Member Highlight: All Together Farm

Feb 2011 by Mari Omland

Brad, Emily and Maddie farm like they fight cancer – All Together

“I do everything for the chickens.”  Pause.  “At least I try”.  So begins my kitchen-table interview of Brad Johnson, Emily LeVan, and their daughter Maddie (age 7) in their cozy Randolph Center farmhouse.  Brad confirms that Maddie’s responsibility for hen care as she continues her story. “I help Daddy with the horses…” Emily slips over to the counter to cube meat, multitasking, as in an hour she’ll teach Spanish to Maddie and a few neighborhood kids. 

”Our neighbors have been super generous.  We trade eggs and vegetables for mechanical expertise. This community has a nice mix of small town and agricultural interests with people who are keen to have local food.” Coming from Saltwater Farm where Brad had been the farm and woodlot manager of an educational facility he exclaims “we didn’t even own a shovel!” In three years they have already built the farm to a level they want to maintain: scaled to fit their 9 acres of land, deliberately producing for a very local market – “families filling their freezer”. Currently Brad and his horse Pete log on contract. Eventually they hope to own a woodlot and use their horses for plowing, harrowing and back-clipping, but assembling all the appropriate tools and equipment will take time.

“Our garden ties us in with our neighbors. There is a sense of continuity. Farming ties you to those who came before and certainly to those who will follow.” Yet, “Farming can be isolating… it is relentless and one can have few opportunities to go out and meet folks.” Brad and Emily see the Floating Bridge Food and Farms Cooperative as a key way to extend what happens in their neighborhood.  Currently, Brookfield Bees owners Dan and Marda bring bee hives to their farm. The Cooperative will enable more reciprocity and extend to more visitors the opportunity to experience farming.  “Guests will leave with their interests in food and farms fueled” and our impact will spread to “the places our visitors return to.”  Emily and Brad share an obvious passion for educating and enabling small farm experiences. Brad points out that with a multiple generation gap since any farming had been done in their families, such an opportunity was central to finding the life they love. In turn they’ve roped in the generations in between - Emily’s dad enjoys planning trips from Oklahoma for chicken processing!

Locating ALL Together Farm was not all chance. As the family decided to start their own farm they were restricted to locations where Maddie would be close to the few facilities equipped to treat her Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).  Brad drove through the area after participating in Animal Powered Field Days; the central location served not only Maddie’s care plan but also provided good options for Emily to practice emergency room nursing.  I asked Emily how handy her ER skills are at the farm.  She smirked and modestly acknowledged that “familiarity with anatomy and physiology combined with not being afraid of blood and gore” is useful. She and Brad both added that the off-farm job is essential for their family for the health insurance and steady income. 

As I prepared to leave I checked to see if they had concerns about including photos of Maddie in this web-based publication.  They both smiled and shrugged, indicating that the cancer journey had already led them to the web.  I made a note to self to do a little google search and found this inspiring family’s journey beautifully documented in their own words via twotrials.org and the popular press, including a great piece on NBC nightly news. Resulting from my googling, I now also know Emily competed in the Olympic trials for marathon.  Farming takes endurance and these guys appear well equipped.

Brad notes, “The farm is family owned and operated, and we do most of it ourselves.  That’s the way we want to keep it.”  The operation is run with modesty, as Brad, Emily, and Maddie love where they are, what they do, and how they do it.  Most importantly, “we farm all together”.