Brief Interviews w/ Brave Farmers: Mike + Molly Peterson

Mike & Molly PetersonHeritage Hollow FarmsSperryville, Virginia

The Peterson family — farmer Mike, photographer/farmer Molly, their young son Alden and a glorious pack of herding dogs and lazy cats — lives on a patch of Virginia countryside known today as Heritage Hollow Farms.

The scenery is blissful: mountains, hills, a creek; sunsets to remember.

As any farmer will tell you, daily opportunities to appreciate such things are squeezed between tasks and chores. The Petersons rotate their flock methodically across multiple pastures, giving the land a carefully calculated rest after cows, chickens, pigs or sheep have munched through.

Mike and Molly recently nabbed some nationwide press when they won a $50,000 grand prize in a small-business challenge sponsored by AT&T. After the dust of that victory settled I asked them to share some thoughts about shaping food production in the future.

Please summarize your personal food philosophy in one sentence:

We believe that food and those who produce it should be honest, true, and authentic.

How does this personal stance connect to your work on the farm at large?

We are able to connect on a cellular level with what we’re doing. Going through the day with a careless nature and rushing to get to the next task will cost you hugely, both ecologically and financially. By understanding the Earth, the environment and the livestock, we are able to be true to who we are, which is a trait that speaks in what we produce and how we sell it.

When you think about the long list of problems hindering our food system, what is the low-hanging fruit?

People need to start to cook again. There is so much behind preparing and cooking a meal that speaks to grounding yourself. To be involved in the process of preparing food to feed your family and friends is a very rewarding experience. Also, family meals tend to allow folks to turn off the TV, put smartphones and tablets down, and actually connect and have a conversation with those that we love and care about. Food really is that powerful.

When people actually take the time to cook their own meals, they also develop an appreciation for the ingredients. This allows more and more people to be involved in the selection of each individual ingredient. Hopefully the realization will be made that the highest-quality ingredients are coming directly from the farm.

Bliss. Photo by Molly Peterson

What about agriculture in 2017 works really well?

Each year there seems to be more awareness and mindfulness. Which helps.

What is missing from the system?

Even more awareness, mindfulness. Connections to nature. A sense of awe and gratitude in the food production process.

What is one thing you wish grocery store consumers knew?

Whether they shopped at a grocery store or farmers’ market or small on-farm market: Real people are behind that food. Farmers planted seeds or cared for that calf. They weeded/pruned/harvest/raised the crops. Their blood/sweat/tears — actual people, actual hands. People with lives and families, too.

First steps. Photo by Molly Peterson

The cost the consumer paid at the checkout is directly correlated to the wages those workers were paid. Those workers have families, bills and dreams of vacations on the beach, too. See where I’m going with this? “Out of sight, out of mind” is a VERY real force at work in our food system.

A recent NPR interview with former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said something along these lines: There are 1% of us who farm … so that means that 99% of the country can do whatever they like with their lives and not worry about their food being grown, harvested and delivered. That’s a pretty big percentage.

Interview edited from conversation, originally published on Medium / June 24 2017.

Alison McConnell