Farmer Reads: Owl’s Nest Farm

This post is the first in a series of conversations with our Farmer Advisory Council members to learn what books inspire them and inform their farming practices. 

Fair Farms recently caught up with Liz Whitehurst, owner and operator of Owl’s Nest Farm, who has been a part of our Farmer Advisory Council since 2017. Located in the DC region, Owl’s Nest has been managed according to organic guidelines since 2011 and has been Certified Naturally Grown since 2013. 

Liz told us about two of her favorite food and farm books that have most influenced her farming values and practices. The first book, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis details the interrelationships and complexity between all living things in the soil. Liz mentioned that she seldom reads nonfiction books, but Teaming with Microbes was recommended by a farmer learning circle that she participated in. She found it extremely approachable and felt that it has contributed to her understanding of soil biology and how it impacts her farm.. 

Owl’s Nest has always valued and advocated for soil-conscious farming practices such as keeping the soil covered with mulches and employing cover crops. Through reading this book, she notes, “having that scientific knowledge and really understanding the complexities of soil and the impacts that we can’t see has been so beneficial.” 

The biggest impact Teaming with Microbes has had on Liz is that it has bred so many more questions. Every decision made on the farm has unseen impacts, and knowing this has allowed Liz to be more conscious and aware about her role on the farm. 

Liz’s second pick is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book is written by an Indigenous woman who details her relationship to other living beings and the natural world, and advocates for engendering Indigenous ways of thinking with scientific knowledge. “What was most interesting to me,” Liz told us, ”was thinking about remodeling the economy to be fair and equitable by mimicking the ecosystem. Instead of centering the economy around scarcity, we should center it around abundance and interrelationships.”

Liz and the Owl’s Nest team had been discussing how to properly acknowledge the Indigenous land that the farm sits on by providing a note on the farm’s website. However, the team decided that to properly acknowledge the land, they needed to do deeper research and work to truly acknowledge Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous knowledge, and the long history of land theft; reading Braiding Sweetgrass was part of this process. 

This book has helped Liz turn her attention to the ecosystem as a whole. She now challenges herself to build more awareness about her natural surroundings, asking herself questions such as, “How do I make sure to also observe what is going on around me and think about the interactions between the plants, just based on my actions?”