Olivette Farm is at the very heart of Olivette, both literally and in terms of our ethos. There is a connection formed between the land and its residents when that land sustains and nourishes those who live on it – a connection Olivette is committed to fostering. This would be impossible without the hard work and dedication of Joe Evans, our Sustainable Agriculture Specialist. Today, Joe is in the hot seat, answering questions about himself, Olivette and sustainable agriculture!
Your degree is in Psychology but you’ve spent much of your life farming. How did that come about?
I first fell into farming while doing a semester abroad in Costa Rica. I was taking Spanish language and photography courses while volunteering on a cooperative organic coffee farm when I first connected with agriculture and plants for that matter. Witnessing subsistence living on that level really resonated with me. After returning, I then participated in an exchange program in Vancouver, BC. While continuing my studies in Psychology, I worked a season on an organic vegetable farm and fell head over heels for farming.
At that point, I was mostly finished with my Psych degree yet unsure that I wanted to continue down that path. So I decided to pursue an internship on a farm in Spring Creek, NC after graduating. That snowballed into a second season on another farm in Celo. During that time I met a fellow farmer who was moving out west and needed a caretaker for his land. I jumped at the opportunity and started my own market farm on that land in 2010, selling to restaurants, farmers’ markets and a CSA in AVL.
For me, farming is a calling that I feel fulfilled to answer. The work is ever changing and challenging. The constant problem-solving and observant nature of farming solidifies my purpose as a grower. I enjoy not only feeding folks but sharing stories about the food.
How did you become involved with Olivette?
I first heard of Olivette via a radio advertisement on WNCW in the winter of 2015. I remember thinking, “that’s an interesting concept…” Later I learned they were hiring a farm manager and thought, “that would be a dream job!” At that point, Olivette was just getting going and I was still running my own farm. Thus, the timing wasn’t right. Fast forward 3 years: I had decided to dissolve my farm business after the 2017 growing season and spent the better part of a year looking for a farm manager/grower position. I was doing carpentry at the time and growing pessimistic about the prospects of a farm gig actualizing. Then one morning I saw a job post that Olivette was hiring a farm manager and I jumped at the opportunity. I am very thrilled and honored to be a part of Olivette and to continue to steward the land in a productive and sustainable manner.
What were your thoughts about Olivette before you joined the team, and how have they changed or evolved?
Prior to joining Olivette, I didn’t fully understand the concept of an Agrihood and how the farm fit into that model. I was aware of other examples of this type of community; Serenbe, Agritopia, etc. and appreciated a sustainable approach to development with community and nature being the emphasis. It wasn’t until visiting the farm and land that the vision fully sunk in. I think before coming onboard I imagined more of an idyllic garden for show type of deal. When in reality, it’s a working farm that aims to not only cultivate crops but community as well.
How do you view your role on the farm and within the Olivette community?
I see my role as a steward of the land, food producer, and educator. I’m here to not only grow food and feed families within the community but to create conversations around food production, to incorporate community members who want to be involved and connect with the land in a way that is unique to Olivette. I’m here to not only share my love for farming but to share my passion for people and working together to create a better a reality.
How do you view the farm’s role in the Olivette community and the local community at large?
The farm plays a special role in the Olivette community in the sense that it’s not only your local grocery store or marketplace but a place that members can engage, participate, and share in an experience that is unlike most places. Instead of shopping buggies, you can ride bikes. Instead of being inundated with infinite choices that lack local origins and are often out of season and super processed, members can eat the healthiest produce at the time of year it’s meant to be consumed. The farm is a vital resource of food security and wonder. And I think that emanates outward to the local community at large as well. The farm is here also to provide food to local restaurants and markets, further strengthening the sustainable food systems of WNC while fostering a sense of inclusivity.
What are your goals for Olivette Farm?
My main goal is for the farm to be productive. To continue to build the health of the soil while maintaining a continual harvest. I intend for the farm to be a place of connection and learning as well as sustenance. Being an educator is certainly part of my role here, whether it be by sharing knowledge about particular crops or varieties or hosting workshops about growing. I hope to host an array of community harvest/work days where folks can come out, engage with the land, share food and experience the farm for the vital resource that it is.
What’s the difference between agriculture as it is usually practiced in the US and agriculture as you practice it for Olivette?
The biggest difference between large-scale conventional agriculture that is most widely practiced in the US and what we do here at Olivette is diversity. Small-scale agriculture is sustainable and a stronger food system in its regards for diversity. Rather than monoculture, we grow a wide variety of vegetables giving us security in the event of weather or pest-related crop failures. Also by not using any synthetic or chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, we are fostering biodiversity of our land. We are giving beneficial insects a place to thrive. We’re creating habitats for various pollinators by keeping ‘wild’ borders and native plants a part of the landscape. We are protecting our waterways from contamination. We are preserving the integrity of the soil via the use of cover cropping, crop rotation, and thoughtful tillage. Lastly, we are growing good, clean food that is nutrient dense and free of contaminants that are commonplace in mainstream conventional agriculture. We know where our Romaine is from 😉