Fighting for Farms
“I was raised on a lot of processed food. Canned goods, Hamburger Helper, frozen entrees, that sort of thing. I've always loved to eat but it wasn't until I volunteered on an organic farm in Germany that I found my passion for good, nourishing food and organic farming. Before working on the farm in Germany I had never participated in the growing and harvesting of the food I consumed. It was the first time I was able to follow food on its journey from seed to plate. It was so satisfying to pick tomatoes in the morning and then chop them up into a salad for lunch in the afternoon. I was able to connect with my food in a way I never had before. Everything just tasted so much better. It made a huge impact on how I wanted to live my life," said farmhand Stephanie Rael. Stephanie works for Peaceful Belly Farm in Boise, Idaho. Peaceful Belly Farm was founded in 2002 by Clay and Josie Erskine.
“Peaceful Belly is a diversified organic vegetable farm. We grow a little bit of everything here; potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, summer squash, beans, peas, greens, lots of herbs. We also grow flowers to make bouquets and wreaths. Flowers keep the pollinators happy. Walking into the field at the height of summer when the flowers are in full bloom and the bees are buzzing all around is a magical experience. Farming is hard work but there are so many beautiful moments too.”
There’s an importance in value and quality for Stephanie. “For me, it’s really important to work on a farm that follows organic practices. Being be able to pick food from the field and eat it right then and there and know it’s safe, healthy, and nourishing is really important and I take pride in being a part of that process.”
Peaceful Belly has had great success in selling produce to the Boise Farmer’s Market, local restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture and the Boise Co-Op.
“One of the reasons I enjoy working at the Farmers Market,” said Stephanie, “is seeing people's faces when they stop by the booth. They are always excited to see what we have that week. The shopping experience at the market beats the grocery store by far. At the market you get to meet the people who grew your food. You talk with other shoppers. It is a community space and there is immense value in fostering those relationships. I really enjoy knowing that all of that hard work we’ve put in throughout the week nourishes our community.”
“The soil in the Dry Creek Valley, where Peaceful Belly is located, is really unique and special. I think it's the best farmland we have in Ada County. In some areas there’s up to six feet of topsoil. It's incredible soil for farming.” But the rich and bountiful land that Peaceful Belly sits on is threatened by a proposed housing development.
“I first heard about the 1,800 home subdivision when I went to a planning and zoning meeting on the matter in December 2016. The subdivision would be built on 1,400 acres directly adjacent to Peaceful Belly. I believe, along with other community members, organizations, and businesses in the area, that this development is irresponsible. It will destroy prime farmland, open space, and wildlife habitat. 98% of food consumed in Idaho is not grown here. Keeping this land as farmland would help strengthen the local food system and increase our food sovereignty. One of the county commissioners said at the hearing that he wished we would've had the foresight to start protecting farmland 25 years ago. Then he voted to approve the 1,800 home subdivision. It was obvious to me that there is a clear disconnect between what decision-makers think is best for the community and what they actually end up doing. I plan to keep trying to save the Dry Creek Valley from unwise development. This land is too precious not to fight for.”
Stephanie encourages people to get involved with local issues that are important to them. “I’ve been a member of Idaho Organization of Resource Councils [IORC] since June 2016. I joined because I was looking for an organization that supported local agriculture and the local food movement. It is important to get involved in your local government, to show up to public hearings, get to know your elected officials and let them know where you stand on issues. Their responsibility is to serve their community. We can't make sure they are actually doing so unless we show up. Community engagement is a powerful tool.”