Farmers’ Almanac 2017 Farmer of the Year Winners
When we announced our Farmer of the Year contest, we didn’t realize how genuinely inspired we would be by the stories of people who not only dedicate their lives to an occupation that’s often overlooked and overworked but who also have such passion for growing and taking care of the animals and the land that feeds the world. We read about farmers who were still farming well into their 90s, as well as people who recently made farming a way of life.
This did make judging tough, as there were so many tales of exemplary farmers who are all deserving of recognition and appreciation. Our judges consisted of members of our Farmers’ Almanac staff as well as representatives from the American Farm Bureau.
We judged the entries on the following criteria: tradition, innovation, community involvement, and inspiration. After much consideration and discussion, we chose the following three farmers whom we believe exemplify outstanding farming practices, tradition, and innovation.
Farmer: Patti Popp
Farm: Sport Hill Farm, Easton, Connecticut
Patti Popp may not be what many of you envision as a “traditional farmer.” In fact, she considers herself an “accidental farmer.” By that, she means that she didn’t grow up on a farm, nor did farming run in the family. “They had gardens but didn’t farm,” said Patti.
Yet farming is what Patti does and does well.
Patti originally had a job working in the medical field. However, in 2001, after her second child was born, she decided that instead of going back to the office, she was going to go back to the land. She and her husband had purchased a home with enough property to grow vegetables and raise chickens, and thus Sport Hill Farm was conceived. They learned to farm mostly from trial and error. They read books and talked to other farmers about “tricks” of the trade. Their dreams were big and their goals even bigger.
According to Laura Modlin, the person responsible for Patti’s nomination, Patti “is guilty of inspiring a respect for farming, bringing old traditions to new people. Sport Hill Farm has become a hub of education, local food and the future of farming – putting children and adults previously removed from the food system into the thick of it.”
Patti has 40 acres of land, on which she grows vegetables and fruits. She also raises chickens for eggs and pigs for meat. Her farm has a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, as well as a “daily mini farmers market,” at which she sells other locally grown and baked goods from neighboring businesses. In the summer Patti hosts a children’s camp at her farm. The camp is very hands-on and offers children the experience of planting, growing, and harvesting. She also hosts other events at her farm, including farm-to-table nights and workshops.
When asked what she feels is the most rewarding aspect of farming, she said the harvest. The idea that a little seed that she planted, nurtured, and helped survive was able to feed people is almost beyond comprehension. “It’s a truly rewarding feeling.”
Weather is, in her opinion, the most challenging part of farming, especially in the northeast during the months of March, April, October, and November. “One day its warm and beautiful and then the next, a killing frost.”
When asked what advice she would share with anyone interested in farming, she said, “You have to have a passion for farming – living, breathing, learning to farm. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. If you want a job, work at a farm, don’t own it. But if you want a lifestyle, go for it.”
Thank you, Patti, for trading in your work clothes for work gloves, and for all of your contributions not only to farming but to feeding and educating people in your community about where their food comes from and how to support local agriculture.
Farmer: Andrew Stout
Farm: Full Circle Farm, Carnation, Washington
In 1996, Andrew Stout and his wife, Wendy Munroe, started farming organically on five acres of land near North Bend, Washington. They were motivated by a shared passion for farming in a way that protects the environment, preserves the soil, and yields delicious produce, free of herbicides and pesticides. Andrew wasn’t brought up on a farm but always had a love for the outdoors, which was instilled in him by his family. He knew he wanted to work outside but originally went to school for geography. After Wendy and Andrew married, farming became not only their shared interest but also their career path. As a couple, they interned on a farm in Minnesota where they learned a lot about organic farming processes as well as community-supported agriculture. After the internship, they moved to Washington to start their own farm, which they named Full Circle Farm.
The farm has grown steadily, and in 2001, it expanded to more than 80 acres in Carnation, Washington, about 30 miles west of Seattle. This year, Full Circle Farm will farm on 175 acres.
Wanting to expand their market to reach and feed even more people, Andrew created a delivery service, or subscription CSA, that allows Full Circle Farm to ship its organic produce and other local products from partnering farms to customers in Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.
Challenges and Rewards Andrew admitted that farming is a profession that has its challenges, but he also said that it’s very rewarding: “The immense satisfaction I feel in providing healthy, clean food for families makes all of the challenges and hard work worthwhile.”
For Full Circle Farm and Andrew, the most challenging aspect of farming is labor. They live in an “urban-rural area,” close to many high-tech corporations, and so it’s a bit of a challenge to find dedicated laborers who will work for the salary the farm can afford to offer.
When Andrew isn’t farming, he also enjoys volunteering with other like-minded people who feel that our food system is flawed. He is an active leader on food and farming issues, serving on the King County Kitchen Cabinet, and the Slow Food Seattle Advisory Board.
Andrew’s advice to people considering farming is “To take the plunge – no day is the same. You get to work with your hands and produce something every day. The reward of planting seeds and seeing them to harvest is unmatchable.”
We thank Barbara Archer for nominating Andrew and salute him and his wife, Wendy, for their many unique contributions to farming and for finding new ways to feed people with clean, fresh food.
Farmer: Kevin Smith
Farm: K2J Farm, Decatur, Arkansas
Kevin Smith is a fourth-generation poultry farmer, whose career started back when he was a toddler. His parents would put him in a playpen in the poultry houses so they could tend to their animals. Several years later, he started helping his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in their poultry operations. And yet he admits that he wasn’t always going to be a farmer.
But the call to farming was strong. “It was familiar,” Kevin says, “and felt like a safe place to raise a family.” Since 2004, Kevin and his wife, Jacque, have owned their poultry farm, where they raise 135,000 chickens at a time, about 5 ½ times a year. Kevin also works full-time as a sales manager for a poultry supplier. He also credits his two daughters with helping on the farm.
According to Jacque, who nominated him, Kevin is highly knowledgeable on the latest technology available to poultry farmers. He was a keynote speaker at a statewide Internet conference. He supports area poultry farmers by installing this innovative technology and teaching farmers how to operate the new system.
Kevin has been active in the Farm Bureau at the local, state, and national levels for the past 10 years. He sponsors local 4-H and FFA projects at the county fairs and started an animal replacement program for local children who have a desire get involved in agriculture but lack the means to house and raise an animal.
In Kevin’s opinion, the most rewarding aspect of his farming career is that he gets to raise his children to appreciate working with their hands. “Nothing is wrong with having a little dirt on your boots,” Kevin stated, adding that his children now understand where food comes from and genuinely appreciate the sacrifices farmers make.
On the other side of the fence, some of the challenges he feels that poultry farmers face today include the decreasing number of people turning to farming as a career, and balancing the desire to raise chickens free from antibiotics with caring for sick chickens, which means not only loss of life, but the loss of profits for farmers, as well.
Parting Wisdom Overall, Kevin feels that the main reason to choose farming as a profession is that it’s one of the most rewarding career choices a person can make. “It takes a lot of hard work and can be very trying, but the results are incomparable.”
Kevin is one of our more traditional Farmers of the Year, a farmer who is not only a strong role model for farming, but also for the merits of hard work, perseverance, and dedication to helping others in agriculture. Thank you, Kevin, for all you do!