Meet the Students: Eliot

Daniel Spiro continues to interview students at the School of Adaptive Agriculture. Enjoy!

For Eliot Hartley, 32, practicum program graduate and current Capstone student at the SAA, it was the opportunity to live in a diverse farming community that first compelled him to enroll in the school in the Spring of 2017.

Eliot: “I met Ruthie King (SAA Director of Operations) through friends of friends within the farming community here. I was living on a cannabis farm at the time in a work -trade situation. It was really a homestead farm. We raised pigs, goats, chickens, and had a small veggie farm for the house. It was good, but the cannabis world felt pretty isolated, very focused on the self. Out of necessity, these are farms out in the middle of nowhere, they keep a low profile, they’re not really connecting with neighbors. It was hard for me to feel meaningfully tied into the community I wanted to be a part of, which was predominately food producers in the Willits and Ukiah area. I wanted to be more involved in the community, and I made the choice to leave the cannabis world in order to be connected to something that felt more meaningful.
The farm school presented itself in the kind of mystical weird way the world works. When I went through the checklist of all the things I wanted, the farm school box had a lot of those things. Living in community, being in community with people farming, having a really diverse input of lots of people. And the opportunity to grow grain. All of it called to me.”

Before moving to Willits, Eliot grew up in the Midwest, and spent years traveling and working, adventuring across the world, discovering his passions, and pursuing them. He told me about his past, and his path into farming.

Eliot: “I grew up in Indiana, which is to say that most of my young adult life I spent in Indiana, a little town called Bloomington. I grew up doing carpentry with my dad, and we always had a large garden and chickens. I was homeschooled up until high school. I had a lot of odd jobs on farms. After high school I traveled around a bit. I moved to Oregon, I lived in Portland, went to Europe for a couple years, lived on the East Coast, other parts of California, farmed in Costa Rica. I was traveling, adventuring, finding my path, finding my way. I ended up working in a brewery in Reno, and then later in Asheville, North Carolina. Brewing beer is something I’ve kind of always done. I started brewing beer with my stepdad when I was a teenager; it was one of the things we had a shared interest in. That hobby turned into a passion and that passion was something I pursued to make a profession. It was really cool to pursue that and get paid to do it for a while. One of the reasons farming has called to me now is to be more in touch with nature The story of how I ended up back in Willits is that I was working at the brewery in Asheville, and there was an accident. There was an explosion. It was a wake up call that made me re-evaluate some of the choices I’d made. I thought about how I’ve always enjoyed spending a lot of time in nature, and working in a brewery is spending a lot of time inside, and it just wasn’t sustainable to spend that much time inside for me. I like being outside, and I decided I wanted to come back out to the West Coast.”

Eliot’s background in brewing beer played a role in one of his current major endeavors: working with Doug Mosel at the Mendocino Grain Project, and baking lots of bread.

Eliot: “I’ve always had an interest in fermentation. Whether its beer or bread or saurkraut or other fermented foods, the fascination for me has always been the same. It’s like a microscopic level of farming in which you’re farming these millions of organisms to accomplish a very specific task. You’re feeding them. In the case of bread you’re feeding them starch, flour. It’s all really fascinating to me, and I realized I could make fermented breads and they’d be healthy. It just feels good to make something with my own hands, be able to consume it, and to feed the people I care about. Working with Doug I’m learning constantly the culitvation of different grains. I’m after that holy trinity that starts with growing. To be able to produce it, consume, and then also grow it, that’s just conceptually a realy cool idea, one which I’m pursuing now.

Eliot not only grows grain and bakes bread, he also plays a major role in the SAA livestock operation, which includes chicken, sheep, ducks, and geese. This is a reflection of his desire to build skills and confidence in a diversity of farming areas.

Eliot: “What I envision is living in community, living on a diverse farm. I don’t want to live a monocropped life. I want my life to reflect the values that I have, and I don’t want to do one thing forever. A diverse farm means you have animals, you have a garden, you have fruit trees. You mimic the diversity of the natural world. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing five years from now, but having my hands in community farming, whether it’s grain or animal husbandry or vegetables, that’s where I’ll be. Working towards harmony, fermenting harmony.”