An Exercise in Optimism

This blog is re-published here with permission from Blue Ridge Farm (originally published on their site on June 19, 2023). Blue Ridge Farm is located just outside of Colville, Washington, on 81 rolling acres of farmland and timber.  The farm is named for the beautiful mountain peak to the west. Formerly a cattle ranch, it now focuses on the sustainable production of heirloom and open-pollinated fruits, vegetables, and herbs, as well as the preservation of native wildlife habitat.

The hay fields in spring

Some days (or entire seasons) in farming are a lot more challenging than others. This year, we have battled far more pests than I have ever seen (despite numerous dedicated preventative measures), fought invasive weeds, dealt with finicky farm equipment &  breakdowns, and so much more. 

Some days, it feels hard to keep my chin up and keep on going, but I know that everything will eventually work out in the end. I always say that farming is an exercise in eternal optimism, and one of the ways that you achieve your goals is through sheer, oftentimes stubborn, hard work. The regenerative model of farming is what I would call the “long-term plan” – it doesn’t have the quick results that conventional or even organic agriculture does. I cannot spray for insect pests, deeply till the soil to kill wireworms, or use herbicide to murder the weeds.

Instead, I have to think of how to overcome these obstacles in a more holistic way, envisioning how to manage my farm and property from the ecosystem level. That takes time, work, talent, and a lot of energy to stick with a plan over years, not months. 

Regenerative farming, for us, means converting the pastures from heavily-tilled annual plantings to perennial native grasses that can hopefully out-compete and/or shade-kill the invasive weeds. That means utilizing manual killing of rodent pests, as well as creating a balanced ecosystem to encourage the return of predators that eat them; that means using mustard cover crops and beneficial predatory insects for wireworms; and tarping or hand-pulling for invasive weeds while we wait for those perennial grasses to take hold. It’s tedious, exhausting work, and the hours are long.

A preying mantis in the garden helps control the “bad” bugs

Believe me when I say that the temptation to do things the easy way – to rototill or spray chemicals – is sometimes enormous, but I always remind myself that regenerative is the long-term goal, not the easy one. It’s the best way that I, as a land steward, can think to care for this place that I call home, and to leave it better than I found it – THAT is what regenerative means to us here at Blue Ridge Farm.