More than just making a living, farming is about making a life. This is all the more true on family farms, where parents, children, siblings, and grandparents often work together, each with a vital role in bringing forth food from the earth. Since 2002, Eli has worked alongside his brothers and sisters and parents on Fruitful Hill Farm in Bastrop County, and we've watched the Ringger children grow up at SFC Farmers' Markets, committed stewards of the earth at a young age, responsible, happy, kind, and connected to each other and to their customers through the food they share. America is losing over a million acres of farmland a year; as young people leave the farming life for more lucrative pursuits at an alarming rate, the second or third generation farmer is a rare breed. We're so grateful to Amy and Dale for growing more than just food at Fruitful Hill Farm--with his deep understanding of food systems and sustainable growing practices and commitment to what it means to grow food for your community, here's hoping Eli Ringger is the future of farming in America.
Tell us a little about the journey that led you to where you are now—growing food at Fruitful Hill Farm?
When I was about 13, I read YOU CAN FARM by Joel Salatin, which inspired me to think that we could actually make a living farming. I’m thankful that I have this opportunity to work outside raising vegetables and taking care of animals. My parents wanted to raise us in the country and that is why we are where we are today.
Why raise food?
I like to eat, and I appreciate healthy food.
How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?
Being homeschooled helped me and my siblings gain practical and hands-on experience, which has been helpful.
What does “sustainable” mean to you?
Simply doing things organically. We try to leave the land better than we found it.
What does a “day in the life” look like at Fruitful Hill Farm?
We get up early. Whoever is on “chicken chores” goes out to open the nest boxes and feed the chickens. We pick vegetables at least three times a week, which includes washing, bunching, weighing, etc. We try to pick in the morning, put the vegetables in the walk-in cooler, then we eat lunch, and then we wash/pack in the afternoon.
How many people work within your operation?
About 12 people, some part time, some full time.
What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?
Office work. Deciding what seed to buy and how much. What to plant, when and where, and ordering supplies. It all takes time.
What do you find most rewarding about farming?
Working together producing healthy food.
What do you find most challenging?
Bugs. Sometimes we simply lose a crop.
What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?
Government regulations that are “one size fits all.” There is less risk of food contamination in a smaller production system run by people who are caring and responsible.
What is a farmer’s role in our society?
Raising food is obviously something that is important and working with the land helps us have a “down to earth” perspective.
Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?
It is a great way to get fresh, healthy food. And meet your farmers.
What do you wish more people knew about growing food?
It is a lot of hard work, and it takes a full time commitment to bring food to harvest.
What inspires you?
We plant and water, and God gives the increase. I enjoy witnessing that.
What is one thing everyone can do (or a few simple things) to create a better, stronger food system?
The vote we make with our dollar really counts. Demand for healthy food will create supply and we’ll all be better off.
What are you cooking this week?
We have been eating a lot of sweet potatoes and butternut squash.
What’s your favorite recipe or dish from the farm?
Baked sweet potatoes parmesan.
Favorite breakfast: Our eggs scrambled with bacon and whole wheat toast with homemade jam.
Favorite fall fruit/veggie: White salad turnips and carrots.