Habitat June 20, 2017

Moving to Greener Pastures

Peaceful Belly Farm to leave its Dry Creek Valley roots

The Dry Creek Valley north of Boise is magical: rolling, golden hills dotted with farms, ranches, sage and rabbitbrush, and laced with trails for hikers, horses and mountain bikers.

Barn owls and great horns nest along the seasonal Dry Creek. Deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes and the occasional cougar roam the undulating terrain.

And for 10 years, Peaceful Belly Farm has called it home. Owners Josie and Clay Erskine have grown certified organic produce, flowers and berries on 60 acres of prime Dry Creek topsoil. Their farm is about 20 minutes from downtown Boise on Broken Horn Road, just northwest of the Hidden Springs subdivision.

But the Erskine’s are turning a bittersweet page. They’re moving the farm to Sunnyslope, a wine and agricultural area near Caldwell. They’re buying 13 acres off Highway 55 and Hoskins Road, where they’ll grow crops for grocery, restaurant, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) customers and the Boise Farmers Market. And they’ll plant an orchard to supply Clay Erskine’s new Stack Rock Cidery.

Plans also include partnering with Snake River Winery to plant grapevines and host a wine and cider tasting room.

As she helped customers at a recent Boise Farmers’ Market, Josie Erskine said she’s excited about their new Vine and Branch Ranch. But her eyes reflected sadness and anger. She feels Peaceful Belly had to relocate because of Ada County’s recent approval of the 1,800-home Dry Creek Ranch subdivision right on the edge of their farm.

The Boise Hunter Homes development will take groundwater from the same source as Peaceful Belly, unlike neighboring planned communities Hidden Springs and Avimor. Those communities pipe in city water from Boise and treat their own wastewater.

And although the farm has senior water rights, Erskine, who is also the district manager for the Ada County Soil and Water Conservation District, sees trouble ahead. She predicts future drought years combined with the huge numbers of homes will force battles over water.

“I’m not going to tell people they can’t have drinking water so I can water my kale.”

Erskine said she’s not against development but would love to see the area grow in a way that benefited everyone, not just developers, who all over the valley are gobbling up farmland and spitting out homes.

“It could be a local food corridor with orchards and wineries you could ride your bike through and visit hot springs. That little valley could be a gem.”

She and other Dry Creek Valley residents have joined forces as savedrycreek.org. They want to preserve the agricultural and cultural heritage of the area and fight what they believe was a flawed approval process for Dry Creek Ranch and a lack of concern for eco-friendly design.

Peaceful Belly will leave a legacy of sustainability that’s grown into much more than just planting and harvesting organic food and improving the soil. For example, this winter they fed leftover sweet corn and hay to a herd of starving elk on their property.

Peaceful Belly has been a teaching farm that gives back to the community, growing pumpkins to raise money for schools, inviting kids on field trips and growing food for the Idaho Foodbank.

It’s been a gathering place for families and where the Erskine’s daughters Daisy and Tilly have helped with planting, splashed in mud puddles and swung on rope swings with friends.

They held cooking classes and prepared just-picked farmhand meals prepared in an open-air kitchen. They had CSA-member potlucks and gorgeous multi-course, farm-to-table dinners under late-summer stars.

For several years, the Erskines also have run a Victory Garden farm class, where members learn irrigation, organic weed and pest control and how to plant and harvest their bounty together. And each spring, hundreds flock to farm’s greenhouse for the legendary plant sale, which became the subject of a viral YouTube video.

Heidi Wagner, a four-year farm class veteran and Hidden Springs resident is sad to see Peaceful Belly move.

“It was always such a joy to be out there with other people,” she said. “I learned to be more connected to the food I was eating and how to make the ground better and also to make it beautiful. The fact that we had that farm so close to an urban area is unusual.”

And Wagner is paying forward what she learned from the Erskines. She’s co-chair of Hidden Springs’ Community Farm, and she and husband Tim now run a 72-acre certified organic farm in Weiser, growing grains, alfalfa, beans and vegetables.

Wagner and Erskine see the benefits, however, of Peaceful Belly’s move to Sunnyslope with its agricultural roots and farm families, and where it will continue to teach, honor the environment, and supply the valley with healthy organic food.

Peaceful Belly Plans for Vine and Branch Ranch

  • Capitalize on their prime location: the Sunnyslope Wine Trail and Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area, and growing and tasting operations for Bitner, Koenig and other wineries, and the site of future amphitheater.
  • Build a commercial kitchen, serve small plates and make and sell cheese from goats on the ranch.
  • Operate a produce stand.
  • Plant rare apple varieties for the cidery.
  • Host school field trips and continue Victory Garden course.
  • Offer classes such as fermenting foods, making pickles and chees-making.
  • Offer you-pick flowers and berries.
  • Continue farm-to-table dinners.
  • Offer bed-and-breakfast lodging.
  • Build a small apartment above the barn, which will be moved from the Dry Creek location.
  • Offer an electric car charging station.
This article appears in the Issue of Territory Magazine.