We are Mitch and Michelle Lewis, and this is a story of how We became late-in-life newbie farmers in May 2021 and “Our First Acre”. Neither of us had farming backgrounds, though Mitch had small gardens over the years. His corporate career in telecommunications included living and working on several continents before we returned to WA state in early 2018. Shortly after settling, our desire to find a home with a few acres evolved into a vision to build a multi-generational, self-sustaining, and commercially profitable family farm. We ended up purchasing a 28-acre turn-of-the-century homestead including a 1910 gambrel-style barn – that we preserved and restored and had listed with the State as Historic. This former dairy farm was settled by the Pitman family including eight children who came from Kansas and settled here in Olympia via the Oregon Trail. The original 320 acres had been subdivided over the years and the farm and buildings had fallen into disrepair and the farmhouse essentially unlivable due to the fact that the residence had never had a proper septic system. This was the first project we took on in an environmentally designed way. During the layout including water, power, and sewage, we had the idea to also build five RV spaces with hook-ups with the thought that they could be used for family or friends. It turns out, as farmers first, this has been a reliable source of additional income and to show families how we’re growing and let them experience the nature and wildlife.

We are intentionally managing the land and are growing with natural and environmentally conscious practices – trying to learn from Pioneers and Native Americans, combined with modern regenerative ways. Our goal is to show that small family farms can still thrive and lead the way for solving local food insecurities along with protecting valuable farmlands. By enhancing our valuable soil and farmland we look to strengthen the local food systems. We are also enthusiastic about supporting small family farms, and the numerous ways it strengthens the community. Our first year here (2021-2022), we were focused on restoring the 1910 Root Cellar, Farmhouse, Barn, Garage, Office, and Tiny House, and also rehabilitating the two existing greenhouses with beds we built while restoring the frame, covering, fencing and most importantly, the soil. We worked heavily with the local Conservation District to create a Voluntary Conservation Plan including protecting valuable farmland and sensitive wetlands environments. As part of the plan, we identified seven preferred acres of growing, while leaving extensive buffers to waterways and had soil samples/recommendations prepared by the district soil experts. We also took a 12-week extension course from Washington State (Cultivating Success) and sought guidance from our facilitator in the past year on best ways to prepare the outdoor field(s) for planting. We identified a plan where we would rehabilitate the “first acre” by adding soil and nutrients and growing sunflowers and pumpkins in a portion of this acre during the season and then cover crop in the fall. This October we added amendments, lime and cover crops, and the recommendation is to do this several more years to bring the Ph up.

As newbie, late-in-life farmers, we have been extremely fortunate to have community support and in exchange, we have worked hard to be active local participants in both Agriculture and Tourism. We are extremely pleased to have signed contracts with the NRCS recently for a 93’x30’14’ High Tunnel with Gothic design and reinforced metal rafters and 12mil covering for our wind, rain and snow events getting more extreme every year. This project when hopefully completed in April of this year would provide us an additional 2,500 square feet of protected grow-beds especially for our heat-seeking varieties of hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, plus extended seasons and succession crops of lettuce, carrots, and herbs.

We just submitted a project proposal for a grant from the Tilth Alliance for up to $10,000 that benefits Washington farmers to build a sustainable, healthy, and equitable food future. Our proposed project would extend and complete permanent deer-resistant field-fencing, two farm-gates around an approximately 25,000 square foot grow area, plus soil and organic compost. Our plans for this first acre are to create six 50’x50’ growing plots; four for our summer and winter squash, corn, plus u-pick/cut pumpkins and sunflowers. The other two we’ve dedicated to local community garden organizations such as schools, Kiwanis, and seniors and then for donation to the county food bank in a virtuous circle of life. Fingers crossed, and we’ll know by mid-March if we’re successful. We’ve learned so much from our First Acre and look forward to learning more every year!