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Farming a Sustainable Future

Kai

I graduated from the University of Alaska Southeast in 2006 with a degree in English with an emphasis in Literature and the Environment and a certificate from the UAS UAS Outdoor Studies Program. Shortly after graduating, I left Juneau and Alaska to go to work on my family’s 400 acre vegetable farm in the Skagit Valley of Washington State (about an hour and a half drive north of Seattle) where we grow a wide array of crops including beet, spinach, and cabbage seed, wheat, pickling cucumbers, and fresh market organic produce including everything from artichokes to zucchini. It is sold through farmers markets and a roadside stand.

I've been working there ever since. I currently manage the fresh market operation for the farm with my cousin, which includes sales at three Puget Sound area farmers markets, local restaurants, their LaConner roadside stand, and also a 150 share “CSA” or Community Supported Agriculture program, through which families or individuals sign up for a diverse seasonal box of vegetables from the farm each week.

A degree in Literature and the Environment didn’t exactly prepare me for a career in agriculture, but I did leave UAS convinced that farming was the best place for me to put my efforts. Once you start looking into human health, environmental health, land use policy, international finance, anything you tug on, it all comes back to the way we grow our food.

Day to day, my degree comes into play in writing a weekly newsletter for our regular customers –it’s handy to be able to string a narrative together on cue-- , and I’ve also found myself grateful for it on a number of occasions in drafting business and mission plans for different aspects of the farm. The beauty of an English degree is not that it makes you an expert in any one thing, but rather that it gives you a sense of perspective, a sense of history, and a framework for understanding the world through a variety of disciplines. There’s no way you’ll learn everything you need to for any job in school, so the most important thing you can come away with is an ability to learn on the fly.

In the last two years I’ve found that farming requires me to stay adaptable and able to self-educate in any number of fields. A degree in Literature and the Environment gave me a unique perspective on the connections between environmental and agricultural stewardship; and over the course of any given day I may have to be, on occasion, an accountant, an economist, a mechanic, a merchandiser, a translator, culinary consultant, or a plant pathologist. Hopefully that last one doesn’t come up too often.

My essay “A Rhetoric of Trails: Trail Design and Our Relationship to Landscape” was recently published in Volume 15.2 of the Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (ISLE) journal, a publication of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE). A copy of the journal is available at the Egan Library.