Talia and Dave Hammond are the owners of Jean Marie’s Garden, a serene 12.5 acres on top of a mountain in the northern hills of the Columbia River Gorge. Talia shared with me the ups and downs of her experience over seven years of farming.
Talia was born and raised in the mid-west, the daughter of full-time farmers. As a young adult, she spent time in New York City and Europe, earning college degrees in business and art, and enjoying the best the cities have to offer in social life, great restaurants, and shows. When I asked her what brought her back to the country she said, “I realized that I am just someone who yearns to be near forests, and I was fortunate enough to be able to make that happen.” This realization brought her to the Pacific Northwest, to begin her own family and farm.
“We started the farm because we wanted to put our energy and our money toward something that we felt like bettered the earth and bettered humanity and humanities connection with the environment. That’s why we called it a garden, we wanted it to be like the garden we are tending – you aren’t just taking, you are tending, you are a keeper, you are part of it, and it is tending you back, there is reciprocity.”
Farmers are nothing if not practical and direct (who has time for anything else on a farm?), and my conversation with Talia was no exception. She was pointed in her disclosure of the hardships and successes of her farming experience.
Talia and Dave are self-identified as very industrious. When they started farming, Talia’s ambitions were high and she began many projects: a farm stay, teaching workshops, a vegetable CSA, an herbal CSA, selling products, along with the actual farming. She was also raising two children, and after a while she realized it was too much. “I am ambitious and hardworking, one of the things my kids have taught me is how to scale back and let go of some stuff,” Talia said.
“The CSA’s were really fun and I felt really connected as a farmer to the community. Were they lucrative? No, not really.” CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and these consist of a group of people who pledge financial support to a farm operation with the growers and consumers sharing in the risks and rewards of the farm produce. The Hammond’s CSA involved supplementing their own vegetables for a weekly delivery to costumers with bread from local bakeries, locally crafted cheese, and berries from a neighboring farm.
Talia also created an herbal CSA which was unique in that it provided all the ingredients, supplies, and instructions (both written and video tutorial) for customers to make their own herbal products rather than simply giving them the final products. Talia, who has a passion for teaching, said it was super fun, “I enjoyed it, they enjoyed it, I definitely did not make money on it!”
The small-scale farmer often feels the need to do it all. Not only are they nurturing the soil and growing the food, but they are tasked with the administrative side of things: filing quarterly taxes, carrying insurance, renewing their business license. In addition, to be financially successful a farmer must market their business which requires an entirely separate skill set. “You can only do so much,” Talia said, “I didn’t have the bandwidth to market very well.”
As their children grew and they experimented with various ventures to keep their farming business afloat, the Hammonds realized that a steady income off the farm was needed. “I deal with stress very well,” said Talia, “and I was stressed.” To relieve the financial burden, Dave began working as a contractor, and Talia focused on the farm stay as it was the most lucrative portion of their business.
They have three units that are rented as Airbnb’s: a strawbale cottage and two A-frames. The lodgings are off the grid and very basic with solar power, a well for water, and a shared kitchen and shower space. It is a beautiful area, with hundreds of herbs planted nearby, surrounded by nature with a view of Mt. Hood. Most of their guests are from urban areas and are looking for a safe space to get away. The Hammonds live on a separate property (with less “deer pressure”) where they grow their organic produce for their family.
I walked away from my conversation with Talia with a smile, feeling drenched in the reality of farm life. There had been no sugar coating, no fairy tale ending. There was a realness, thoughtfulness, and depth that was exactly what I’ve been craving. Her final encouragement for the person considering a farming lifestyle was, “Do it! But also write out your goals, give them to a friend, and have them mail them to you in a year. I have read through what I was planning and realized that we have actually been so successful, and that has helped out in the times I felt like I was failing.”
Finding the balance between industry and rest has been a journey for Talia, one punctuated by hardships with finances and health. Our conversation was a reminder to me that we come into this world not ready-made to take it on, but to begin a journey, each one unique, full of joys and sorrows. We are here not merely to perform but to be taught by the earth we are tending.
“When people are wanting to quit it all, go buy a farm, and be farmers, the real question is: how did you get to that point? I would guess at least a small aspect of that reason is seeking purpose and connection.”