Marcie Brewster

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Marcie Brewster

Is there any harder way to make a living than with small-scale agriculture?

An online dictionary defines "hardscrabble" as "providing or yielding meagerly in return for much effort; demanding or unrewarding: the hardscrabble existence of mountainside farmers."

That description fits Marcie Brewster's life perfectly, but she finds fulfillment on a small farm south of Berryville, along Dry Fork Creek.

"You can work hard and get nothing for it, but sometimes you can just do a little and get a lot, too," Marcie said.

She would like to make a living entirely from farming, but reality requires that she sometimes bring in other income. She's taken tough jobs like detasseling corn, and for the past four years, Marcie has augmented her income by caring for people with terminal illnesses.

This type of care can take a toll on someone, but Marcie has also found personal rewards in the work.

This may not be the life she pictured when she studied agricultural economics in college. She also studied international relations, and thought about a career in the diplomatic corps.

Instead, she found her way into the Peace Corps in Africa, such a memorable experience that she returned as a graduate student.

Back in the U.S., Marcie joined a new government program which began in 1987, providing guidance to farmers on sustainable agricultural practices.

After four years with the project, however, Marcie said she felt "like a voyeur," and she apprenticed at a farm in Virginia. Her journey then took her to Colorado, for three years on a collective working farm.

During the winters, Marcie continued to visit this area, and in 1994, she moved into some very primitive conditions here.

After wintering in a camper trailer, she spent the next few years living in a yurt. Diane Schumacher, who had worked on the same farm in Colorado, joined her in 1996, and they started Wildfire Farms a year later.

The first commercial crops came in 1998, and they sold flowers and vegetables at the Berryville Farmers' Market. They have since moved to the more profitable Eureka Springs Farmers' Market, but the Wildfire Farms booth is expected to return to Berryville this spring.

All the crops at Wildfire are grown without pesticides, using a no-till method of cultivation. "We sell face-to-face," Marcie said, explaining the commitment to quality.

In addition to farmers' market sales, Wildfire Farms depends on Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA program allows people to pay a fee at the start of a year, in exchange for weekly portions of the farm's yield.

"It's an opportunity to invest in a farm for a season," Marcie said. "We try to make sure they get a good value for their investment."

No matter the difficulties, Marcie is committed to her way of life. "This farm is about more than food," she said. "It gives me the time and space to be with myself."

Farmers have to learn patience, and Marcie has learned to take the long view. "A farm takes a lifetime," she said, and added with a smile, "especially where the soil's thin."

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