- Associated Press - Saturday, April 11, 2015

POTTSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - From the front, the white house at 253 Harley Road looks like any other home in the neighborhood. A short walk back reveals that appearances can be deceiving. For behind this particular house, there’s a chicken coop, greenhouses and a small farm where sustainable, organic growing is taking place.

Jubilee Hill Farm was started about three years ago by owners David and Wendy Ryle. The married couple grows produce on 1.5 acres of a 10-acre property left to Wendy by her grandparents. She said they plant food for humans but they want the land to also be a safe space for other living creatures.

“The idea was that this would be a wildlife refuge and it still is.it’s not a battle of the wildlife, it’s just sort of living in harmony with them,” she said.

Sustainability practices are those that keep in mind that the future survival of humans and other organisms are dependent on preserving the natural environment, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency .

Sustainability is what the Ryles practice and preach. David uses old-world technology and crop variety to preserve the soil and respect the ecosystem. He creates the farm’s 80 raised soil beds by hand. He uses a broad fork to get soil ready for planting. The large gardening tool, a large fork with steel tongs, is used to dig through the ground with the broad fork without harming the environment or the organisms in that environment.

“I know that for some people, it looks like taking a step backward, but for me, this is progress,” David said.

He said it’s important to provide organic produce while also doing what’s right for the land and his neighbors.

Since 1994, the word “sustainability” has become a more popular term, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More and more farmers and ranchers are embarking “on their own paths to sustainability,” according to a special report on the subject by the department.

When David and Wendy started Jubilee Hill Farm, they planned on using sustainable practices since both had experience in this type of farming.

David is the main grower on the farm and Wendy helps when she’s not working at the Pottstown Cluster of Religious Communities. They are the first farmers in each of their families. But while Wendy had some experience planting small vegetable patches as a child, David got his first taste of gardening in adulthood.

David grew up in Colorado and as the son of a pastor, trained in ministry. His ministry work led to world travels. While in India, he read a book about a character that asked forgiveness of the people and plants around him that he neglected during his youth. David said after reading the book, he felt the need to change his attitude toward the environment.

In 2005, David stayed in Peru for about a month to do relief work with towns that were affected by a big earthquake. During that time, he worked alongside a pastor that created gardens for the community.

“That was the first time I was really impressed with starting new life,” David said.

David’s time in Peru helped him realize he could combine ministry and gardening.

“This is what it’s about. It’s putting things back into the earth and putting things back into our life that can be a blessing to other people,” he said.

After Peru, David came to Philadelphia to work with a nun who had organized an addict recovery program. Participants of the program created organic gardens. David volunteered there for three years and helped manage the gardens.

“What started in Peru really blossomed during that time,” he said.

Philadelphia is also where David met his wife Wendy. The two were working at separate ministries and crossed paths. David said the first dinner they had with one another was made from vegetables they picked together.

“It was a special moment that we shared,” he said.

“The garden definitely brought us together,” Wendy said.

After ending their work with the ministries in Philadelphia, David and Wendy went to work on a large organic farm in Massachusetts. David said his time managing the 100-acre farm was like a university because he learned so much.

“What was like a passion and a hobby became knowledge. I’m learning how to do this and why it’s important,” he said.

Wendy said she realized one day that they could bring their farming experiences back to her hometown.

“I sat straight up in bed and thought we could do this in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Wendy said there was a good piece of land that had been left to her and it made sense to farm on it.

David said it was a lot of hard work to get the farm started and there was slow growth at the beginning. But despite the extra work, he had the vision to be a “gentleman farmer in the homestead model.”

“You’re on a small piece of land and you work it hard with old-world technology,” he said, explaining what “homestead” means to him.

David said he accepts the difficulties that come with using old-world technology and practices to garden sustainable crops.

“It’s a model of farming on a very small level that rather than just accepting the limitations, embraces them,” he said.

David said since they are a small farm, they’re not organically certified but are on track to become so. He said he explains to customers exactly how the produce they’re buying was grown and the methods used.

Organic farming produces crops with practices that preserve the environment while also avoiding using pesticides and antibiotics, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

David said although he is looking forward to being organically certified, he doesn’t think the title holds as much significance to customers who personally know their growers.

“I do think it’s more important on our scale that I can look someone in the eye and say I can explain to you exactly how I grew this,” he said.


Michilea Patterson is the Fit for Life reporter and is funded in part by the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.





Information from: The Mercury, https://www.pottsmerc.com

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