Farmer. Waitress. Soapmaker. Em Blood wears many hats, all of them related to building an impactful community around food, farming, and honoring the rich and vibrant lives of every single human being. In fact, that’s how Em’s farm got its name: Sonder Farmstead.
“A writer and poet named John Koenig wrote a book called the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” Em shares. “It’s a plethora of words that aren’t defined words, but ones that aim to express the human emotions and experiences we all share. Sonder is the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. It really stuck with me.”
As Em met new people, grew community, and connected even deeper with the plant world, these symbiotic relationships became the foundation of her work as a farmer. She was first introduced to the world of food through her waitressing career. “I’ve been serving food since I was fifteen,” she says. “It brought me into the local food scene, which has really developed over the years. I found myself at some pretty amazing restaurants in Portland, both in Maine and Oregon, where farmers came in to deliver their homegrown and foraged goods. That brought me to farming.”
Em followed her curiosity to an Oregon-based farm school called Rogue Farm Corps. “It was such a life-changer,” she says. “It brought me to Central Oregon. I moved to a tiny town called Sisters and started as an intern at a small farm, Mahonia Gardens. I was employed for three seasons, with my last working as their cultivation manager.”
During her last season at Mahonia, which she recalls as her “little hippie farm”, she also worked at Sungrounded Farm. Sungrounded was a different kind of farm, where Em learned about growing and selling produce on a much larger scale. During this time, she was also waitressing, supporting herself, and dreaming about one day starting her own farm.
That dream brought Em and her partner to Whatcom County. “It’s a temperate climate here,” she explains. “There’s fertile land and greater access to water. The farming culture is really connected. The many flower and seed farms in Skagit Valley really intrigued us.”
That farming culture, one rich with generosity and reciprocity, has come to exemplify community for Em. “I feel really lucky to have had the fusion of waitressing and farming,” she says. “It’s really allowed me to see our community as everyone on board. The trading system in farming is one of the coolest things. It’s not often that I meet a maker or grower that isn’t interested in bartering. At my very first market, people were exchanging bread for salmon. The gift of community is figuring out how we can utilize each other’s resources, instead of feeling like, ‘Oh, also I have to become a fisherman and a bread baker.’”
One valuable resource in the farming community is land. And that’s where Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s incubator program came in. Through social media, Em had already seen farms like Flynn Farms and Spring Time Farm succeeding through the program. And since she was looking for land, and also recognizing the difficulty of getting a farm off the ground and purchasing property, Em applied. She was accepted, and Sonder Farmstead was born. “Incubator programs are in a league of their own,” Em raves. “It’s amazing to be able to share land and have a cohort with other folks around, especially since I’m mostly farming by myself.”
Incubator farms are land-based, multi-grower projects that provide reduced-cost access to shared land, infrastructure, and equipment to aspiring and beginning farmers. Currently, Em farms half an acre at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center incubator site. “I’m hoping to grow as much as I can on a small plot,” she says. “That means more faster-growing crops and a lot of prepping beds. I want to show others how much growth is possible in small-scale farming.”
Em’s especially looking forward to growing medicinal herbs. She’s also a soapmaker, which has funded her farm project. At Mahonia Gardens, she grew chamomile, lavender, calendula, and marigold. Now, she’s getting ready to explore what it means to be a farmer in this new climate.
“I’m so happy to have stumbled upon Sustainable Connections,” she says. “It’s been so rejuvenating to feel all the support here. Cloud Mountain is hyper-connected, with those on the land and beyond. Everyone is so excited by farming. They’ve been kind and jazzed about local makers and growers.”
Working with the incubator program will help Em put sonder into practice as she grows food and herbs to support and nourish her community.