The Farm

One couple finds a different path for their young family.

Written and photographed by Karim Shamsi-Basha

Noah Sanders harvested kale and broccoli for dinner while his boys climbed the shed nearby.

The Sanders’ farm is a family affair with Noah, 29, his wife Dorothy, 28, three young boys and a fourth on the way. The farm is located near Sylacauga in East Alabama and yields greens, broccoli, tomatoes, okra, cabbage, and other mouth-watering veggies. They also produce chicken, rabbit, and pork during season.

Noah employs the no-till method. Instead of turning the dirt every year, he leaves it undisturbed and covers it with mulch. The process prevents the need for weeding and using pesticides. No-till farming increases the amount of water and organic matter in the soil, and improves the cycling of nutrients.

“Our production method involves copying the way the soil and plants live and stay happy and produce the healthiest food. We’re basically duplicating the way the earth lives. When you treat the soil that way, it gets better every year, and you get healthier plants with less disease,” Noah says.

Noah sells his produce at Pepper Place Farmers Market and through a small membership program—about 20 families, mostly in Birmingham. They receive a box of meat and vegetables every two weeks. In addition, a few restaurants including Hot & Hot, Oven Bird, Bottega, and Bettola buy his produce.

Farming is more than a way to make a living for Noah.

“I feel farming is what I’m called to be at this season in my life. Being a farmer sits well with my values of wanting to be with my family and a steward of this earth. I love producing from, and healing, the land. We do it in a way that serves our community and connects with the people around us.”

Noah’s method of no-till farming is popular and continues to grow. Many leave the land undisturbed and allow the biology of the soil to work—the magic of nature, instead of human hands. The microorganisms living in the soil feed on the mulch, and in turn produce nutrients for the plants. Noah focuses on allowing the delicate ecosystem to perform, instead of forcing it to perform.

“The process has worked for us,” Noah says. “I have a friend in Africa who taught me this way of farming. He manages a huge no-till farm. People all over the world use this method. It doesn’t have to be expensive since we don’t use much machinery or tools. We work with nature.”

The key for Noah has been keeping his farm on a small scale so he can tend to his family. Dorothy homeschools the children in the morning, and later in the day they play and help their father. The farm serves the purposes of being a source of living, and one big playground.

“This farm has taught me something about family: Relationships are the most important. When there’s no motor running, I’m able to chat with my boys while working. They have no idea when they play next to me, they’re learning,” Noah said. “We believe in the value of these relationships, they’re the reasons we’re farming. My wife is my primary coworker, as a result our family is stronger.”

Noah and Dorothy have put much thought in the way they harvest the land and invest in their homestead. Raising a family on the farm may not be a favorite for everyone. It takes much work and discipline.

“I want to provide for my kids, and I want work to be attractive to them. When I model joyful, wholehearted work, they’ll appreciate it when they’re older,” Noah says.

For Dorothy, being a part of the family farm might as well be living the dream.

“My husband is able to be a part of the boys’ lives every day, and I’m a part of their life. I like us all working together. They appreciate how blessed they are,” Dorothy says, adding with a smile, “I love our homestead.”

In addition to keeping the home and schooling the children, Dorothy helps Noah on the farm when needed. The two have mapped out a way of life simple yet precious, uncomplicated yet rich.

“I feel as a wife and a mother I have a vital role. Now with the boys older, schooling keeps me busy on the home front,” Dorothy says. “I love living in the country with my family. We have different seasons. Making the home on the farm one of joy and bounty, that’s what makes it fulfilling.”

Noah called it a day and walked in with his boys, who had mud up to their knees from playing in the pond while he checked on early blooms at the orchard. He washed the fresh broccoli and kale to accompany the chicken for dinner, while she ushered the children in to take their baths.

Dorothy sums up their family-farm life with this. “Living on our family farm is the life I would want to buy if I had all the money in the world.” 

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