Nestled on about 25 acres of lush, soil-rich terrain in Yacolt, Washington, Caroline and Daniel Swansey live their shared dream of owning and operating Yacolt Mountain Farm & Nursery, a sustainable, organic horse-powered farm. The dynamic farm is continually evolving to balance the needs of the Swansey family, the ecological conditions of the land, and the complex relationships that exist between living organisms.
“It’s a work of passion,” says Caroline, “and we like the art of it. We couldn’t do it unless we loved it, and we love what we do.”
The couple’s organic farm includes lush fields for veggies and greens, three spacious greenhouses, goats, farm dogs, and three beautiful draft horses named Star, Juno and Lise. The horses are loved by the family and pull their weight on the team by serving as natural tractors to help cultivate the soil. Enlisting the beautiful draft horses is aligned with the Swansey’s desire to be 100% organic and sustainable.
“We eat the same food we sell to our customers, and it’s important that our vegetables are grown with love and care and not with chemicals that impact on our bodies,” shares Caroline. “We believe that fresh food is part of community health, and we can focus on health from the ground up.”
The Swansey’s story is a calling for them. Both are passionate about the health of the land and the vital importance of engaging in safe farming practices to protect the life force balance of the land and the people, food, and animals that grace it. The Swansey’s mission is to build positive roots for their family, promote and create community connections, and live sustainably while growing a diversity of organically fresh and nutritious vegetables.
“We have seasonal produce and diversity,” explains Caroline. “It really is about growing diversity and growing things that want to grow here, in this climate and soil, not things that feel out of place here.”
Growing up in Keerbergen, a small country town on the Flemish side of Belgium, Caroline’s passion for plants, animals, and agriculture from her upbringing led her to earn a master’s degree in soils. Before that accomplishment, she schooled and gained knowledge and experience in plant ecology, agriculture, and aquatic biology. Daniel, who grew up in Norwood, Massachusetts, a suburb outside of Boston, has experience in agriculture and turf management. He has seen firsthand throughout his work tending green spaces, including caring for the game field of the New England Patriots, the problems caused by the use and disposal systems of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. This was completely unacceptable to Daniel and would lead him to organic farming.
A Shared Vision and Dream
As fate would have it, Caroline and Daniel met at Ocean Beaches in Big Sur, California in 2008. Caroline, a graduate student, was reading her soils book and had just begun her master’s program when she looked up to meet Daniel. It did not take long for things to click with this destined couple. “We knew we enjoyed the same desire to grow food for people,” says Daniel. “We didn’t know how it would happen, but it was our dream.”
After Caroline graduated, the couple began working full-time as farm managers. They gained clarity to the vision for their farm and searched in Clark County to take the reins of their dream. When the farm they now own became available in 2011, they purchased it with the help of Caroline’s parents and haven’t looked back.
Today, it is all organic all the time at this farm, and each vibrant seasonal vegetable brims with nutritional goodness thanks to the care and heart that goes into each season’s yield.
Sustainable Organic Practices
Farming in a way that respects the soil is a priority for the Swansey’s, as is placing a high value on the role of biodiversity in maintaining a natural balance at the living farm. Organic, sustainable practices include crop diversity and rotation, use of crops to increase soil organic matter and improve structure, minimizing tilling, and using only organic amendments. The farm animals are also rotated into several different pastures, and the Swansey’s sheep are grass-fed.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
The Swansey’s run a CSA and sell their fresh seasonal produce directly to customers during the growing season at the Camas Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can also find the Swansey’s fresh vegetables in front of the Healing Arts Apothecary on 408 East Main Street in Battle Ground on Saturdays July through September from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. “The CSA is about building community,” says Daniel. “We do have CSA shares available.” Fresh produce is available at the farm by appointment. Simply e-mail the Swansey’s at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask what is available.
Long-term goals for the Swansey’s include inviting schools and other educational programs with the hope to share their experiences and knowledge about small-scale farming.