PASA volunteer Lisa Grazan shares her experience attending our workshop “Transition Truths: Taking Over an Established Farm Business,” hosted by Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living. The workshop was part of our CRAFT event calendar.
Seeking a place to plant roots, raise a family, and put their education and experience to good use, Claire and Rusty Orner acquired the land on which Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living sits in 1996 from a retired attorney.
Upon arrival, you learn quickly that Quiet Creek is beyond what meets the eye, and certainly much more than its name implies. What is discreetly called an “herb farm” is actually a 30-acre property containing a vast array of organic vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and edible flowers, as well as bee hives, wind- and solar-powered energy systems, a zero-waste worm composting facility, and, of course, herbs. The 125 varieties of herbs are grown for medicinal uses, culinary mixes, salves, soaps, and teas—all harvested, produced, packaged, and sold by the Orners.
At the workshop they hosted, the Orners toured new and experienced farmers around their property, sharing their joys, struggles, and just plain good advice about the daily realities of running an established and respected business. While their farm is not for sale, Claire and Rusty are currently seeking new stewards of Quiet Creek to not only carry on their work, but to expand upon what they have created, infusing Quiet Creek with new energy, creativity, and possibilities.
Their message was genuine and generous. The Orners want to offer guidance to their future stewards in any way they can. But it’s one thing to show a new steward the ropes; it’s quite another to bestow a way of life. You come to learn that Claire and Rusty’s belief, faith, and work ethic permeate every aspect of Quiet Creek.
Education is built into Quiet Creek’s foundation. It’s no wonder, since Claire has a bachelor’s degree in geology and two masters degrees in education, while Rusty has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and over 30 years of experience as a dairy farmer, landscaper, and vegetable grower. The Orner’s School of Country Living is a natural outgrowth of their commitment to education and the environment. With the creation of their School of Country Living, which became a nonprofit entity in 2003, the Orners carry forward their mission of teaching people of all ages about conservation, ecological thinking, and healthy living.
They offer a broad spectrum of classes and workshops, from herbal soap making to solar panel installation certification. They wisely blend teaching opportunities with functionality on the farm. For instance, their straw bale addition to the barn has an exposed interior wall to illustrate earthen building construction. It doubles as a guest house for farm apprentices and visitors.
“Education is about the sharing of ourselves. It’s about giving and receiving.”
Their philosophy about education is clear and profound. Education is about the sharing of ourselves. It’s about giving and receiving. This philosophy was evident at the workshop as Rusty took us on a tour of Quiet Creek. At the outset, we each drew a number which assigned a hypothetical job description, and a question about how we would improve that specific area of the farm.
As we arrived at each location—the straw-bale barn addition, the zero-waste worm composting facility, the herb garden, the mushroom logs, the earthen oven, the solar panels, and the mobile high tunnels—the person who drew that corresponding number introduced themselves, read their “job description,” and shared their ideas and creativity with the others.
It was through the Orner’s philosophy of education that six strangers got to know and respect one another walking around on a rainy, breezy afternoon. Not by being lectured to, mind you, but by participating—by the giving of ourselves and receiving from others.
This is the same kind of sharing that Claire and Rusty will take beyond Quiet Creek, as they plan the next phase of their life together. Having served in Jamaica, France, Spain, Ghana and Guatemala, they are planning their next journey to southeast Asia to continue to provide education on living sustainably.
“They are not here to rule, dominate, or possess the land; they are here to respect it, to have the honor and privilege of looking after something greater than themselves.”
As they transition Quiet Creek into different hands with hopefully greater visions, it is significant to note that Claire and Rusty don’t refer to themselves as “owners” of Quiet Creek, but rather as “stewards” of the land. While technically they’re both, after speaking with them you can understand the reason behind their choice. They are not here to rule, dominate, or possess the land; they are here to respect it, to have the honor and privilege of looking after something greater than themselves.
The three-hour workshop was just a “blink of an eye” in lives devoted to educating people—whether it is showing a good life to a new steward, or showing others how to steward a life that is good. Either way, Claire and Rusty can confidently speak to both. With the unselfish success they have created at Quiet Creek, it is clear that while they may tread lightly on the land, the footprints they leave are indelible.
Lisa Grazan is an attorney based out of Pittsburgh, PA focusing her practice on food & agriculture law. She is also a writer, speaker, and natural health advocate. Lisa holds an ND (Doctor of Naturopathy) degree and is a certified natural health professional. She regularly speaks and writes about the influence food and nutrition have in reversing disease.