John & Emily Beaton, St. Louis County
By the time they met, both Emily and John had big dreams of buying farmland. They met vending at a farmers market, and they’ve built that dream together ever since. They even got married on their farmland.
Set up for success
The land on which Fairhaven Farm resides has been in production since 1887, as the couple discovered on the title deed.
“This was a 100-acre farm, and in the early 1980s, four families bought it and started a little commune,” John said. “The land was subdivided to accommodate those four families. Our house and property were a result of that.”
He and Emily lucked out when, upon beginning to farm there, they saw that the previous owner had built good infrastructure on the land, including the house they live in, a barn and a greenhouse, as well as a deer fence around the garden space.
“We could hit the ground running and start producing and selling our veggies right away,” he said. “We moved out here in December 2016, and the following year the owner let us plant the field that season while working out the sale of the house and farm.”
They’re also lucky to have Emily’s parents on board, who bought the house with Emily and John and live in the downstairs apartment of the house.
“They help a lot on the farm,” Emily said. “My dad is retired now so he helps with building projects. My mom’s retiring at the end of the year.”
Being a CSA farm, the couple grows a diverse variety of vegetables – carrots, green onions, cabbage, broccoli, microgreens, tomatoes and peppers to name a few. They recently set up a high tunnel, thanks to a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and they hope to use it for more tomatoes and peppers and also cucumbers. They also sell transplants and seedlings to the Whole Foods Co-op, where, coincidentally, Emily used to be a graphic designer. And Emily has added floral design to the operation.
The Beatons have built their farm’s visibility in the community by adding a pizza oven outside, which they use for baking pizza and bread. They’re part of the movement of on-farm pizza nights and are excited about what that can bring to agritourism.
“People come out and see where their food comes from,” John said. “They see the way we live, this beautiful life that we’ve worked really hard for.”
It’s all about relationships
As part of the New Leader Academy, John attended the 77th Annual MFU Convention, Lobby Day in St. Paul and the 2019 NFU Legislative Fly-In, plus a trip to the New London-Spicer area to tour farms and businesses. His friend Eric Sannerud, a hops farmer from Foley, encouraged him to apply and get plugged in with MFU.
“I thought it was a great way to learn more about agriculture in the rest of the state,” he said.
A big part of the NLA is building political advocacy skills. As new farmers, John and Emily’s knowledge of the challenges of starting a farm are fresh.
“We’re fired up about issues surrounding land access to young farmers,” John said. “I think it’s really important to create ways or incentives for not just beginning farmers, but support for retiring farmers to sell their land to beginning farmers.”
They’re personally invested in an issue with property tax codes. Their land doesn’t qualify for ag property tax status because they fit neither distinction of having 10 continuous acres in production or a greenhouse on less than 10 acres. This is a dilemma for many small farms.
“We have 27 acres total, and our fenced-in area is only 2 acres,” Emily said.
Student loan debt and the cost of health care are also issues they’re concerned about. They aren’t able to grow their income too quickly because of the impact it could have on their health insurance premiums, and college debt prevents them from being able to invest as much in the farm as they’d like.
But, in the true spirit of farming, they find ways to make it work.
“We balance those challenges with creative ways of working around them, like buying the farm with our parents, incorporating value-added things, doing agritourism,” Emily said.
And they’re fortunate to have a community around them who not only buy their produce, but who care about them as people.
“People are cheering for us,” John said. “We make sure that we post on social media so that people can see what we’re doing. We’re building, creating, cultivating community.”