Meet A Farmer : Mollie Engelhart | Farmer’s Footprint

Sow a Heart Farm

Location: Fillmore, California
Website: sowaheart.com, sageveganbistro.com
Instagram: @sowaheart, @chefmollie

“We came to this farm to build community. Physically, with our home here, but also to grow sustainable food for our restaurants and extended southern California friends, family, and food lovers. We came to practice regenerative agriculture and cultivate a new way of thinking of our food.”

All of a sudden the question of having a local food source became the most important one to answer. Not out of luxury, but out of necessity. People were searching the phrase “CSA near me” at record rates in April:

All of a sudden the local farmer became the most important person to know.

All of a sudden people started asking why the food they typically eat wasn’t available.

All of a sudden people started pulling back the layers of the onion to understand, many for the first time, the process and journey of food in the US and just how outsourced it is.

And all of a sudden, the questions of why and how things got to be the way they are sat on the tongue of society.

It was these same questions that have inspired the work, the farm, and the life of our featured farmer and chef, Mollie Engelhart.

She grew up barefoot, with soil between her toes, on an organic, 27 acre farm in upstate New York. As a kid, her free time was spent covered in dirt, splashing the pond, eating carrots she yanked out of the ground as she frolicked around the gardens and apple orchards of her family farm. Here is where her intrinsic love for healthy food and diversity was nourished.

Today, Mollie is a walking mosaic with experience and expertise as diverse as a handful of healthy soil. After graduating from the prestigious CalArts film program, Mollie began her career in entertainment working for the urban A&R department Epic at Sony Music under the guidance and teaching of Max Gousse. Her entrepreneurial spirit was quickly realized with the founding of Majestic Studios, which rapidly became the recording home for many artists on the Epic and Electra labels in addition to Virgin and many others. Mollie’s personal artistic talents manifested themselves in the form of poetry and spoken word where she recorded several albums, appeared on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, as well as the groundbreaking documentary Sp!t. Then came an opportunity to focus her artistic talent and expression toward her lifelong passion for health and wellness through food. Mollie started the Vegan restaurants KindKreme and Sage which now has four locations in Southern California — Echo Park, Culver City, Agoura Hills, and Pasadena, and produced May I be Frank, a documentary exploring the transformations possible through healthy eating and positive thinking.

With this eclectic palette of passion across various roles and industries, we wanted to know how and when farming became part of her vision.

“I can remember exactly where I was. I was standing in my driveway in my little suburban neighborhood thinking I was doing all the things I should be doing to help the planet — I had a hybrid car, used my own reusable bags at the grocery store, ran a vegan restaurant, and sipped on oat milk lattes — and it hit me. I had become apathetic.

She started to question if what she was doing was really all she could be doing. That day, as she stood in her driveway, she saw her kids playing in the distance and thought, “When my grandchildren come to me in 30 years, when the Earth is dying, asking what I did to change the course of our planet and all I have to say is that I drank oat milk and brought some bags to the grocery store, it was so blatantly clear that what I was doing was not enough.”

That same day her brother sent her this TED Talk by Graeme Sait (which we highly recommend listening to) and it was one of the most pivotal 20 minutes of her life. She started telling everyone about it.

“After I watched it I thought oh my god! There is a path forward. There is hope. I started coming out of the kitchen to talk to any of our customers who would listen and I’d tell them, you know what you should do? You should buy a farm and I can bring all the compost from restaurants to your farm. You’d be sequestering carbon instead of methane into the air, and I’d go on and on and on every change I got, and after two years of doing this, not one person did it.”

She began to dissect every part of her supply chain across multiple restaurants to understand the impact of each decision and identified where there was an opportunity to change it to be more local and regenerative.

“I had been checking the boxes of what I thought ‘doing my part’ meant, but it hit me that doing my part was actually doing it. I personally had to do it. I had to start a farm.”

This transformational time in her life is a reminder that the decision to change is an empowering choice accessible to any of us at any moment.

Mollie was determined to be able to say to her grandkids that she did everything she could do to create a better future and a better planet for them to live in.

And so, Mollie’s journey as a farmer began.

First up, getting land.

Seems simple, right? Wrong.

“It’s no wonder why so many people either give up on the process or can’t even get a foot in the door to own or start a farm. It feels impossible, and for most people it really is.”

It took Mollie 6 years, 7 loan rejections, and rock solid stamina and resiliency before finding a property that had a home on the land which made it qualify for owner-financing requiring 20% down. The owner needed a quick sale and she jumped on it. This is the land that would become Sow A Heart farm.

Second up, regenerating the soil.

