Erika Eschholz and Ken Michael are biodynamic farmers dedicated to growing for their community in Teton Valley and to their pursuit of finding land they can afford and permanently protect, as farmland forever.
The permanent protection of farmland supports local food, young farmers, healthy ecosystems, healthy lifestyles, and community.
— Erika and Ken
Farming today is under threat
No Farms No Food. We’ve all heard this or some other variation and we’ve probably seen the American Farmland Trust stickers on cars at a CSA pickup or farmers market. Such a simple statement, clearly making the case that a portion of everything we eat came from a farm and the vital importance of farmers.
The livelihood of being a farmer today is endangered. Threatened by the rapid loss of farmland, degrading soils and waterways, and access to affordable land. This has been Erika and Ken’s biggest challenge, finding land they can afford and having enough left over to invest in the infrastructure needed to become a sustainable farm.
175 acres of farm and ranch land are lost every hour in the U.S. to sprawl and development
— American Farmland Trust
Challenges of farming on leased land
Erika and Ken took over a leased farmland to start Teton Full Circle Farm in 2014. The leased land provided the opportunity to have their own farm but it also came with challenges.
Without owning the land, Erika and Ken were unable and unwilling to invest the capital required to get a well, animals and other infrastructure. These investments would allow them to create the abundance they needed for a truly self-sufficient farm.
Not deterred and with a ton of hard work, the farm flourished. They enjoyed steady produce sales and local support through farmers markets and wholesale customers. There was even more demand for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program than memberships available.
Searching for farmland of their own
It was always their dream to expand to a self-sufficient, closed loop agriculture farm. So they began to look for farmland in the Teton Valley. But high demand, limited inventory and developer land prices pushed the dream out of reach. They refocused efforts out East in Maine and Vermont. But once again they returned empty-handed and defeated.
Then a call from a friend in early July of 2016, turned everything around. He had found the perfect swath of land with all the assets they were looking for. After an inquisitive stroll through the fields; Erika and Ken knew it was love at first sight. Next came the real work of trying to make it a reality.
With years of accounting organized and a USDA farm loan secured; on November 4th, 2016 they finalized the $240,000 purchase, for 21 acres of prime farmland on the edge of Victor, Idaho.
Affording and protecting their farmland forever
The transition from a conventionally grown alfalfa field to an organic and biodynamic farm was underway. In July of 2017 efforts to protect the farmland forever were set in motion. They partnered with Teton Regional Land Trust to put an agricultural conservation easement on the property.
Without being in a generational farming family, or having deep pockets, the cost of land is the biggest barrier of entry for new farmers. Conservation easements provide a financial-based solution and probably the only tool to make land affordable. Since easements run with the land and are forever, this will keep the cost low for the next generation.
— Teton Regional Land Trust
Fundraising for the conservation easement
Development rights for the property were appraised at $150,000. Erika and Ken set that as their fundraising goal and focused on spreading the word. They hosted farm dinners, film screenings and got creative with their community outreach. Support for the future farm came in countless roles and through tax-deductable contributions to the Teton Regional Land Trust.
On December 19, 2018 the agriculture conservation easement was completed. Using the donations, the land trust paid Teton Full Circle Farm to relinquish their development rights and become farmland forever.
The funds from the conservation easement payment will go directly to pay off our farm loan which will allow us to put future farm-generated income into building a new farm sooner versus later. To top it off, because this land cannot be developed, it will be much more affordable for the next farmer.
— Erika and Ken
The new home of Teton Full Circle Farm
Erika and Ken have moved most of their personal assets from the leased farmland and are settling into the new property. They have built an entryway addition onto their yurt. Three greenhouses are up and already have seeds in the ground. Their cow Honeysuckle, the first farm animal, is enjoying her newly constructed hay shed. But above all other amenities, having a well with running water has been the most welcomed luxury.
It’s been quite the journey; it’s taken over two years for this process to happen and quite a bit of research before that. We feel so fortunate to be standing here on this new piece of property, setting up shop to farm for our community for the coming summer. It’s just so exciting to know that this community is supporting this kind of food movement.
We really do feel like we’ve eased into this property, it feels like home pretty much completely. We looked all over the place and just down the road is where we landed. It’s amazing.
The inaugural season
It has been an honor to follow along with and take part in Erika and Ken’s journey to the new, Teton Full Circle Farm. Right now, seeds are being planted in the greenhouses, the snow will soon melt away and the first buds of the inaugural season will emerge from the ground. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch this farm come to life!