Cultivating the Roots of Sustainability
For Ben and Karah Davies of Wild Fox Farm, farming is more than the production of wholesome food. It’s a synergistic mix of nourishment, healing, sustainability - even poetry. It’s a calling that drew him and wife Karah back to their roots, in every sense.
A little more than six years ago, the couple were living in Colorado near Davies’ sister-in-law, while his wife worked toward a degree in nutrition. Davies had held various jobs in his early 20s, none of which he found very fulfilling. “Karah and I would often read together, sometimes aloud to each other,” remembers Davies. “We were particularly drawn to works by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, and found ourselves dreaming of an agricultural lifestyle for our own family.”
Eventually, that pull became impossible to resist, and the Barto natives returned home with their two children to turn the dream into a reality, buying 40 acres in Butter Valley. With neither Davies nor his wife having any real prior experience in farming as a business, “we sort of dove into it blindly,” he admits. Growing up, his family had a small garden, along with a few sheep and chickens, but it only produced food for their family, and just a small portion of it at that. When it came to running a working farm, “we definitely leaned heavily on our support network,” says a grateful Davies. “That, along with our strong passion and drive to see our enterprise succeed, is what’s gotten us this far.”
Wild Fox Farm produces a wide variety of summer and winter produce, along with pastured eggs, chicken, pork, and soon, grass-fed lamb. The farm currently supplies a number of area farm-to-table restaurants with local foods, in addition to offering CSA (community supported agriculture) shares. CSAs allow local residents to invest in production, with a monetary pre-season investment earning a weekly share of crops throughout the season. Unlike most other CSAs, Wild Fox Farm allows what Davies calls “market style free choice,” where patrons select the quantity and variety appropriate for their weekly needs from a list of available options included in weekly emails. Recipes are often provided along with the produce, allowing patrons to try new tastes. There are pick-up locations in Bethlehem, Allentown and Emmaus for those unable to travel to the farm, and those not part of the CSA can buy fresh products at the Emmaus Farmers Market. Wild Fox Farm also sells CSA shares for chicken and pork, and will soon offer doorstep delivery as an option. Grass-fed lamb will be available in 2017.
Sustainability is important to Davies, and includes the creation of jobs in addition to food. Citing the fact that the typical small farm is forced to rely on internships and apprenticeships to manage production, he worked to create a business model that allows him to pay a living wage to workers. The farm’s first full-time employee was Davies’ sister, Sarah, who leads production of micro-greens and grass-fed lamb, and another full-time manager oversees vegetable field crops. This year, for the first time, they’ll be hiring an apprentice from April through November.
Davies’ commitment to sustainability also includes energy production. The farm currently uses six chest freezers (requiring the use of six compressors), plus an offsite freezer facility to store meats. Davies not only wants to upgrade to a walk-in freezer to reduce energy consumption and increase self-sufficiency; he also wants to provide the bulk of Wild Fox Farm’s total electricity needs. “We see our farm as an example of what we should be doing as a society,” Davies maintains. “We all need to contribute to generating sustainable power as part of stewarding the land. Generating most, if not all, of our electricity is a part of that vision.” It was a vision he had from the beginning, orienting the farm house to take full advantage of solar power at some point in the future. With the farm’s recent growth, Davies believes that future is now. Admitting that it can be tough for small farms to find the capital necessary for expansion without taking on untenable debt, he established an ambitious fundraising campaign via Barnraiser.us for March and April, with three levels of funding. Contributions totaling $30,000 will fund the freezer and 50 percent of the farm’s energy needs, with $40,000 funding 75 percent, $50,000 needed for 90 percent.
Laughingly referring to himself and his wife as “self-imposed guinea pigs,” Davies says they want to do “innovative, courageous and forward-thinking things,” expanding on key fundamentals, then using their experience to help other small farmers succeed. “We’re all in this together,” he maintains. “We know that this is what small farming can look like, providing real jobs, generating power. People need healing, as well as the land. We want what we do to be the answer to both problems.”
Wild Fox Farm is located at 5015 Longview Lane in Barto. For more information, call 267-424-1439 or visit wildfoxfarm.com. See ad, page 33.