Interview With an Organic Family Farmer

January 23, 2012

This interview with an organic family farmer took place at Finnriver Farm and Cidery on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. Crystie Kisler and her partner Keith are the owners of the farm. During my month living at Finnriver (and helping out wherever I can), I've enjoyed spending time at their farm, in their home, and with their family, neighbors, and friends. I've been talking to Crystie about life on the farm and, well, life, and came up with a few questions for her that would allow you to understand the mission of the farm and cidery and the guiding philosophy driving it daily.

What does sustainability mean to you?

This is a big question. The word is used more commonly these days but the concept becomes more elusive to me personally as I yearn for its realization and yet come to understand our necessary compromises in its pursuit. To me, it means our aspiration as a community of farmers and fermenters here at Finnirver, to do our best by the land. To find the most honorable balance between our needs and the needs of the other lives that share this ground, as well as respect for the complex and interconnected cycles of nature.

I can trace my own ecological ethic to my first reading of A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold's classic treatise on conservation and ecology, in college. The entire beautiful book blew my mind and my soul shivers every time I read or recite the passage about the "fierce green fire" in the eyes of the wolf. So Leopold wrote that, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community." This is my guide for the farm and for my life, but human life of the land entails a certain impact and extraction of resources that serves humans and likely harms other lives, no matter how careful we are. So sustainability is, for me, "the earnest pursuit" of a healthy relationship with the land and a constant questioning of what that means and what kinds of steps we can take, day by day, to live more kindly.

interview organic family farmer

How do you define a family farm?

Shucks, it means me, Keith, [sons] Coulter and River  committing to making a living and a life on this land. We are here so much of the time and our roots are planted deep and getting deeper all the time as we get to know the rhythms and possibilities of this place. Family extends to farmers Jeff and Janet, the rest of the Finnriver crew, and our neighbors, and the farm allies who rally around the commitment to small scale agriculture.

interview organic family farmer

What are the challenges of owning and running an organic farm? What are the rewards?

Challenges: Variable weather, economies of scale issues around production and expenses, endless to do list.

Rewards: This beautiful, purposeful life, really good food, great place for kids, community building, rural experience, working with hard-working, committed people with common vision....

interview organic family farmer

What would you like the future of Finnriver to look like? What new developments are you working on or would like to see?

Vibrant, economically stable, a flourishing farm and cidery that grows and ferments with great care and skill, provides a hub for rural community building and a restoration or maintenance of the honest agrarian life. Developments: commercial kitchen for food service, non-alcoholic beverages, expanded orchard....Good jobs for our crew!

interview organic family farmer

When people visit the farm, what do you want them to experience and what do you want them to take with them when they leave?

I want them to feel welcome and nurtured by the land and the people they meet. To see a working farm striving earnestly to be vital and grow well. To learn about our efforts at land stewardship and to walk the farm and experience the diversity of what we grow.

interview organic family farmer

Finnriver Farm and Cidery is a beautiful place in the winter, with and without snow.

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