Young farmers pursue agriculture on Vashon
By Elizabeth Lande, Copy and Managing Editor
Farming has long been integral to Vashon, with the island supporting a sizeable population of small-scale farmers who choose agriculture over more traditional career paths. As the average age of U.S. farmers rises, it often comes as a surprise to meet young adults pursuing farming.
Islanders Keller Cyra and Zoe Marzluff are two such people. While they didn’t set out to become farmers, their college experiences ultimately led them to start island farm Gracie’s Greens.
“[An internship] kind of sparked an interest and sort of changed everything that I was interested in up to that point,” Marzluff said.
Marzluff then took a second internship, this time with Sun Island Farm on Maury Island. There, she met Cyra, who was living on Vashon.
The two worked together on the farm the following summer, and in 2015, they took a farming-related opportunity in Hawaii. They gained experience on coffee farms and delved into microgreens, plants they have continued to grow since returning to Vashon last year.
While Cyra and Marzluff didn’t originally plan on settling on Vashon, the decision came naturally.
“We’re fortunate having worked on farms here, and also, because Keller has grown up here, to have a lot of community support already,” Marzluff said. “That makes starting … a farming business here a lot easier.”
Farming still brings its share of challenges, especially in regards to land cost, making financial independence difficult. Low returns on farm work is another difficulty.
“We’ve had a year doing it full on, and it’s still hard for me not to take days at market, where we don’t do as well as other days, personally,” Marzluff said.
To Marzluff and Cyra, this adversity is far outweighed by the overall benefits of their lifestyle.
“Financial stability is a pretty big concern, but it doesn’t always reduce down to that,” Cyra said. “Sometimes being out in the field, pulling weeds, is a great time. It’s meaningful.”
Marzluff echoed this.
“I just feel grateful,” she said. “We’re never going to make six figures … a year, but we’re happier making less and doing work that we love.”
The sustainability aspect of farming is also particularly important to Cyra and Marzluff. They pay close attention to their farm’s sustainability in terms of land use, profitability, and social community.
“Without all three of those things, can you really call it sustainable?” Cyra said. “If you’re not treating the land well it’s … going to degrade and you’re not gonna be able to pull out a profit.”
Cyra and Marzluff sell their microgreens to island restaurants, and at local farmers markets on Vashon and in West Seattle. Marzluff compared their current products to the early state of their farm.
“[We want] to have our own land to lease … and grow more diverse vegetables than microgreens,” Marzluff said.
Looking forward, Cyra and Marzluff shared advice for those interested in pursuing farming as a career.
“I think there’s no better substitute than the experience of doing it yourself,” Marzluff said.
For current farming intern Casey McCorvey, the experience of farming has been life-changing.
Growing up in Georgia, her visits to the state’s timber country fostered a love of the outdoors. Following college, she settled into a more traditional career path in Austin.
“I have a 12-year background in mental health and social services,” McCorvey said. “[But] I just got really, really burned out. … I thought, ‘You know? I’m really tired of this and I want a change.’”
Looking for an alternative, McCorvey applied to multiple farms across the U.S., ultimately coming to Vashon’s Pacific Crest Farm in March. The internship has covered topics including soil science, ecology, and farm-related technology.
McCorvey is still deciding what to pursue when her internship ends in October, but hopes to continue working with the land, perhaps through homesteading.
“What I’m really enjoying that I would want to pursue further is the bigger picture,” McCorvey said. “How one person can do one thing, seemingly small, that makes a really big impact on their community and on the environment.”
Through her internship, McCorvey has seen a more intensive recycling focus, as the farm reuses bags, irrigation tape, and even rubber bands. The farm is also organic, which McCorvey supports to keep the land, and thus the people, healthy.
However, as her internship continues, McCorvey has discovered that her passion for farming stems from beyond a drive to be a better steward of the community and environment. Coming from a generation that is particularly impassioned about politics, McCorvey has begun to see farming as a way to improve society.
“My age group is very angry. We feel like we got lied to,” McCorvey said. “I was told, ‘You get your four-year degree, you spend a bunch of money on loans, and then you get a great job and you pay it all off, and it’s all gonna be fine.’ That’s not the reality.”
McCorvey believes that some people in her generation are turning back to the land in order to create a world they want to live in.
“In the best-case scenario, it’s taking a lot of anger … and it’s using it as a fuel for a positive outcome,” McCorvey said.
Having benefited from pursuing her own curiosities, McCorvey encourages young people to explore their interests before committing to a career. Just as she saw a way to make changes through farming, McCorvey hopes people will use their passions to find solutions.
“If you already are disillusioned, don’t let that be a period; let that be a comma,” McCorvey said. “If you are in a place in your life where you look around and you go, ‘Man, this sucks,’ great. Don’t stop there. That anger should be fuel.”