FEBRUARY 16 2012
Casey and his family live in a small town about an hour south of Salt Lake City, UT. They sit comfortably on an acre of land with their animals and crops. Though Casey works full-time for a local university, his rural upbringing shows through in the food he grows at home and the animals he and his family raise.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started with urban farming?
I was born in a small rural town, the 5th generation of a farming family who emigrated from Denmark. Most of our neighbors remember seeing me at a few months age riding on the tractor with my dad, or riding in front of him in the saddle on his horse. The value of hard work was instilled early in me, along with an appreciation for the agricultural lifestyle. When I was four years old, my father was killed in a farming accident. We moved to a small city in Eastern Oregon, and I immediately learned the differences in urban and rural lifestyles. From restrictive toiletry requirements (farm boys go when, where, and how they may), to the complicated interactions with people (animals are wonderful friends), to the loss of available garden food, I was in turmoil. However, proximity to schools, churches, stores, and paved roads was appealing.
A few years later my mother remarried, and we moved to a very remote ranch in northern Nevada. Our electricity came from a generator, we didn’t have a phone, and the nearest town was over 50 miles away. Wild horses and coyotes were very common, and with a corral full of horses and miles of empty land I explored a lot. However, remote distance from schools, churches, stores, and paved roads was problematic.
It sounds like these experiences had a great effect on you.
From this tapestry of experiences, I yearned for the educational, societal, and civic benefits of civilization. However, I also need the fulfillment of hard work, growing my own food, and instilling principles of self-sufficiency in my children. During the house hunting process, while my wife was looking at appliances and floor plans, I was analyzing acreage, soil types, and zoning regulations. We settled in a small town outside of Provo, Utah in a house that sits on 1 acre with animal rights. My goals were basic, and have yielded wonderful results. We gradually have expanded with a small farm outside of town where we raise cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and bees (bees aren’t really raised, but maintained).
Can you talk about some of those goals?
Value of money. Parenting today is expensive. Sports, scouting, music lessons, etc. can bankrupt a family. I want my kids to value money, and appreciate how hard it is to earn, and how important it is to manage. When my kids are present for the birth of an animal (including pulling a few lambs and calves as I hold the mother), they go through the process of feeding and raising it, arriving at the selling point is monumental. They carefully guard the money they get from it, and have learned how to invest the money. Whether in CD’s, mutual funds, or more livestock, they appreciate money they have earned. They also pay for their sports, lessons, camps, and part of their school clothing. Seldom do they ask me for money.
Value of work. I want the work to be hard. Tilling, weeding, and watering our garden is hard. Picking and canning our fruit is too. Building fence, feeding hay in winter, gathering eggs every day, and doctoring animals stretches kids. Hauling hay usually entails our 7 year old driving the truck and everyone else stacking hay. Enough of this work has kept my kids from playing video games, seldom watching TV, and being unfamiliar with boredom. While hard, they appreciate the time we spend together, and the outcomes we enjoy at nearly every meal that we eat.
Appreciation and quality of food. The majority of most of our meals comes from food that we have grown. We raise our own beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. We have fresh eggs from our chickens, vegetables from our garden, and fruit from our orchard. There is pride in growing food, but also a distinct quality. I know the health records of our animals, and know that our vegetables and fruits are free of insecticides and herbicides because our chickens do a wonderful job keeping bugs out of our garden and away from our trees. We allow them to roam, and they love bugs. I don’t have ticks on animals, worms in fruit, or bugs killing plants, only a bunch of full and happy chickens! I have torn out shrubs and planted raspberries, blackberries, josta berries, elder berries, mulberries, currant berries, and strawberries. They’re colorful from a landscape perspective, and they keep my kids playing outside instead of coming in the house for a snack and sitting down to watch TV. I’ve removed many trees, and replaced them with fruit trees. On our 1 acre, we have 28 fruit trees. They shade playhouses and picnic tables, but provide fruit throughout the summer. My kids have picked out the varieties we have, and are proud of them. They also dislike the taste of fast foods, having grown to appreciate the difference in fresh vs. fast food.
Active lifestyle. Between the animals, garden, trees, and yard work, my kids stay very active. I give them specific assignments that vary through the seasons during the year. Feeling an ownership in what we produce though results in them taking initiative in working. I’ll often see them finish a job in the garden, and gravitate to a basketball game in the driveway. I firmly believe that their minds function at the activity level of their bodies. And eating fresh foods prepared well by my wonderful chef wife fuels their activity levels.
Meaningful involvement with my kids. I love the opportunities for teaching, interaction, and conversation that come through our work together. I find that I need to teach skills, but also encourage innovation and self-confidence. Not every project goes well, but seldom can these learning experiences result in permanent damage. I try to allow freedom to discover, but also the habit to work. I think an agricultural experience on any scale contributes to that. I’m amazed the questions, insights, and perspectives shared with me by my kids as we work together. And when the work is done, they play together, the simple games that they invent. These aren’t scripted and sedentary activities. They run, they laugh, and they think. It’s a joy to watch this, and it keeps me young in body, mind, and spirit.