Erica Hellen: “Farming Is Our Livelihood, but It Is Also Activism”

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Author: Emily Payne | Published: January 2017

Erica Hellen, co-owner and farmer at Free Union Grass Farm, is speaking at the third annual D.C. Food Tank Summit, Let’s Build a Better Food Policy, which will be hosted in partnership with George Washington University and the World Resources Institute on February 2, 2017.

Free Union Grass Farm is a diversified livestock farm producing beef, pork, chicken, duck, and eggs on nearly 300 acres in Albemarle county, Virginia. She and her husband utilize rotational grazing and portable infrastructure to raise animals in systems that mimic the natural world. After seven years as a full-time farmer, Erica is familiar with the flaws of our industrialized food system and hopes to convey the role small farmers play in helping fix it.

Food Tank had the chance to speak with Helen about

Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?

Erica Hellen (EH): My liberal arts education at Warren Wilson College exposed me to the world of farming both in the classroom and in the field, on the school’s working farm and garden. It was there I learned the immense role agriculture plays in how we treat our environment. I grew up in an urban area and it had never occurred to me to consider farming as a career, but it combined so many things I love: working outside, being my own boss, and contributing to positive environmental change.

FT: What makes you continue to want to be involved in this kind of work?

EH: Providing something tangible for our community and creating relationships with our customers reminds me that our work is valued, and valuable. Farming is a unique kind of business because it is our livelihood, but it is also activism. There is much to be done when it comes to fixing the food system, and I feel inspired by the work that lies ahead of us.


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