Fallbrook Farms is a woman-powered, regenerative herb farm on Onöndowa’ga:’ land in New York’s Genesee River Valley run by Shannon Chanler, M.A., L.Ac., licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, and her daughter, Melissa Hughes.
I met Melissa when my husband and I moved to Los Angeles 5 years ago. Our partners has been friends back on the east coast since grade school, and after years of living abroad in different countries, the gang finally reunited. From the moment we met I admired her passion for making sustainability a way of life and how incredible she always was at slowing things down, taking in the present moments and appreciating life and the outdoors. One day at one of our usual gatherings we started talking about farming and the possibility of her growing roman chamomile for me to use for Ouli's. It felt like a far of dream until last year when I received a sweet bundle of their first harvest! This harvest signified more than a mighty little plant for soothing products. It was a sign of a trusted friendship and a materialization of a daydream between friends transformed into a reality.
I thought it was time to chat with Melissa about what regenerative farming actually means, how to participate in it, and how it can make a difference.
Define regenerative farming for us.
Regenerative farming is a holistic approach to working with the land to ensure not only its current productivity, but long-term amelioration of the soil and natural environment. It is beyond “sustainable” - you’re actually working to repair damage inflicted by industrial agriculture and the heavy footprint of modern industrial society. You’re working with nature in the same way indigenous cultures worldwide did and continue to do - we owe them a debt of gratitude for teaching us how to give back to the land. And an apology that it has taken so long.
Tell us about how you got into regenerative farming.
Generally, we were looking for greater transparency in our food system, and our herbal medicine, and greater control over what we were putting into our bodies, and that of our children. We found out we were expecting our first child around the same time my mom, an acupuncturist, was looking to pivot the use of her land to grow medicinal plants to complement her practice. We dropped our West Coast city lives and moved back to the family farm to help bring our values to life. We love being in the fresh air, and watching our daughter grow up outdoors and close to other generations of our family. We want to be accountable to ourselves and our community, and provide truly healthy plant-based herbal products.
What does regenerative practice mean to you?
We work within the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Farmer’s Pledge, which is a holistic set of principles that take into account not only regenerative land management, but employee health and wellbeing, community involvement, and diversity and inclusion within rural agriculture. There is a great deal of repair work to be done in all of those areas, and it will be a lifelong pursuit.
What benefits would come from regenerative practices becoming mainstream?
The environmental impacts can be, and have been enormous - leaving a lighter footprint on the land produces healthier soils, air, waterways, wildlife and human bodies alike. The impact of industrial agricultural chemicals on all of those has been devastating. If we can shift to a broader adoption of regenerative farming principles, we will see a huge quality of life increase.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a regenerative farm?
There are many grants available through the USDA, NRCS and other organizations, particularly for young farmers. Leasing land is a great way to jump in without too much commitment, and begin to suss out what works and what doesn’t. It also brings new life to old, unused land. Local universities often have “extension” programs to support small farmers - we are lucky to have Cornell Cooperative Extension and Cornell Small Farms on speed dial! Start small - there’s a lot you can do with an acre or two.
To learn more about Melissa and Fallbrook Farms, visit their website.