The Idaho sun hangs low over rows of carrots and trellised sugar snap peas, and the day’s work at Full Circle Farm has not yet come to a close. Ken Michael pauses for a moment while gingerly pruning a greenhouse tomato plant to wipe his brow and gesture towards Erica Escholz, his wife and business partner. “We are not just here to have a business,” he states, as Erica nods in agreement. “We are here to provide for our community.”
This summer, the homegrown Teton Valley tomatoes will make their way off of the vine and to the Jackson Hole Farmer’s Market, the Teton Valley farmer’s Market, and to local restaurants such as Chops Eats in Driggs and The Knotty Pine in Victor, as well as onto the dinner plates of work shares, CSA shares, and three new employees. Beyond the production of delicious, nutrient dense vegetables, Full Circle Farm serves as a community campus for school groups and individuals alike. The Learning Garden, open to the public, is meant to educate a whole new generation of backyard gardeners. Escholz says, “No matter what’s growing there, it always demonstrates what is possible in one’s own backyard.”
Escholz got her start at Cosmic Apple Farm, where she worked for thirteen years before accepting a farm manger role at Snowdrift farm. She started a nonprofit called Full Circle Education with the intention of bringing school groups to local farms and educating through gardening, farming, and the healing power of nature. Soon, her nonprofit outgrew the space, and she dreamed of expanding. Escholz says, “I wanted a model farm but with a strong emphasis on education and community involvement. I wanted to go beyond just produce and sell, which is the typical farm model.”
The split from Snowdrift, where Escholz and Michael met, was natural, and the duo signed a lease in Victor, Idaho to start Full Circle Farm. However, leasing rather than owning land presented challenges and limitations, especially in regards to lack of infrastructure. For example, they hauled their own 200-gallon tank of water to the property twice a week. “Running a business without power and running water is insane,” Michael says.
This year, the couple is proud to transition to new land that they can develop. Escholz explains, “We are currently working with the Teton Regional Land Trust to raise money to put a conservation easement on our new property to protect it as farmland forever. There are many reasons for doing this, but the main ones are to increase access to land for new farmers, to protect the best soils in our area from development, and to grow the local food movement.” The couple has raised $122,000 of their $150,000 goal, and aim to raise the rest by October 1st of this year.
Since the transition to new land will require a huge amount of work, the farm won’t be offering CSA shares this year, but you can support the farm by signing up to be a work share volunteer (hurry, space is limited), buying produce at the Farmer’s Market and supporting local restaurants, or by visiting the Farmland Forever page to donate towards Full Circle’s goal.
Escholz is hopeful, admitting that they “need help!” and rely on the support of the community they so eagerly aim to serve. Escholz and Michael look to the future of the farm, placing their faith in their tomatoes, and in the locals they help to feed and educate.