Amanda and Rebeca Nolan, formerly a dental lab technician and a project manager for a New York manufacturing and engineering company, respectively, seemed an unlikely fit for an organic farm out west of Tetonia. But the idea of continuing an old valley family legacy (Amanda is a Hoopes on her mother’s side) entranced the couple and they moved from New York to Idaho to pursue a completely different lifestyle.
Amanda grew up visiting the land every summer — hundreds of acres planted in barley and wheat with perhaps the most panoramic view of the Teton range you could find anywhere in the valley. She loved her visits as a kid, was bored senseless as a teen, and came back around to loving it when she returned as an adult with her wife. They decided in 2018 to take over the land and start their own operation, Dusty Hound Farms.
“We kind of romanticized farming before we first started, and so much went wrong,” Rebeca said with a laugh. “There was so much I didn’t even know I didn’t know how to fix. We try lots of things and they either work or they don’t.”
The farm is named after its resident hounds Brewski and Molly, as well as honorary hound Moose the cat. In New York, Rebeca and Amanda were paying someone to walk their dog because they were working 70-plus hour weeks, and the expense and absurdity of that helped sway them toward farm life. Now their dogs have jobs hunting snowshoe hares, chasing ground squirrels and deterring coyotes from the chicken coop.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Amanda said, looking up the hill at the old residences and bunkhouses on the property. Her great-great-grandfather Charles Wylie Hoopes homesteaded the land sometime in the 1800s.
The Nolans have received a warm reception in the valley, Rebeca said. “People are happy to see that a Hoopes descendant is actually farming. They don’t want to see the old buildings torn down for no reason.”
On the contrary, the Nolans are restoring much of the old infrastructure and equipment, using some of the grain bins to house their flock of hens, with plans to install a wood shop in one barn once they’ve finished the seemingly endless task of clearing up decades of detritus.
That and managing noxious weeds seem to consume all their time when they’re not checking on the chickens, bee hives and large greenhouse full of vegetables. With two parcels abutting a failed subdivision, thistles are a constant battle.
Rebeca doesn’t mind weeding; she said it puts her in the same meditative headspace as cleaning weapons once did. She served in the Army as a technical engineering specialist and was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. That service has left her with some survivor’s guilt, she said, but to cope with that feeling she has joined the new Idaho chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition as a founding board member. The coalition offers educational opportunities in agriculture, and Rebeca has attended webinars and conferences specifically for veterans. Dusty Hound also uses the Homegrown by Heroes logo to denote Rebeca’s status as a veteran and farmer.
The farm is not certified organic, but the Nolans follow organic practices in weed and pest management, hand pulling weeds and spraying castor oil on vole holes. Next year, with the end of a Conservation Reserve Program contract for healthy grassland management, the Nolans hope to bring in sheep and goats as well as a few alpaca for herd protection. They’ve applied for an Environmental Quality Incentives Program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement rotational grazing. Those grazers have a smaller footprint than cattle, requiring less forage and water, and goats are great at weed control, Rebeca said.
Dusty Hound is designed to function dynamically; the bees harvest pollen from across the property and their honey reflects the seasons, making a dense, almost creamy product in the spring, clear light honey from alfalfa and clover in summer, and incredibly aromatic honey when the wildflowers bloom later in the year. The chickens eat food waste from the garden, as well as from Badger Creek Cafe and Broulim’s, and their droppings, as well as future goat and sheep dung, enriches the soil.
“I’m fascinated by soil science and soil health,” Rebeca said.
Life down the dead end road far from any town can pose unique challenges, especially in winter, but it seems worth it when the resident elk herd passes through the front yard to bed down in its winter habitat east of Felt.
“It’s been good to learn and acclimate to winters here,” Amanda said. “It’s cool to be able to step out the door in winter for a cross country ski.”
Dusty Hound produce, honey and eggs are available at the Teton Valley Farmers Market. Rebeca and Amanda plan to expand the operation as they increase their chicken flocks and add grazing herds, hives and greenhouses.
“We’ve made a good connection with other vendors and customers,” Amanda said. “The first time we brought 35 dozen eggs to market, we were worried it was too many, but they sold in 40 minutes.”
Dusty Hound eggs have already received national recognition — they were mentioned in a Huffington Post article in 2019 due to their vibrant orange yolks, a result of the hens’ vegetable- and insect-heavy diet.
“We try to keep our prices near grocery store prices, because it’s important for us that people have access to good, affordable, nutritious food,” Rebeca said. “It’s all part of our mission statement, to be conservation forward and sustainable.”