Special to The Union
Three weeks ago, Grace Barnes and Joshua Fischer planted rows of eggplant, tomatoes and peppers in a small plot of land on the outskirts of Grass Valley fulfilling a dream of self- sufficiency and community building.
Each Saturday, the two friends can be found at the Nevada County Growers Market at the North Star House selling starts, salad mixes and quail eggs from their stand – Food Freedom Farms.
“That’s kind of what it’s all about to me – community and local,” said Fischer.
Four years ago, Fischer moved onto land with just over five acres. Two years later, his friend, Grace Barnes moved into a small cottage on the same property.
Barnes grew up on a large piece of land in Southern Oregon. Her mom sold vegetable starts at local farmers market. Later, as an adult, Barnes spent time on a large farm in Hawaii and learned sustainable growing practices at an herbal medicine school in Yreka.
Several years ago, Fischer decided he didn’t want to buy food from the store anymore.
He started raising quail and rabbits for meat. He and Barnes grew about 90 percent of the produce they ate in a small existing garden. Then they began to think about building a farm.
Last summer, the two sold vegetable starts to friends on Facebook. They earned $500.
“That was part of the inspiration for the expansion,” Fischer said, who now calls himself a full-time farmer.
Last fall, Barnes started saving seeds. They spent the winter pouring over seed catalogues excited for the growing season to come.
“We started to formulate a plan … This winter is really when we kicked it into high gear,” Barnes said.
Considering themselves “homesteaders first,” Fischer makes a point to attend the Nevada County Sustainable Food and Farm Conference every year.
The event brings big name agricultural speakers like Joel Salatin of Polyface Inc. to town and opens up discussions of modern-day agriculture gone awry and solutions for returning to a more traditional agrarian lifestyle.
“I don’t feel good about our current food system in general so I’m opting out,” Fischer said.
Fischer knows firsthand what food insecurity feels like. The first few years he lived in California, he struggled to find a job. A contemporary artist, Fischer relied on his local food bank for survival. Now he donates his farm’s unsold produce to Interfaith Food Ministries.
“That’s kind of a full circle thing to be able to give back to people who kept me alive,” he said.
From New Jersey, Fischer spent time working with people with disabilities on a 900-acre farm in the Catskills known as Center for Discovery. He remembers coming home with a box filled with food every week and his first introduction to kohlrabi.
While living in Nevada County, Fischer realized he wanted to have the infrastructure in place to feed himself if he lost the ability to buy groceries at the store.
Now, for the most part, he’s doing just that, except for the occasional item, like spices, that he can’t grow himself.
While he’s not making a killing on the venture yet, he’s eating good and paying for a roof over his head.
“I make enough to keep this really expensive hobby afloat,” Fischer said.
Barnes finds the work deeply gratifying.
What they don’t grow at home, the new farmers buy or trade with other vendors at the farmers market. This spring they sold heirloom vegetables to two local restaurants.
Money earned from selling produce now pays for high-quality meats and cheeses they couldn’t afford before.
“We come home with such a wide variety of treasures. It’s fun,” said Barnes.
By buying and selling with their neighbors, Barnes and Fischer are keeping dollars local and building community, they say. Once strangers, curious neighbors now stop by to chat when Fischer and Barnes are working outside on the farm.
Soon, Barnes and Fischer hope to establish a small honor system produce stand for the neighborhood.
“When you start doing stuff like this it all stays here and you’re facilitating relationships,” Fischer said.
Fischer and Barnes want to become certified organic someday and grow their business to a 20-member CSA.
Already they are thinking ahead to honey bees and aquaponic fish operations.
They can be found every weekend at the farmers market. This weekend, they will sell quail eggs, salad greens, radishes and garden starts – two for the price of one.
The Nevada County Growers Market is open 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday at the North Star House, 12075 Auburn Road, Grass Valley.
Contact Laura Brown at email@example.com or 530-401-4877.
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