Written by Hippo (a hippopotamus) and Al (a bird)
We are Martice, Amy, Mason and Maxwell Scales. We are a family that is on a mission to live life as fully and as naturally as possible by getting back to nature and farming.
Al and I are going to try something different today. First Al will tell you his thoughts about the Scales Family Farm and then I’ll take a turn. Here’s Al:
Love of Juicy Tomatoes and Little Brothers
Sunshine, Dirt, Wind, and Flying Kites in Wide-Open Spaces
Love of Dandelions
Sunflowers and Soft Baby Faces
“This story is all about love, Hippo. That needs to be front, center, and in big letters.”
“Aren’t you going to tell what they sell and how they got started, or anything else?”
“No, Hippo, I’m just saying what I feel. You’re the one with all the book learning. You tell the rest.”
Martice Scales had never grown anything other than a radish. There was a time when he felt uncomfortable when he was around more trees than humans. Then a few years ago, something called to him and he quit his job as a case manager to become a farmer.
“That takes some pluck!” said Al.
“You said it,” I replied.
As a black American, Martice wanted to reclaim his choice to grow food – to be able to feed himself. And he wanted to teach others to do the same. Today there are only 45,000 black farmers in the United States, down from almost a million in 1920. Martice says many African Americans say they would never farm. It is tainted by slavery and other expoitative practices. But there is a growing movement to change that story. Instead of being oppressive, working the land is becoming a source of power and independence.
Martice convinced Amy that farming was a good thing. He took an internship in the farm corps program at the Eco-Justice Center in Racine and then the Scales were accepted into the Fondy Farm program, an incubator farm located in the Mequon Nature Preserve.
“What?*#!” squawked Al. I know all about incubating! It’s about sitting on eggs to keep them warm!”
“This is different,” I said. “They incubate farmers, not eggs.”
Al squawked again. “Somebody sits on the farmers?!!”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what this was all about myself, so we looked it up.
“It says here that an incubator farm provides low-cost rental land, support staff and equipment so a new farmer can get their hooves wet before they invest in something more permanent and expensive.”
“No sitting on farmers?”
“No, Al. Remember the farm director, Stephen Petro? He helps the farmers succeed. He plows the land, offers tips, helps them acquire supplies at lower costs, and gives encouragement. He was the guy on the tractor when we were there.”
From the very beginning, along with one-year-old Mason, Martice and Amy Scales learned how to farm by jumping right in (in addition to both working full-time jobs). They sold veggies and herbs from their home. Mason is now five and has his own garden plot, and the Scales Family Farm has one acre of land, four greenhouses in their attic which housed 2000 tomato plants this year, and 32 members in their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). The family also added another member – Maxwell.
“Sometimes I need to take a bath in the sink,” said Amy as she often goes straight from the farm field to her work as youth minister and therapist. But both she and Martice feel a peace and happiness working outside on their land.
They also want their children to grow up learning how to take care of creation, to be able to grow their own food, and even to get tired of having to care for animals. With his own garden plot, Mason has a good start. He helps with everything. So far, one-year-old Maxwell’s main job is unplanting. “He lets us know when we haven’t planted deep enough,” says Martice.
The Scales Family only uses products in their field that are safe for humans and animals. “I have my sons here,” says Martice. “The way we grow, I’m not worried about them touching anything.”
In addition to the CSA, Scales Family Farm sells their many products at Riverwest Gardeners Market, Alices’ Garden Farmers Market, and others. They apprenticed with Venice Williams of Alice’s Garden to learn the benefits of herbs and how to use them to create natural medicinal and beauty products – elderberry syrup, healing teas, facial masks, and lots of dandelion concoctions.
“Don’t forget the dilly beans, Hippo,” said Al. “They must be good because you scarfed them down before I could even have one taste.”
“They were crazy delicious! The Scales Family sells all sorts of pickled produce.”
“Hippo, maybe it’s time to wrap this up. You know the humans have very short attention spans.”
“Good point, Al. But I would like to add one more thing – the note we got from Martice the other day.”
Hey Hippo and Al!
We are super motivated to get things in place so that we can offer at risk youth an opportunity to learn to grow and experience fresh food. Hopefully we can do that in the next few years. The hope would be that after the program they would go back into their neighborhoods and get involved in other community gardens and start their own little stand/farm/urban farm as soon as they could if they enjoy farming. Many of these youths live in food deserts, so it’s not just teaching them about fresh food. It may be the first time that some of them have seen food still growing in the ground, or it may be the first time they see veggies that aren’t in a bin or a shelf at the store. We think that giving them this type of experience will be life changing as it was for me.
We also want to do this same kind of thing for people with employment barriers, such as a past criminal conviction. With growing food, you don’t need to worry about the employer offering the job to you and pulling that offer after they do the background check. Giving these humans the skills to grow high quality food also will give them an option to go out and grow and sell for themselves as a means to make money and this freedom is not something many of us feel for quite a long time after we are released. I want to give them this feeling as soon as possible and let them know that they can make it, even if they have a criminal record.
We are also looking for land within maybe 40 miles of the farm in pretty much any direction for when we are able to purchase land and start the homestead part of our farm. Thank you again for coming out and doing the story. We are humbled to have been interviewed!
Scales Family Farm
Have you read The True Adventures of Hippo and Al yet? It’s an exciting tale filled with undercover disguises, menacing giants, and feats of great bravery . . . “by me,” said Al – “the bravery part, that is.” Read it here.