By: Lisa Vaughn, WSU Clallam County Extension
Remember childhood days jumping through colorful chalk-drawn squares on the sidewalk? That memory reminded Meghan Mix of the daily “jumping” needed to make her farming dream a reality. While her path to farming involved several leaps through different states, it is her contemporary, reimagined WWII era “Victory Garden” concept that led to the name Hopscotch Farm + Cannery. Like the game of hopscotch, her journey to farming has been both rewarding and challenging. Her story also highlights the value of communities coming together to support our small, local farmers.
Meghan did not always dream of owning a farm, let alone offering a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with preserved foods she canned herself. As a non-profit administrator, she knew nothing about growing veggies until joining a community garden. A spark was lit the day the community garden manager, with her hands in the dirt, looked Meghan in the eye to tell her growing food is not just about food: it is about creating community. Meghan realized working the soil to nourish others could do more for the community and the environment than the nonprofit programs she was administering to try to accomplish those very things.
So in 2008, with a new desire to put her own hands in the dirt, Meghan and her husband, Will Smallwood, left their jobs and headed for a year-long caretaking adventure at the Mexican border. This was where Meghan began working on a small organic farm, learning what it takes to produce food and build community. Life took several twists and turns with more farming, caretaking and non-profit work, but along the way Meghan learned the art of canning and preserving food. As she began honing her recipes for heirloom farmstead pickles, relish and preserves, her love of canning grew.
Meghan’s passion and skill for growing food grew too. She moved to Port Townsend, WA, her husband’s hometown, and after working for Spring Rain Farm and Eaglemount Wine & Cider, the dream of running her own “Farm to Jar” business began to blossom. With minimal start-up capital, Meghan knew she had to get creative to make it happen. She put the word out that she needed land to farm and, in no time, found herself farming on eight small plots of previously unused backyard garden space. The community support of donated land allowed her to launch Hopscotch Farm + Cannery in 2017 with minimal financial investment.
Farming eight plots scattered across town certainly presented some challenges and Meghan feels lucky she has less “hopscotching” to do these days. She traded in some of her backyard plots for space at Natembea Northwest, a collective farm project that is home to a growing number of local farmers including Soft Step Farm, Sweet Seed Flower Farm, Heartwood Nursery, and Ground Control Goats. Meghan now farms three plots totaling 1/2 acre. Her main plot at Natembea provides her with shared access to resources like a walk-in cooler, greenhouse, and helping hands for bigger projects.
This farm collective, like the donated use of land Meghan received, is another great example of the kind of community support that creates a thriving and sustainable local food system. While the opportunity to share infrastructure, tools and resources on this shared land has been a game-changer for Meghan, the connection with other small-scale farmers and being a part of a community is truly invaluable.
Meghan has no regrets about how she started — she says, “Hopscotch wouldn’t be around today if it weren’t for the multi-plot micro-farm model.” And Meghan enjoys sharing her story so other aspiring farmers know that there are non-traditional paths towards creating a successful farm. She also wants to share her gratitude to the community that helped launch her farming dreams and demonstrated the importance of community support. This kind of support can truly be the difference needed to successfully grow a sustainable local food community.
Meghan adds, “As we move forward into an uncertain future, I believe small-scale, human-powered farms will play an increasingly vital role in our region’s food sovereignty, and I hope that Hopscotch will provide a model that others can follow.” Meghan’s advice to aspiring farmers: “Get creative, find work-arounds, and don’t assume that loans and debt are the only option for financing your dream!”
Meghan offers her fresh veggies along with jars of pickles, relish, and preserves through her CSA. Her value-added canned goods are shelf stable, and she likes to remind people to stock up for winter so they can enjoy local food year-round, well beyond the harvest season. She says, “My goal is to increase the options people have for putting local food on their plates each day by localizing all parts of the production chain: grown here, made here, and sold here. I want to offer more than just food with my CSA. I love getting to know my members – sharing my story, chatting about my operation, and learning about the families that I help feed. While I farm to feed my community, I also farm to create a community.”