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The Farmers Behind the Food: Debra Jo and Steve, Rare Earth Farm

Written by Jamie Ferschinger
    Wednesday, 20 February 2013
The Farmers Behind the Food: Debra Jo and Steve, Rare Earth Farm

For Steve Young and Debra Jo Becker of Rare Earth Farm in Belgium, Wisconsin, “farming isn't something you do when you feel like it- it's a lifestyle.” The pair, who described themselves as a couple of happily married farmers, have over twenty years of experience growing crops and caring for the land. According to Debra Jo, “if you don't care for your soil first it almost isn't worth bothering to care for your crops- especially over the long-term.”

Steve and Debra Jo each had very different journeys that led them to Rare Earth Farm. For Steve, a lifelong love of gardening was the inspiration that eventually brought him to producing wholesome food for others. During college and his adult working life he always maintained vegetable gardens- for fun and for the purpose of eating from. He dreamed of becoming a farmer since college when he and some buddies rented an old farmhouse and had to garden in order to feed themselves. Without much moral support from his parents, who grew up on farms during the Great Depression and did not see agriculture as a lucrative or realistic profession, he entered the engineering field. The dream never died and after becoming sick of the corporate work environment he began a small 15 member CSA. He rented an acre of land and tended to it whenever he was not working his 9-5 job. Over the years the CSA membership grew as did the time commitment to the soil, plants and members. In 1997 he quit his off-farm job and became a full-time vegetable/CSA farmer.

Debra Jo fell into vegetable farming somewhat unexpectedly. After a period of trying out a few various career opportunities and not finding enough personal satisfaction in any one of them she answered an ad seeking part-time help at a small vegetable farm. With absolutely no gardening experience she was hired on and immediately began to learn the ropes. She spent two seasons at this farm raising about 20 different vegetables and selling them at local farmers markets and restaurants. The beauty of this particular opportunity she landed was that she got to be her own boss. Planning the season, seeding, transplanting, weeding, harvesting and marketing mostly on her own best instincts with some guidance from numerous written reference books/materials and the loose assistance of the farm's owner and family. It was during this period that Steve and Debra Jo met through the farming community and got to know each other.

The 2013 season will be the 23rd year of Rare Earth Farm's CSA program, which serves 250 members. Over the years they have learned a few important lessons. “Every season is different and you can plan, plan, plan until you're blue in the face but one must never be so rigid in planning that you cannot bend with the whims of Mother Nature. Always remember that she is the ultimate farm manager! ,” says Debra Jo.

Steve and Debra Jo also believe in practicing efficiency. They may not be striving for perfection, but they realize that there are usually ways to work smarter. From actively thinking about how a certain task can be done quicker and/or with less strain on the physical body without jeopardizing the quality of the final product, to more fully embracing the joy that can be found in a specific task and being "in the moment". Sometimes this is easier said than done even when you have plenty of experience said Debra Jo.

They also never stop learning and experimenting to find what will work best on their farm. They know there are many ways to do the same task and what works for one person/farm may or may not work for another.

One of the most important lessons is to show appreciation and gratefulness for all the folks who support their venture and come to work/volunteer with them at Rare Earth Farm. “It amazes me at times how highly folks regard the farm, their time spent here, and the relationship they have with Steve and myself... and it usually boils down to the fact that they are treated kindly, given patience, friendship and a warm welcome. To me these characteristics are simply how humans should treat one another but from stories shared this is not always how it works in every work or personal environment,” says Debra Jo.

Her final piece of advice –“Have fun and make time to enjoy cooking, preserving and eating your own food- both by yourself and surrounded by the important people in your life. Food is so much more than just fuel for the body.”

At Rare Earth Farm, they feel growing your own food will encourage you to learn to cook and be creative. It may even revolutionize the relationship one has with food.


 This blog post was written by Theresa Lins. Theresa is a Milwaukee-based writer and Urban Ecology Center “groupie”.  She has been active in promoting the Center and its programs for over 14 years.  Other than eating farm-fresh food, her favorite thing is to write about it and the people who produce it.


2013 LFOH logoYou can meet these farmers and many others at the Local Farmer Open House on March 9th at our Riverside Park branch. Meet and sign up with farmers, learn how you can join a CSA farm (purchase a share of the harvest) and get a box of fresh produce each week during the season. Join us for this free event!

Jamie Ferschinger

Jamie Ferschinger

With a Bachelor's degree in Biology and Communications and a Master's degree in Conservation Biology, Jamie brings a wealth of experiences and deep passion to her work at the Urban Ecology Center. As Branch Manager of the Riverside Park Branch, she helps to ensure that things are running smoothly and everybody is happy! Outside of work, Jamie enjoys running when the sun is coming up, spending time outside, cooking, listening to music and traveling to new places.

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