“I’ve had the opportunity to farm beautiful land for my whole career,” says Anne Schwartz. “It is a joy to get younger people on the land.” After over forty years, Anne and the farm’s owner, Lois Canright, are making way for the next generation in the Skagit River Valley. The success of this farm transfer stems from a shared vision of keeping the land in agriculture, a long-term lease, community, and mentorship.
“Having the gift of this land is huge,” says Elizabeth Bragg, the next generation farmer. She says, “Beyond having Anne as a mentor, it’s also not having to pay for a cooler, or build a pack shed. Then, there’s the soil, certified organic! Anne has been loving that soil for 40 years. I always learned that you grow the soil first before you grow vegetables, it’s just amazing.”
“I feel protective of this soil,” says Lois. “It is premium, and they aren’t making more of it.” When Lois bought the farm 15 years ago, she purchased it in part because Anne was already caring for the soil. Lois was looking to invest in continuing a family farming tradition; she and her brother had just sold their family’s farm in New Jersey—the state’s first organic vegetable farm.
Today, hundreds of acres surrounding her farm are in wildlife habitat preservation, so Lois’s highest priority is keeping this land in agriculture. She says, “I’m really happy that Elizabeth came along. I’ve been pushing Anne to retire before things fall apart.” This year, when Anne invited her five employees to take on parts of the business, she said: “Bring me your project ideas and we can make it happen. I will help any of you get started.”
“I intended to start my own food growing project, but I had not expected it to be so soon,” Elizabeth says. “I hadn’t saved money—I was being paid to be a farmer for six years! I also wanted to be respectful of the others who had worked for Anne for years. After lots of long conversations, I said, we’ll take over the CSA.”
Long Hearing Farm, named after her grandma’s grandma, came to fruition— a rural serving Community Supported Agriculture project and an indigenous growing project. Elizabeth relied on her experience getting a CSA started on another farm, River Run Farm, and working side by side with Anne for a year to inform changes to the CSA to make it work better for her.
Long Hearing Farm offers an empowering opportunity for community and connection with indigenous food growing practices. Elizabeth is mixed, with Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, Eastern Band Cherokee, Swedish and European American ancestry. She’s been growing traditional heirloom seeds, including some her mother collected from the Cherokee Nation seed bank. And she now hosts students from Western Washington University’s Native American Student Union several times a year to connect with the land and share in the harvest.
Both Anne and Lois see the value of giving Elizabeth space to do what she needs as well as a reasonable lease rate. Anne says, “When I gave Elizabeth space, she didn’t have to take over the whole farm lease, she could take over just a corner. I urge young famers, go slower—don’t leave situations so quickly. Stick with the elders as long as you can and take advantage of where there’s spots where you can do your own thing. Start your own project, drop into another market where there’s a hole.”
“A lot of success really comes from appreciating and understanding how the landowner wants things and then going beyond 100 percent,” says Anne. “And I was so helped by the older farmers that I worked for before—those partnerships are huge. Relationships with the community of farmers is what keeps the farm going.”
Lois’s advice to landowners: “Remember that you are in fact a landlord, and a landlord does have chores. Communicate a lot. There’s a lot of value choices in how farming happens, and if you Iive on the land, it makes the coexistence that much more in our face.”
Elizabeth’s advice to other beginning farmers is to go work on farms, “build relationships and be in community with other farmers. If you feel capable and have interest – get involved and say I’m ready, I’m a young person and I want to farm.”
Lois says, “Those of us that own farmland at this point are the lucky ones. We have a responsibility to look at real estate values and what it takes to farm and try hard to find creative ways to help next generation farmers get on the land.