Blue Ridge Farm is located just outside of Colville, Washington, on 81 rolling acres of farmland and timber. The farm has a history dating back to the mid-1940s - mainly producing cattle and hay - and was originally named for the beautiful mountain peak to the west. We purchased the property in late 2020, and set about restoring the land and rebuilding the quality of the soil through low-impact regenerative agriculture. The farm now focuses on the sustainable production of northern-hardy heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables, fruits, herbs, and hay – all of which are grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or heavy tilling. Our goal is to utilize good land stewardship practices to maintain the health of the soil and the wild flora and fauna of the landscape.
-Ryan & Jillian Garrett, owners of Blue Ridge Farm
Healthy ecosystems require healthy soil – it is our most precious resource. On our farm, we make every effort to build up the health of our soil through the use of no-till farming practices, farm-made composts, cover crops, and mulches.
Input reduction is a huge part of the regenerative model, which helps to reduce waste and create more of a closed system of agriculture. Examples on our farm include drip irrigation, farm-made composts, soil blocking, seed saving, and passive solar heating.
Biodiversity both in and on the land is key to a healthy environment and a healthy farm. We make sure that our agriculture makes room for, or even encourages, wildlife. We consider ourselves citizens and stewards of a complex biological system here, and we make our decisions based on what is best for the whole.
We got into farming because we saw an ever-expanding disconnection from our food chain. While small-scale farming is not accessible to everyone, we can share our experiences and our insights, as well as our mindfully-grown produce. Farms are in a unique position of supporting the communities that support them.
- Ryan & Jillian Garrett, owners of Blue Ridge Farm
We are frequently asked the question, “What is regenerative agriculture?”
Well, you can’t really talk about regenerative agriculture without also discussing organic agriculture, and in recent times, it’s practically impossible to discuss organic without taking into consideration its corporate appropriation and re-branding. That’s a long conversation that we’ll get into a bit later. For now, just keep in mind that regenerative agriculture provides a way to leave the land better than we found it, by focusing on soil improvement and biodiversity. That core concept is a driving value in our daily lives here on the farm.
Regenerative agriculture does not yet have a government-backed certification agency. On the downside, this means that just about any farm can lay claim to the distinction without needing to follow the spirit of the practice. On the upside, we have seen how the “organic” label has been twisted from its original principles to mean something outside the perception of most consumers. It has become industrial. When we think about organic practices, we tend to think of food grown in a more biologically natural way, associated with the land and the soil of a small, diverse farm. I use the term biologically natural because “natural” is another word that has been bought and betrayed by big business. Most people would not consider spraying down a greenhouse with pesticides as a natural or organic practice, but if the “right” pesticides are used, they can absolutely have these labels. The idea that a hydroponic tomato factory can achieve “organic” status should illustrate how far we’ve strayed from the initial meaning of the term. It is for these reasons that I hope regenerative agriculture never ends up being a government certification, though a few smaller independent organizations are beginning to offer certifications on a farm-by-farm basis.
Because each farm is different, and each farmer must decide on the best methods to achieve a regenerative model, let me talk a bit about what it means to us. Here at Blue Ridge Farm, our agricultural plan is best summarized in four key values: Soil Health, Input Reduction, Biodiversity, and Outreach.
Foremost in our goals here is to improve soil health. Healthy ecosystems require healthy soil – it is our most precious resource - and yet we as a society take it for granted. So much so that we have sloughed off a great deal of our most precious resource down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. On our farm, we make every effort to build up the health of our soil using animal-based manures, no-till farming practices, pasture rotation, and most importantly, always having some sort of protective mulch layer between the soil and wind erosion. These methods may not be as easy as buying synthetic fertilizer from Dow Chemical, but it’s a long-term investment in the health of our land and our farm.
That brings me to my next value: Input reduction is a huge part of the regenerative model. Most farmers are familiar with the idea of waste not want not, but this takes it a step further and creates more of a closed system of agriculture. Farms already produce green- and animal-based manures which can be readily turned into compost, so why buy synthetic fertilizers from somewhere else? The best fertilizer is already found on your farm. We also use drip irrigation to limit water consumption, take the additional steps of saving seeds wherever possible, use soil blocking propagation methods to decrease our reliance on plastics, and do our best to use renewable energy where we can. A good example of the latter is in our germination greenhouse, where we use multiple 55-gallon barrels of water as solar-powered heat batteries to keep our plants warmer during the night and help extend our rather short growing season.
Biodiversity both in and on the land is key to a healthy environment, and we also believe that it is key to a healthy farm. We make sure that agriculture always makes room for, or even encourages, wildlife. We avoid pesticides that would hit the insect populations en masse, instead favoring the approach of encouraging beneficial predators to be a part of the landscape. When direct action is needed against a pest, we use manual kill methods to best limit collateral damage. For example: it would be much easier to simply poison the gophers that end up in our garden plots as opposed to trapping them, but trapping means we don’t have to worry about poisoning a bird of prey or a coyote that manages to eat the dead gopher. This has the added bonus of maintaining healthy populations of predators that help us keep pest numbers in check. We could easily use chemically-treated seed to prevent the wireworm infestations that hit us hard each spring, but those are not chemicals that we feel comfortable putting into the land (especially so near our many artisanal springs) or into our customers. Yet another method we could use to deal with wireworms would be to intensively rototill the land multiple times early in the season, completely destroying our complex soil microbiota in the process (which would be deemed acceptable under organic certification). Instead, we practice a no-till farming philosophy here, and have the endless task of locating wireworm infestations, baiting them with rotten potato slices, and manually extracting and killing every wireworm by hand. It is a disgusting and tedious process, but we choose to do it rather than destroy our soil. Dealing with pests is an unfortunate but necessary part of farming, and it’s deeply upsetting when someone tells us that veganism is the key to ending suffering on earth. Nothing is ever that simple, and there is always a hidden cost to eating - some of us are just a bit more familiar with the sordid details of the transaction. When you look at your plate, there is always a price that has been paid in blood, wildlife and habitat loss, and generally soil degradation. The cost can never be zero, but it can be reduced and offset through conscientious land management practices. Just because we keep the deer out of certain sections of our farm does not give us the right to direct them off the land entirely, nor to mess up their travel corridors. We consider ourselves citizens and stewards of a complex biological system here, and we make our decisions based on what is best for the whole.
This brings me to the last value: Outreach. We got into farming because we saw an ever-expanding disconnection from our food. No society in human history has ever had such distance between themselves and the origins of the ingredients on their plate. For us personally, a closer connection to our food has made us behave in a less-wasteful, more conservation-minded way. While small-scale farming is not accessible to everyone, we can share our experiences and our insights, as well as our mindfully-grown produce. Farms are in a unique position of supporting the communities that support them. Our relationship shouldn’t be encapsulated in a produce purchase at the cash register. We need to do better than that if we are ever going to reasonably improve our food systems.
This value-driven approach is the core of our long-term vision here. We want this scrap of land to be richer for our time spent on it. We want our community to have access to ethically grown, nutritious, and - dare I say - affordable food. If a few other farms see this as a call to action and take the same sort of approach, we’ll have done something that can truly be called Regenerative Agriculture. Building the world up should be the goal for all of us, and that starts with the soil under our feet.
- Ryan & Jillian Garrett, owners of Blue Ridge Farm