme of healthy eating and local eating and gardening as well as outdoor activities. Planting seeds in spring, weeding and maintaining garden space, and harvesting and preparing food are all covered in our garden plan.”

He doesn’t expect to be directly involved next year, though Woodchuck Farms might provide some tomato and pepper seedlings to kickstart the YMCA garden.

“We created the program and the guide along with it so anybody can walk into the position, even someone with little gardening experience,” Christian said. In other words, the program is designed to be sustainable.