Lee-Ann Hill, owner of Laughing Wolf Farm in Mancos, brings a whole new (old) approach to farming. Although she loves everything she grows, she is passionate about seed adaptation. Another way to put this is that Lee-Ann farms for seeds, specifically traditional seeds. Traditional seeds are what brought her to farming in the first place. Lee-Ann went to Prescott University in Arizona, where she earned her Master’s degree in Traditional Land Use. After earning her degree, she did conservation work for many years. She loved the work but needed a break, a break that would still allow her to contribute to society and to the land. She is drawn ecological service and sustainability, and becoming a farmer seemed like just the right fit. “I love doing jobs that are for the greater good and for the Earth,” Lee-Ann says with a smile. She has been, as she puts it, “casually” growing food for twenty years. “I love growing things, and I love feeding people. I do it for the love.” she says. Although she has been growing food for so long, this is her third year as professional farmer with her farm, Laughing Wolf Farm, which started as a nickname and just stuck, becoming the permanent name for the farm. “I am always learning, and it is amazing. My intention is always changing as well. I love it,” Lee-Ann says about her farm. Lee-Ann has one acre of crops under production, honey bees and chickens. She laughs as she explains that she also has a few geese for “comic relief.”
It is incredible to hear her speak of the traditional seeds and crops. Crops that traditional people have been farming on this land long before European settlers landed here. Her whole face lights up and her smile is contagious when she talks about them. Lee-Ann has an amazingly positive attitude and her light-hearted spirit shines through as she shows me around her beautiful farm. She explains that although seeds are her passion, “the best way to save a seed is to grow it!” She proudly shows me all she is growing, especially the traditional crops, like Purple Hopi Beans, Zuni Tomatillos, Navajo Pumpkins, Anastasi Sweet Corn, Hopi Blue Corn and her favorite, Tohono O’odham Ha:ll, which is a type of winter squash. All of these traditional crops are so beautiful, with amazing displays of colors not often seen on modern farms. The Purple Hopi Beans are (surprisingly) purple, with black and white beans mixed in. The squash are a mix of different shades of green. The corn is multi-colored as well. She explains a little bit about each crop and the reason it was grown traditionally. For example, the Purple Hopi Bean was grown because it can be eaten fresh or died, so it fed the people year-round. She grows these crops despite the fact that there is not much of a market for them. “I like to get people growing them and eating them- it is not about making a profit,” she explains. Her enthusiasm for what she does makes me want to learn more about traditional ways of living and eating. Lee-Ann also grows more conventional crops, such as cucumbers, beets, rainbow chard, spinach and green beans.
Lee-Ann does most of the work on her farm by herself, but hires help one day a week and gets as much help as she can from her partner, Dave. “Oh my gosh!” she laughs, “I have a few helpers, but I always need more help!” Lee-Ann works 40-60 hours a week on her farm, and she also has a part-time job with Dolores River Boating Advocates. She also has two teenage kids living at home. Needless to say, she is a very busy woman! Lee-Ann would eventually like to turn her farm into a seed education and research facility and have that be her only job.
When I asked Lee-Ann what is the most difficult part of being a small farmer, she responded in a similar manner to other small farmers I have interviewed. “It is an easy question to answer,” she says. “Just getting it all done. Finding out when it is okay to hire help. You need all the help you can get, but realizing when you can actually afford it is huge. Organic farming is intense. It is a lot of work. I would have five full-time employees if I could.”
Lee-Ann sells her produce through the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative and through her 15-member CSA. Take a look at Lee-Ann’s favorite salsa recipe below!
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
- 2 cups Zuni tomatillos
- 1 fresh chile pepper (spicyness to your preference)
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Juice from 1 lime or ¼ cup water
Remove husks from tomatillos and rinse under warm water to remove stickiness. Place tomatillos, pepper, and onions on cookie sheet and broil 1 to 2 inches from heat, turning once, until tomatillos are softened and slightly charred, about 7 minutes. Remove from broiler and place chile in a plastic bag in the fridge for 5 minutes, then peel skin off the chile. Open chile, remove seeds, and chop. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and purée. *Salsa can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.