Foxglove Farm in Longbranch is a new and growing source for produce, eggs and fiber, with owners who prioritize working in harmony with the surrounding ecosystem and building community through farming.
Josh Johnson and Erin Taylor bought their Erickson Road property at foreclosure in autumn 2016. Local old-timers will remember the 15-acre farm as once the home of Shirlie Marietta, beloved character and longtime proprietor of the Liquor Store in Key Center. Marietta died in 2009, but in a 2006 KP News article, she said of her farm, “I used to have cattle, until hay went to 130 bucks a ton; now I have two head of dogs, two head of cats, and about 20 head of moles.” (See “Thursdays with Shirlie,” KP News, May 2006.))
By 2016, blackberries had taken over the land. Undaunted by long hours with a brush hog, Johnson and Taylor set to work building a chicken coop and greenhouse, planting large varieties of fruits and vegetables and bringing in livestock. Crops planted for the 2019 season include several varieties of lettuce, garlic, rutabaga, squash, cucumbers, corn and potatoes, not to mention many different kinds of apples, cherries, peaches, plums and berries.
“We probably went overboard on the varieties. But it’s part of trying to figure out what’s going to sell, what’s going to grow,” Johnson said. “We wanted to keep it a little bit different.”
The farm is also home to honeybees, Pygora goats, chickens and Cayuga ducks, with plans to add llamas or alpacas soon.
Johnson and Taylor met while she was in business school at Evergreen State College and he was working in IT. Johnson was eager to do something other than sit in front of a screen all day. Taylor, who had fond memories of her grandmother’s farm in Purdy, found Johnson’s dream of owning a small farm enticing enough to switch her focus from business to organic agriculture with a heavy emphasis on business, and completed her Bachelor’s degree at Evergreen in June 2018.
“I didn’t want to do the heavy labor of produce farming,” Taylor said. “I tease Josh that he got the farm just so he could have a tractor, and I got it just so I could have all the critters.”
Organic farming was important to them from the start, both because of personal experiences and beliefs. “Grandma did organic farming before ‘organic’ was even a word that was bandied around,” Taylor said.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me to complicate it with chemicals. You don’t need them,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s IT background has found a practical application with the design and installation of 12 remotely-controlled watering zones for produce. His job allows him to work from home and is flexible regarding time for farm chores.
With the property containing a stream that drains a short distance into a Filucy Bay feeder, they planted native species and created buffers to keep animal waste away from the water. The couple partnered with Pierce Conservation District from the beginning, putting in a heavy use area for the animals, a large buffer between the grazing area and waterways, and replanting native species. In exchange, Pierce Conservation District paid for part of the farm’s fencing.
The couple’s dedication to sustainability practices so impressed PCD that they were awarded the Conservation Practice Implementer of the Year award in 2018. “Erin and Josh are very passionate about managing their land in an environmentally sensitive manner, and have been proactive in working with Pierce Conservation District to install best management practices that protect natural resources on their farm,” said Paul Borne, Farm Resource Specialist for Pierce Conservation District.
As a board member for the Farm Tour, Johnson has a goal of helping his Key Peninsula neighbors connect with the farms around them. “We’re trying to do some education activities. Hopefully we’ll do some out here,” Johnson said.
While the pair remains optimistic about their future, they admit not everything about running an organic farm has met their expectations. “Our animals are jerks. I had the naive vision of having our chickens be free-range,” Taylor said, laughing. “But they destroyed my flower bed.”
Foxglove Farm is located at 16720 Erickson Road SW in Longbranch and on the web at foxglove.farm.