The journey, you could say, has come full circle for Full Circle farmers Erika Eschholz and Ken Michael.
“When we talk about this story, we start back at our childhood,” said Eschholz on Tuesday. “We love to talk about how our upbringing has brought us to this point in the process.”
Through a USDA loan, the husband and wife team recently purchased 21 acres of Teton Valley’s finest farmland on the east side of the valley just below the foothills of the Tetons. It was a dream come true for Eschholz and Michael, who have been cultivating their roots in the valley’s rich farming community for more than two decades.
And as they continue to realize their newly purchased local farm and build it as an extension of the greater Teton Valley community, they are looking to ensure that the ground remains as it is currently envisioned.
They have set out to raise $150,000 by October 1 to protect the prime farmland with a conservation easement through the Teton Regional Land Trust.
The decision to put the land in easement was realized as both made the decision in 2016 to cast a wider net for their own farmland, a decision that would take them across the country and back again.
Working with Cosmic Apple Farm for 11 years, Eschholz transitioned to Snow Drift Farms, growing her experience slowly and deliberately. At Snow Drift, Eschholz started working with Michael, and healthy partnership blossomed into what is now Full Circle Farm. They took over Blue Flax Farm near Mountainside Village located south of Victor in 2014 and in 2016 started negotiating the purchase of that farm.
“We were definitely interested in purchasing that property,” said Micheal of the Mountainside Village land. “We had farmed it the first year, and then the price went up and it was untouchable. It was a tough time for us. The price doubled. That was our tipping point.”
The couple started looking, connecting with old mentors and professors, relying on family leads that took them to farms in West Virginia and on up through New England. They said they had four points that needed to be met to purchase land on their own: the land had to have good soil, good access to water, good access to a community and the land had to be affordable.
Each location that they visited was just shy of meeting all four of their criteria. They returned to Teton Valley unsure if the time was ripe to purchase their own farm.
And then a text from a friend was met with a glimpse of opportunity.
“We pretty much got out of the car, took a shovel to the dirt and in less than 20 minutes
we knew that this was the place,” Eschholz said of the 21-arce parcel. The new piece of land for sale met all their wants with good soil, water and a community they loved.
“We knew what the price was and it was not great, but it was something we could try to figure out,” Eschholz added.
Meeting specific requirements, they were able to secure a USDA farm loan and with the help of their families, they made the purchase. “That was a huge relief and we can hardly believe it,” Eschholz said of owning their own ground.
"Without being in a generational farming family, or having deep pockets, the cost of land is the biggest barrier to entry for new farmers,” the Land Trust said in a press release regarding Full Circle Farm. “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 generations.”
“Ken and Erika are dedicated to the concept of ‘Farmland Forever’ and wish to place a conservation easement on their property to keep the land’s prime soils undeveloped,” Renee Hiebert, Conservation Specialist with the Teton Regional Land Trust wrote in an email to the Teton Valley News. “When they sell the farmland it must be sold at agricultural prices because it cannot be developed, making the land much more affordable for the next farmer.”
This, said Michael, is key to ensuring that next generation of farmers that come after him and Escholtz will have the same opportuneness as they did.
“I like to think the easement is transforming the land from our property to community’s property,” said Michael. “It will outlast us.”
This will be the last summer Full Circle Farm will operate at its current location in Mountainside Village before starting operations at their new location just down the road. All their shares have been sold for the season, but they are still looking for work share volunteers for the growing season.
“The biggest thing to accompany this is our gratitude to the community and the support we are asking for,” Escholtz said. “Thank you for hearing us and supporting us all this time and having faith that we can pull this off. Without this community we could never have done this.”
For more information on Full Circle Farm, please visit www.tetonfullcirclefarm.org and find them at the Teton Valley Farmer’s Market.
Join Full Circle Farm for an evening at Center of the Arts hosted by Slow Food in the Tetons
The fundraiser event will support Teton Full Circle Farm's efforts to protect farmland and create a new 21-acre organic farm to serve the community. This is also an opportunity to watch the documentary, Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, and learn about recent developments in our local food movement from several innovative local organizations. This event is made possible in part by grant funding from Teton Conservation District.
Come early to bid on farm photography by Jonathan Selkowitz.
General admission: $15 (includes a local farm-fresh salad)
Tickets at jhcenterforthearts.org