A Lifelong Journey in Farming
By Deb Goff
Editor’s Note: Deb Goff is The Urban Farm’s featured farmer for this month. Read our Q&A with Deb here.
One always wonders how they got to where they are from where they began. There are certainly many directions a person goes from one beginning, but there are threads that have no breaks. I can see a connection to the Earth and animals from the very beginning—from Avra Valley to Tempe to Casa Grande, AZ to Sultan, WA and back to Tempe.
I grew up in Avra Valley, outside dawn to dusk, rabbits, chickens, cows, horses and always a garden. My goal in life was to own a farm. After this amazing childhood I went to university at ASU. Even during this time I see a connection in my summer job. I flagged cropdusters for Fye and Mosely Aviation out of Casa Grande. While I now know how bad pesticides can be for our produce all I knew then was that I was being paid to be outside. I loved piling into the back of a pick-up truck at 3 am and being dropped in a cantaloupe or watermelon field in the middle of nowhere with my flag and chains. I would sit and watch the sun rise, feel the wind fall and watch the insects awaken. Suddenly, the drone of the plane would catch my attention and I would place the chains and wave the flag wildly as the plane aimed itself at me. Like some huge drunken dragonfly, at the very last moment, with the plane closing in on me, I would run like crazy to the end of the chain and wait to do it again.
After university and as a young person of the 60s and 70s I was definitely a part of the natural foods movement. I was a member of Gentle Strength co-op from the very beginning, always concerned about health, natural foods. My husband and I moved to Laveen, AZ in the early 70s. We had a little farm with goats for milk, a cow for a pet and a garden. It was into this environment that our first son was born and we decided we wanted to really go whole hog and live off the land. We sold everything we owned (really everything), got into an old pick-up truck and drove north in December. Originally our plan was Idaho, however there was snow in Idaho in December. We decided to instead head west to Washington. We ended up in Sultan, Washington with 10 acres of land on the Snohomish/Skykomish Rivers. We had a little house with no T.V, computers, or radios. We did by now have two little boys. Ours was a life of pumpkin patches, strawberry fields, chickens and playing outside dawn to dusk–just like I did as a child. This was very hard work and we did eventually, after 3 years, decide we wanted our boys to know their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandma. Once again we sold everything and moved back to Arizona.
It was at this time we purchased Corner Cottage, an old house with an irrigated lot and an established garden from the 1940s. This sweet little corner of the world was a place the boys could climb trees, raise tadpoles, and make tree forts and walk to the neighborhood school. We did maintain a garden of sorts and always had dogs and cats for the boys, but these were the years of careers and boy raising and the desire to raise animals and veggies had to be on the back burner.
The birth of my first grandson 6 years ago put me in gear to begin a renaissance for Corner Cottage, and I began clearing out old oleanders and reinvigorating the old garden. I guess there is something about the birth of a child that makes me want to recreate a beautiful golden childhood of farm animals and gardens! Three years ago I was able to retire and had the time I needed to get this project off the ground; coincidentally, my second grandson was born at this time.
One of the first things I did was go on Greg Peterson’s home tour. I started watching my yard to see how I could best use it—watching was the best advice I got from Greg. I ended with a large, very shaded chicken yard and coop at the back of my property, I fenced this and made the garden adjacent with a gate between the two areas. The gate allows me to keep the chickens out of the garden (they eat everything) when it is active and it allows them in to fertilize, compost and aerate the garden between seasons. I decided I needed to create many small garden spaces within the big garden. This made the work load more manageable. I did not want to use and ‘new’ materials to create the garden spaces. So, the scavenging began—all of the brick and concrete were gleaned from the alley. Recently, I scored some great garden boxes; they have been placed and will be used this year as another part of the garden.
Here at Corner Cottage Chicken Emporium and Garden we have 4 hens, an alley garden for the neighborhood, the main garden, an herb garden on the south side of the house and an experimental raised garden made from scavenged bricks at the front of the house. I think gardening is about the joy of time. It is about slowing to the pace of nature—waiting and watching for the ground to warm, for the seed to sprout, for the blossom to bloom, for the fruit to ripen—and then beginning again. Every season is a new canvas with endless possibilities, over and over again, each season unique and yet the same. Urban farming is good for humans, animals and especially this beautiful place we live, Earth.