On Tuesday, December 7th, I had the pleasure of meeting Guy and Bev Spencer, the mother and son farming duo, at their farm just outside of Palouse, WA. Their farm, lovingly named Runner Bean Ranch, is a ten acre section of land that is taken care of and fully utilized by the pair. Upon pulling onto the property, I asked where to park and was informed that right where I was is perfect, so I turned off my car and jumped into the interview. Immediately Guy began telling me about the history of the farm and his own connection to the land, telling me how he and his brothers spent, “summers here playing in the bluegrass fields and eating fruits and vegetables right out of the garden. After my Grandfather died, the farm was rented out, the bluegrass became conventional dry land grain, the gardens died and the fruit trees went wild. It was a lot for my Mom to handle on her own so I decided to move here in 2003 to lend a hand”. I could really hear within the story the love that Guy developed for the land as a young boy and how he regained this love once he moved back and began to re-establish his relationship with the farm.
In the process of this reconnection, the creation of an organic farm was unwittingly started. This method of farming originally began as a necessity for the two, but quickly came to have long term benefits for the health of the soil and crops. All that is ever sprayed on any crops at the ranch is a homemade concoction of compost tea, and the only fertilizer used is compost and natural starter made from fish or kelp. As Guy told me, “The farm seems to like it. Really the most important thing that we do for the health of the farm is to do nothing. We don’t panic anymore when we see a bunch of aphids, we know that predator insects will be along shortly to handle the problem.” Talking to Guy and Bev I really started to think about how crazy it is that so many of our modern farming practices have become so capitalized that they have gotten away from the original farming practices which have guided generations of human life. It makes so much sense to me that farmers would look not outward to science to solve agricultural issues, but rather look inward at their own practices and try to gain a deeper, lived understanding of the natural world we depend upon. Guy talked to me a lot about the role of bugs on the farm and how dependence on chemical pesticides actually can have the opposite effect of allowing for invasive species to take over which otherwise would have been naturally dealt with by the predators.
Our conversation turned quickly towards not simply the growing of food, but what happens with it after it is harvested. We talked at length about the role of local farmers within their communities and how naturally it came for the farm to begin donating excess produce to the food pantry. He told me about how he originally approached the pantry and was convinced to begin contributing, saying that, “We all want to live meaningful lives right? Well having a farm has always made me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, growing for the pantries, providing the freshest most nutrient dense produce we possibly can for the people that we feel need it the most, that is pretty meaningful. It isn’t about the community supporting us, it's about our farm supporting the community.” In this way, Runner Bean Ranch is a profound example of how everyday people can begin to make changes for those around them while also providing for themselves and maintaining their natural environment. The farm is constantly evolving in what it produces, with Guy and Bev adopting the “grow what you like to eat” mindset; everything from onions, tomatoes, snow peas, local squash, and garlic, to the recent adoption of non-native species like okra which became so popular that they want to plant even more this coming season.
As for the future, the two plan to just keep on farming and expanding on what’s there; learning something new each year more about the land and how best to be stewards of it. Guy has hopes of getting a cow and a pig in the future in hopes of better balancing out the biodiversity of the farm. They also have plans to continue to grow the farm store by adding on a commercial kitchen, so as to better be able to keep up with the volume of produce that is being grown on the ranch. Covid seemed to only have changed their lives in-so-far as it has made it a bit harder to find access to seeds, but other than that, the farm has stayed in normal operation and continued to provide fresh food to the community. I think Guy himself put it best when he said that, “I look at the Good Food Co-op as a collective of like minded farmers that want to provide responsibly grown food to people who really want responsibly grown food. We are all in this together.”
by Colin Finch, WSU Intern