SAMANTHA & TOMMY
BLACK RABBIT FARM
Seattle, Washington to Amherst, Wisconsin
To get to Samantha and Tommy Enright’s Black Rabbit Farm in Amherst, Wisconsin you drive down country roads, over a river and come to a storybook white farmhouse with several red barns. The fields are filled with free-range rabbit hutches and chickens, ducks and turkeys scratch freely about the yard. Touring through their farming operation, it is difficult to believe that they have only been farming for two years. Samantha and Tommy met while attending college at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. After college, newly married, they decided to pack up their lives and move to Seattle where Tommy could start a career in the music industry. Before too long Samantha was working as a medical assistant and Tommy was booking bands at a popular concert venue and was an on-air DJ at the world-renowned KEXP radio station. In Seattle, they began attending farmers markets every weekend, which sparked an interest in sourcing local and sustainable food. The more they learned about where their food came from, the more they wanted to grow it themselves. Their fifth year living in the city, Tommy began working at an urban farm supply store and interned at an organic hog farm outside of Seattle. They looked around the state of Washington for land and couldn’t find anything that was affordable, so they decided to return to their native Wisconsin to pursue their dream of starting a farm. In 2013, Tommy and Samantha left Seattle and immediately began searching for properties in rural Wisconsin. The moment Samantha and Tommy laid eyes on their future Black Rabbit Farm they knew it was meant to be. The farmhouse has been abandoned for quite some time and had been recently moved and renovated to save it from being torn down. The Enright’s got straight to work building fences, planting seeds and buying rabbits and poultry to start their breeding program. They knew that building a financially sustainable farm would require time to develop. Both Samantha and Tommy keep off-farm jobs to keep them in the black. Early this year they welcomed their first child, Eamon, into the world. Balancing parenting, farming and working off-farm isn’t easy but the couple can’t imagine their life any other way. Their goal is to one day be able to live off of the income their farm generates, but until then they are happy to supply themselves and their community with ethically raised meats and organically grown produce. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Seattle is surrounded by natural beauty. We would go hiking in the mountains, and it would be difficult to return to the traffic and concrete. At the same time, we were becoming more interested in where our food came from and wanted to start growing and producing it for ourselves. Buying land in Washington state was well outside of our budget, so we returned to our native Wisconsin.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move?
Saying goodbye to friends was difficult, but we were excited to start this new chapter in our lives, so the initial move was pretty positive. Once we found a farm, life was even better.
What was the hardest thing to get used to? What do you miss most about the city?
One notable difference was just moving from a very progressive city to a place where the people are more resistant to change. That's not to say that there aren't progressives here or that everyone here is stubborn, but there is certainly a much wider variance in ideology here.
Do you have any book, films, conferences, etc. that helped your transition and/or progress of building your farm?
"The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman
"The Resilient Farm and Homestead" by Ben Falk
"Restoration Agriculture" by Mark Shepard
Chelsea Green Publishing has been putting out great farming books over the last few years. Also, attending the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Conference has been a great resource http://mosesorganic.org
What do you appreciate most about your new life at Black Rabbit Farm?
There's a connection with nature that comes along with country life that I think is good for the soul. Farming has reconnected me with the earth and my family in ways I could not have imagined. My mindset has shifted from daydreaming about an idyllic rural life to one rooted in reality- experiencing the triumphs and frustrations of farming- which has been much more rewarding in the end.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
I don't think that I could; I need the trees, the fields, the space for my mental wellbeing. I recently visited Minneapolis (one of my favorite cities) and thought about how great it would be to live there, but I know that after a month I'd miss the farm.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Really think it through. Will you be happy without the concerts, the restaurants? Does being cool matter to you? Or just go for it. You only grow as a person when you get outside your comfort zone.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I love being connected to the food I eat. That alone is very exciting. Also, having animals that depend on me gives me a feeling of purpose. There are no days off. As a close friend once said, "obligation is a hell of a motivator."
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
My career path has completely changed, but I also have found that I'm working harder and am able to push myself more.
Walk us through a typical day at Black Rabbit Farm. How does it compare to your previous day-to-day in the city?
I wake up at 4:30 every morning. I do chores, bring our son to the babysitter, go to my off-farm job, pick up our son, play with him for a bit and eat. Then I do chores and garden until the sun goes down.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
Our farm is located on a river. Whenever I need to regroup or get my thoughts together, I walk down to the river, sit, and watch the water.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
City people tend to think that people in rural areas are backward or uncultured. In our community, there are people from all walks of life. Many of the small farmers in our area are very progressive, very "green", with no regard for whether or not anyone else notices. We live in the most supportive community we could ask for. There are a lot of potlucks and shared advice.
What has been the biggest challenge building your farm and have did you overcome it?
The biggest challenges have been financial - farming is hard work, and it takes time to become successful at it. The startup and ongoing operational costs can be very tough for beginning farmers starting from scratch, as any money you earn usually goes back into the farm. We've made plenty of mistakes from due to inexperience, but we've learned from them and are slowly growing our market. Things are starting to click.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
We hope to continue improving and diversifying our farming operation. We're currently building a greenhouse and high tunnel for more vegetable production and hope to start keeping bees.