with Sam Wickham of Foxhole Farm
“When you are coming from a place of good intention and love something good generally comes.”Sam Wickham
Sam Wickham talks us through finding her way to living her dream life on a farm, growing mushrooms, and raising the kiddos. A full-time farmer and mother, Sam runs Foxhole Farm, a regenerative farm in Brookville, Ohio with her husband and two kids.
For the listeners who aren’t familiar with regenerative farming, tell us a bit about it.
Regenerative farming is best described as a philosophy. We farm in tandem with the ecosystem that we occupy. So instead of using sprays or synthetic fertilizer, we try to run our farm within the cycles of the seasons. We plant what will thrive in a given season, and we pay attention to the climate that we exist within –by doing this, everything keeps its own balance, so that we don’t find the need for pesticides and that sort of thing.
It’s easier to grow things within their seasons so that we’re not forcing kale, for example, a cold-weather crop to grow in the summer, which would take a lot more work to keep it happy and healthy. We are trying to pay attention to our surroundings and use what’s available to us and that system, whether it’s birds or beneficial insects. And that way it makes our job a little easier.
Wow. That’s amazing. So it sounds like you’re leveraging the things that nature already gives you. I can relate to Human Design where I talk a lot about how we leverage our gifts and our uniqueness to the maximum effect.
How long have you been doing this?
We’ve been running Foxhole farm as our own venture since April of 2018 and we’ve been farming since about 2011. Neither of us, my husband or I. Grew up with an agricultural background, but we both sort of stumbled our way into this world way back, maybe 11 years ago.
What called you to farming originally?
It’s a very good question. I could go all the way back to my childhood when my folks became very interested in paying attention to the outdoor world, whether it was gardening with my mom or taking us to feed the birds up in Michigan. So maybe a seed was planted back then, but the actual career of farming entered my scene when I was in culinary school in the Hudson Valley of New York.
I went to the Culinary Institute of America right out of high school. And when I was out there, I was cooking, whether it was at school or outside of school, or restaurants in the area. And I was so inspired by how good food tasted that had been harvested from the local area. Eating local was a very big thing back then in the Hudson Valley.
And I just got so excited. You hardly had to do anything to the ingredients when they were just harvested. That inspiration got me excited enough to start volunteering on a farm. At the same time, I was becoming disenchanted with the hours and the rigors of cooking and professional kitchens, so it all came in at the right time, this inspiration to still work with my hands, but in a different capacity.
This is really interesting to me, because part of the process that I take clients through in discovering their unique calling is firstly, going through their life story and finding the themes, like you mention here, the outdoor appreciation you had at a younger age, and then we discover that there’s usually a point of dissatisfaction, which you also called out with your waning relationship to working in the culinary field.
What do you do at Foxhole Farm now?
We’re known for our regeneration approach but we also grow produce, bake sourdough bread, and my husband is a fermentation king. Plus we raise hair sheep on our 30 acres that’ll eventually be harvested for grass-fed lamb. The sheep play an important part in the whole picture of our farm. They are responsible for grazing and “managing” a large acreage of our property. We like to play around on the farm and experiment with things. We’re currently experimenting with growing mushrooms.
I love that you have this very playful approach to your business and you let it unfold organically.
One thing we learned working for other folks is that it pays off to get to know what wants to grow on the land before diving in. Forcing something to work is a more difficult approach.
We asked ourselves questions like:
What are the climatic conditions of the land?
What will thrive here?
How do we plug into the community?
What need is there?
What would they like to see?
I know that you still do some culinary stuff. How much is that a part of your life now?
It’s interesting, our whole lives seem to be geared toward food in some way or another. A lot of our time is spent growing and preparing for the market.
I also engage in cooking classes here and there at a few local spots when I can, and then I am cooking constantly. Having two young kids, and the two of us, I feel that a lot of my time is occupied. As far as the catering aspect and the professional side of cooking, that’s just started to enter back into my life as our son Jack is about to turn two. I’m so excited to invite a little bit more of that back into my life. The winter is really my time for catering. But, whenever I get the call, I try to answer it.
How do you juggle raising two small children and running the farm plus doing all the marketing and being the primary voice for Foxhole Farm?
To be honest, in the beginning, it was just me throwing a bunch of things at the wall that we were excited about and seeing where they stuck.
It was the same thing with being parents. We had one child already. She was one when we started the farm and we thought it would be the same with Jack – but one kid is very different from the next. I’ve learned so much from these past few years about allowing our lives to be freeform, with a bit of a structure because we need to stay sane! Also about really slimming down the expectations, I have of myself. When there’s a bit of a mess around literally or mentally – I take some time to sit and rest and then sort through it.
That’s wonderful. So few businesses talk about protecting and checking in with their energy. They just want to work through it all, do more and more and grow faster. It sounds like your team has a holistic approach and an awareness of energy levels.
Yeah. You know, a big reason why we wanted to work for ourselves after having managed farms for other entities or folks is that we feel too much is expected of people these days. Whether that’s from society or what people expect of themselves. We wanted to be in control of our quality of life and, it just felt right one day. I was physically and mentally worn (working on a previous farm) and there was one night that Rich and I said, “well, we weren’t planning on taking the leap this soon, but, it was that or stay here and maybe use up my energy reserves that could be spent on our own venture”. So we decided to have the experience, to use our little nest egg.
What advice do you have for someone who is in this same situation where maybe they’re doing something for a living that they don’t love? They haven’t made that leap or are afraid to make that leap?
I would say something that really worked for me was that folks in our lives were excited about what we were about to do and the leap we were about to take, but there was some worry. You really have to reach inward and take time to sit with yourself and say,
“Am I willing to work a little harder to make this work in the beginning?”
“Do I have the tools I need as a person, or physically to do this?”
And I think, not making a decision on an emotional day, but making one after a good few nights or weeks of sleep and it’ll present itself to you.
I vacillated and I sat with it and it just became so clear that there really wasn’t another way to go. So I would say, definitely enlist the people you’re closest with and voice these things and mull them over, because there’s no doubt that there’s stress involved with big life changes, but, I’ll take those stresses! When you are coming from a place of good intention and love something good generally comes.
What advice do you have for people who are trying to juggle having a family and starting or running a business?
I’m very happy with the life that we’ve provided for the kiddos. You know, just to start there. I am too hard on myself when it comes to being a parent. I don’t know if you want to call it a job or, or what, but I take that hat that I wear very seriously and I never want the kids to see me working too hard. I don’t want them to be encouraged to do that. My mom was just working, working, working to make life happen.
I guess when it comes to overall advice on juggling parenting, working, and entrepreneurship, in particular, make space for your top priorities, which to me is bringing little ones into the world and empowering them to think for themselves.
In the beginning, I thought, “Oh, I’m never going to have time to expand on my catering or start our mushroom yard”, but things work out. So I would also say don’t think that you can’t juggle multiple things, but also steer clear of the idea that, “you should get a pat on the back for doing it all”. A big mistake is putting pressure on yourself.
My mom was great, she took on the world and raised us at the same time, but I do think you maybe shouldn’t do that, especially in the early years, there’ll be a time when the kiddos don’t even want to hang with you, they’ll be too cool.
And that’s when I’ll be cooking a lot more!
Check out Foxhole Farm and Sam’s Journey:
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