Though a good number of people involved in horticulture and in the garden center industry grew up in the field, many also find the passion for plants later in life. This is true of husband and wife Clay and Josie Erskine, who own Peaceful Belly Farm in Garden City, Idaho. Before farming, Clay was a professional snowboarder, and his wife Josie was a stage actress who toured in repertory theatre. Both had grandparents who farmed, and they rediscovered the trade through Josie’s lifelong hobby of gardening.
“We kind of found [growing] together,” Josie says.
The pair launched Peaceful Belly Farm 15 years ago, and their mission is to “bring healthy food to the community [within a 100 mile radius], no matter what the income level is.”
They offer many outlets for consumers to buy their organically and locally grown produce by distributing it in various ways.
“There is a co-op in town that we sell through, but we also sell through a CSA [community-supported agriculture] program, and then we sell through two [other] co-ops, farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores,” she says.
They also use clever, joyful marketing to advertise their business. As self-proclaimed “Freaks of the Garden,” Peaceful Belly Farm has, for the past few years, promoted its annual plant sale with music videos of humorous song parodies that have gone viral on YouTube.
“My major is in music and theatre,” Josie says. “I just seem to attract [employees who are] super-creative thinkers and funny people … and I have a really good friend in my life who’s a filmmaker. Everybody brings their dress-up clothes, we tape the song the day before, we walk through some choreography, and then we just say, ‘Let’s go.’”
One includes a parody of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” — which has been viewed on YouTube almost 750,000 times. They also spoofed Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” inserting lyrics all about growing organic produce. But don’t let the silly, fun-loving videos fool you — when it comes down to it, the Erskines are savvy and serious self-taught farmers.
“We practice major innovation and conservation techniques,” she says. “We do a lot of growing of [about] 16 species, cover crops for areas that we’re mob grazing off, or roller-crimping to develop no-till farming. [For] soil maintenance, we work really heavily with microscopes identifying what the biology in our soil is … and then we try to start targeting those growths, targeting the growth of our predatory nematodes in certain areas. [Those are] new and innovative ways of farming.”
Josie would also like to see farmers receive respect for their hard work and knowledge. She’s concerned that people have misconceptions that farmers “aren’t so intelligent, and the food doesn’t have a lot of value,” she says.
“[There’s] not a lot of respect for the ground it’s grown in,” she says. “[We’re trying to] start that conversation that where that food comes from is valuable.”
[There’s] not a lot of respect for the ground [food is] grown in. [We’re trying to] start that conversation that where that food comes from is valuable.” – Josie erskine
In addition to growing organically, the Erskines also care strongly about the environment and the future of the industry:
“Another big goal of ours is to figure out maximum carbon sequestration on a small-scale farm,” Josie says. “Then [we’ll] show those methods to other farms to say that farming can be a huge carbon sequestration to help us with climate change … that we can start removing that carbon out of the ocean again through better farming techniques, like no-till and cover crops.”