I talked with Mike Nolan from Earth Spring Farm recently.
Here’s his story in his own words:
Mike Nolan, Farmer
My farming days started back when I was a kid in 7th grade. My parents were friends with a local beef farmer who was also helping out with the Dutchess County 4-H club in New York. He wanted to help the club grow and approached them about having me join and raising a beef steer on our property. My parents have 15 acres and and 2 barns where they run a landscape company so it was pretty easy to set up an area for the steer. But the real love of farming kicked in the following summer when I was invited to work and live on a large farm in the next town over and learn how the whole process of raising your own food really worked. We were up at 5 and worked until dark cutting and baling hay, feeding and watering the animals and preparing fresh chickens for dinner. Plus the girls in the family were both top cattle show people in the state so I learned all about prepping the steer for the shows at the fairs. My brother and I raised cattle for 4 years before deciding that sports would take more time than I had for the farm.
Fast forward to college where I studied Landscape Architecture in anticipation to go back home. But towards the end of my studies I became increasingly more interested in the most practical aspects of design, especially after a semester in Denmark. Ideas like slowing urban sprawl, less cars and more bicycles, small scale urban food production were starting to set in and I knew I needed some time off after graduation to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life.
So I joined the Peace Corps! I was to be an agricultural extension agent in Togo, West Africa – where was that anyway?
Togo was just what I needed – I remember clearly when I realized what it was I would be doing. I was at the farm of an African friend named Leonard and saw how content that he and his family were (they had one of the best farms in the region) and thought, yes I need this too when I get home. Leonard and I did a lot of work together and created a school where other farmers could find out how they too could be successful with improved farming techniques.
After 3 years in Africa I found myself headed to Austin, Texas but with little planned – just thought I would check it out for a year or two. So for 2 years I hung out and worked a couple different jobs, landscaping mostly, did the wild 20�s thing and had a lot of fun in that great city. In the third year there, 2001, a friend invited me to live on an organic vegetable farm he owned and I moved in with his manager. It was a beautiful 9 acre plot in the city on Boggy Creek and close to the Colorado river that runs through Texas. It was really nice at Oasis Gardens Farm and the pace was perfect for me as I was unwinding and seeing more clearly about what it was that I was supposed to be doing. The manager, Visal, and I became friends and he taught me a lot about Community Supported Agriculture. He ran Oasis as a complete hands-on membership and every Sunday 20 or 30 people would show up at the farm and work together to plant, weed and harvest the produce at the farm and split it up. Once a month we had vegetarian potlucks and it was a very energetic and close community of people.
After 2 years Visal left Texas to homestead in Mexico and the reigns to run the farm were handed to me. For the first year I was clueless but managed to pull of the responsibility. By the second year I started to grow the CSA membership to include a delivery route in Austin. And by the fifth and final year, 2006, the hands-on membership was doing all the labor for the delivery members in exchange for their produce. I even met my wife there at the farm- and we had our baby there with our mid-wives.
More than anything, Oasis became a fun place to work, learn and teach about farming! I was hooked. We almost stayed there in Texas at Oasis. The farm was for sale but we couldn�t afford the purchase price. After having Sage, our girl we decided to move back East where we both had family and lots of old friends. About 9 months after we moved here I stumbled upon Earth Spring. It has a great location in Cumberland County right at the northern end of Michaux State forest. The forest is a real gem and the South Mountains are always within view of the farm.
So far it has been wonderful to be in Pennsylvania. The agricultural history and resources here are immense and we feel that being back East has already been a rewarding move. At least for me – I love the 4 seasons and all the snow again!
Diem Nguyen, Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Diem is the glue and grounding force here at the farm and at our home. She is mother to daughter Sage (4) and wife to husband, Farmer Mike.
Diem is originally from Vietnam and immigrated to Harrisburg in 1985 with her family. After successfully completing her High School studies she enrolled at Penn State for studies in Pre-med. But after graduating she became disillusioned with the health system that she saw working in an area hospital. And thus started her journey back to her roots in acupuncture and herbology under the auspices of Oriental Medicine. Diem, at about the same time as, but unbeknownst to, Mike, packed up her car and drove from the Northeast down to Texas to start her studies at the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin.