By Allie Nicodemo, Science Writer, Arizona State University
Sound Bites is a new series that connects you with local food producers. Check back monthly to meet the folks who are working day-in and day-out to grow our local food movement.
With rows of vegetable gardens, free range chickens, Nubian goats and a salted caramel production, The Simple Farm is anything but simple. This three-acre operation in North Scottsdale is owned by Lylah and Michael Ledner. The property includes gardens, raised beds, a farm shop where members pick up their weekly produce, a playground for the goats as well as the Ledner’s home.
I received a tour from farm manager Joy Hubbard, who came to work at The Simple Farm several years ago after leaving her job as a paralegal. When the state of Arizona went through a personnel cutback, Hubbard’s job position was closed.
“I went home and felt insignificant because I didn’t know what else to do,” Hubbard says. That is, until she found The Simple Farm. “I love it here. It’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”
Years later, Hubbard is still the farm manager. She tends to the gardens while Ledner focuses on the goats and caramel production. And it’s clear they make a great team – The Simple Farm is beautiful, the creatures that reside there are happy and well cared for, and the caramels are award-winning.
Learn more about The Simple Farm below in an interview with Lylah Ledner, edited for length and clarity.
Allie Nicodemo: How did The Simple Farm come to be?
Lylah Ledner: In 2009, the economy affected us like so many other people and we jumped at the chance to rent the home on the property where we are now. My husband Michael had this idea to start a community garden on this dirt encrusted land. Two pine trees, a chaparral bush and one African sumac were all that existed on the whole three acres. We had no real plan except to grow some food for ourselves and for others and to get a few Nubian dairy goats. I had Nubian dairy goats and a few other breeds back in 1982, and I loved the Nubian.
We knew we wanted to grow food. We had transformed the backyard of our former home into luscious food gardens, so we knew we could do this. But the scale obviously is quite different. The whole process of transforming this land into The Simple Farm has been a wonderful, but very hard journey. Until doing this I never knew how hard it was to grow food on this scale. Currently we grow vegetables, herbs and flowers for 30 farm member families. When Joy Hubbard, our farm manager, has her team harvest extra, we place that beautiful harvest in baskets inside our farm shop for non-farm members to purchase. We also sell our caramels in the shop and in several local retail locations.
AN: What is the best part of your job?
LL: People are the best part of my job. Even though I’m more of an introvert, seeing a smile on someone’s face because of a caramel, or the goats, or when they walk up into our farm shop garden and see the beauty – there’s something transformative. That means so much to Michael and me. We could both tell you so many stories about all the lives we’ve gotten to interact with. Never in a million years would we have thought we’d get to know and care about so many different and beautiful people.
AN: What is the most challenging part of your job?
LL: The most challenging part is being exhausted. And I can say this for every other farmer you’ll interview. We often go to bed tired and wake up tired, but we keep going on because it’s the chosen – for now – way to live life and earn a living. All of us who do this work for a living and provide beautiful, artisan food for others do it because at the end of the day there is something rewarding in our own souls.
AN: What do you wish you could change about the local food movement?
LL: I’m very thankful for the current local food movement and thankful for what’s happening in the Phoenix Valley. But there needs to be an understanding that this farm is where we live and work, and it’s important to honor and respect that and for the other producers too. We’ve had people show up to the farm outside our hours of operation, or people who freely pick a pomegranate or peach off the tree. I know that this is changing, but I would like to see the community who does not grow food, or make cheese, or provide the beauty for the table begin to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work that those of us that do this do.
You can visit The Simple Farm on Thursday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Check the website first.