The land had been conventionally managed, had completely dried up, and looked lifeless. That is, until she began experimenting with different regenerative practices. Here are a few images of the land in transition:

“I fail all the time, but I am also learning. You have to be willing to experiment, fail, learn, repeat. As I get better, so does my soil.”

She recently did a water infiltration test and compared her land and her neighbors land — which looks just like the land did on her farm when they first bought it — dirt, rocks, remnants of orange trees treated with glyphosate). It took four minutes for three cups of water to infiltrate into the ground on her neighbors land and on Mollie’s land, where there were cover crops and hops growing, and other regenerative practices at play, it took 19 seconds.

Mollie attributes a significant amount of what she’s learned to Google and all of the resources and rabbit holes it has taken her down. Having breastfed for 5 years with three young munchkins under the age of 5, she’s had a lot of late night hours spent being up in the wee hours of the night soaking in countless YouTube videos and articles.

Mollie’s passion and drive is palpable. One conversation will leave you awakened to how critical progress is, right now, for us all to do not just what we can, but more importantly, what we think we cannot, because the lifeline of the planet is at stake as is our health and we all need to dig deeper to rethink what we are able to contribute.

“We came to this farm to build community. Physically, with our home here, but also to grow sustainable food for our restaurants and extended southern California friends, family, and food lovers. We came to practice regenerative agriculture and cultivate a new way of thinking of our food.”

This is the way Mollie is bringing her customers back to the land.

“When my guests are eating a kale salad, it was picked that same day and you can’t help but taste, feel, and want to know more about why it’s so much better. And not only the taste, but better for your body, your planet and community.”

The other barrier to change that Mollie has observed is the resistance to lifestyle changes necessary for a regenerative future. The most common being the need to embrace eating seasonality, imperfect produce, and diversity in our diets, letting mother nature decide the menu.

“People are so out of touch with what a freshly grown vegetable looks like. It’s not natural for all the tomatoes to look exactly like one another. It’s not natural to have your butternut squash cut up in perfect squares and wrapped in plastic. Nature produces with diversity in mind — different shapes, sizes, colors — and we’ve forgotten the beauty and benefit of that process. We are judging the quality of produce by its outer layer and obsession with perfection, when what truly matters, is what’s on the inside — the contents and nutrients — and where and how it was grown.”

Isn’t it interesting to see the common thread of judgement present in how we evaluate our food and the judgement of people in society today — a disconnect from that fact that what exists below both the surface of our produce and skin of human beings — is what matters and our quickness to judge is breaking apart the roots of humankind and human health.

So what are the next steps to lasting change?

Mollie believes change must come from the consumers. If you demand change on the menu, what’s in your food, and how it is grown,the chef is going to shift it to what the consumer wants. They have to if they want to stay in business.

The most powerful ways to do this as a consumer are:

Be open to imperfectly shaped produce and realize that is mother nature’s sculpting.

Sow a Heart recently partnered with a new app called CropSwap which brings together consumers and local farmers, shortening the supply chain. and this has powered the growth of her CSA.

Remember that graph we shared at the beginning:

You can see that as people have gotten more comfortable with going back to the grocery store, the interest and investment in a local CSA has sharply declined. In this time and space of COVID, there are lessons and experiences, like supporting a CSA, that would have never arisen. Let’s not lose the value of that experience and choose to learn from it and integrate this critical step as consumers to create change. You can support Mollie’s CSA here.

We need more stewards of the land to move away from the aggressive centralization of food to a world where food sovereignty is the norm and we all feel empowered to learn, find the knowledge necessary, and get access to land for us all to have food security.

Mollie recommends following the incredible work of Kiss The Ground and Dr. Zach Bush in addition to our work here at Farmer’s Footprint.

When we asked Mollie what she hopes to instill in her kids, here’s what she said…

“I hope they care about humanity beyond their own wants and desires. Essentially, what I see in humanity right now, is none of us really care beyond our own comfort. It’s a rarity when you find someone that’s willing to put it all on the line to make some change. And I hope that I can instill how important it is to keep the greater good in mind, always.”

One thing we know for sure is that the regenerative movement is better because Mollie is a part of it. Follow her, her farm, and her award-winning restaurants as she grows roots deeper into regenerative food. Learn about all the ways she is experimenting, failing, learning, growing and regenerating her corner of the world. Let her words of wisdom soak in — it just might be the motivation you needed to change your own corner of the world.

We encourage you to connect with Mollie and follow her journey!

Website: sowaheart.com, sageveganbistro.com
Instagram: @sowaheart, @chefmollie

Stories like this one, that connect you directly to the farmer journey, are made possible only with your support. If you loved this, consider donating to Farmer’s Footprint — a 501c3 dedicated to the regenerative movement here.

Originally published at https://farmersfootprint.us.

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