To learn more about the small-scale organic farms where we source many of our botanicals, we're going straight to the source. Today we interview Abby, owner and farmer of Foxtrot Farms, to learn more about regenerative agriculture, running a small business, and our modern definition of "wellness".
What’s the name of your farm and where are you located?
Foxtrot Farm in Ashfield, MA
Can you share a bit about how you got into farming and agriculture?
I graduated from college with an anthropology and American studies degree and got what I thought was my dream job as a reporter in NYC. But it turns out that I hated working in front of a computer all day and the public policy beat that I was on was overwhelmingly depressing. At the time, some of the most exciting organizing in the country was happening around food justice. One day, I was at the farmer's market in Union Square feeling so jealous of the people selling me produce that I thought, "Why don't you just go try that?". So I found an apprenticeship on an organic veggie farm in Maryland, fell in love with the physical work, and never really looked back. Since then, I've worked on organic veggie farms and orchards in New Mexico, Maine, and Massachusetts. I find that it's really grounding for me to be able to do such tangible work every day.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being in your field (no pun intended)?
One of my crew members gave me the biggest compliment of my life recently. They said, "It's just fun to do hard things with you." That's what I love about farming: the daily invitation to problem solve and do hard things with wonderful humans.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Well, it turns out that running a farm requires a lot of computer work— that can be challenging on a beautiful day. Being a farmer and business owner also challenges me to take chances, advocate for myself, accept failure, and tap into self-confidence more than anything I've ever done. It really kicks my ass some days.
What does regenerative agriculture mean to you?
I hold a lot of curiosity/skepticism around buzz words like "Regenerative." After a while, they start to lose their meaning or get co-opted by corporations. But if we take the word at face value, regenerative (lower case) literally means to create again. It implies that growing and creating are continuous processes and it points to the cyclical nature of growth. So, in that sense, regenerative farming means making sure that the conditions are in place to be able to continue farming indefinitely, which means adopting a mutualistic relationship with land and community as opposed to an extractive one.
What does ethical sourcing mean to you?
Ethical sourcing means considering the whole big picture of everything that we bring into the farm. It means buying coconut coir (a waste product from coconut production) instead of peat moss (a non-renewable resource from ecologically important and increasingly endangered peat bogs). It means sourcing whenever possible from small companies; worker-owned collectives; companies owned by BIPOC, women, and queer folks; and those who are ethically in alignment. And it means trying to avoid green-washing. It would be easy to buy-in so-called compostable plastics for our packaging, but many (if not all) of those products take as much fossil fuel to produce as they save.
What does farm direct sourcing mean to you?
It's all about relationship! We love working directly with small ethical companies, getting to know them and their products, and feel like a part of the amazing medicines that they create.
What does wellness mean to you?
It means understanding that the health and happiness of all beings is interconnected. I'm not well if the earth is suffering. I'm not truly well if others don't have access to the same foods, experiences, health care, etc that I have.
How do you want to see agriculture and the wellness industry evolve in the years ahead?
Well, first, I'd like to see the wellness industry as a whole acknowledge that what zip code we live in affects our health much more than whether or not we eat a salad for lunch. If we are to take wellness seriously, increasing access to plants, nature, a living wage, and so much more needs to be at the forefront of what we do. Plants can do so much to support us on individual and community levels, but as my herb teacher taught me, no herb is ever going to be as effective as a good night's sleep. Secondly, as a person who is in (long-term) recovery for an eating disorder, I'd like to see the wellness industry move away from purist approaches to "health" that continually demand that people punish themselves to be well. A lot of the discourse around diet and exercise encourages obsessive and unhealthy behaviors. I think we could do a lot to become more trauma-informed and to encourage therapies that actually help people. Lots of science shows that diets don't work, and I want people to know that eating a cookie doesn't cancel out the nettle infusion that you drank this morning. Balance is part of health! As for agriculture, it is my greatest hope that small scale farming can evolve to be more cooperative— both in terms of cooperatively owned farms and small farm marketing cooperatives. It's freaking hard to do this work all on one's own, and it really doesn't make sense for us to compete with each other for a limited piece of the pie. If we work together, I think we can bake a bigger pie.
What’s something you wish more people knew about sustainable agriculture?
Not to hark on the big picture so much, but what sustainable agriculture really needs to succeed in this country aren't grants or subsidies but a change in the living conditions of normal folks. People need affordable health care, child care, and living wages in order to fully participate in a local food and medicine system. Being able to buy food or herbs is one thing, but having the time and space to prepare them— and the ability to do so in pleasurable and playful ways— is a just as important. Agriculture doesn't exist in a vacuum. If we start to see it as part of a holistic system, healthy agriculture requires a healthy society to support it— and vice versa!
Can you share a book, podcast, or documentary that inspired your work in regenerative agriculture and/or plant medicine?
I loved One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka— it does a great job of modeling observation of the natural world and biomimicry as ways to create functional and healthy farm systems.
What’s the best way our readers can support your business?
Well, since you're asking, we offer a really fun and comprehensive newsletter subscription to accompany our CSA, https://www.foxtrotherbfarm.com/store. Every two weeks, we send out 12 or so pages of story-telling, information about plants, helpful recipes, and good discussion about the intersection of climate change, healing, and agriculture. It's $100 to subscribe for the season, and it's a great way to support the work that we're doing to make our farm as climate resilient as possible.
Why did you join the Farm-to-Ned Alliance?
We're all about people and connection, and the nice folks at Ned won our hearts over with their stories, enthusiasm for farming, and kindness.
What is it like working with Ned?
It's an absolute dream. We appreciate Vida and the rest of the team so much. Having committed buyers allows us to do what we do best: grow plants!
How does Ned support you and your team and the work you’re doing?
The crew and I work our bodies hard every day— and when we're not at work, we're often trail running, hiking, or swimming— so we've been leaning hard on the Mello Magnesium supplement that Ned sent us in a care package. We love the Naked version: it tastes great as is and helps our muscles relax and recover after a long day of shoveling compost or a long trail run. No one will be surprised to learn that organic farmers don't make a ton of money, and we've been so grateful for Ned's generosity and letting us try their wonderful products.