meet the farmer

FERTILE GROUND

Big ideas come to life at Little Busy Bee Farm.

WRITTEN BY NATASHA BOURLIN
PHOTOS BY SHAUN HUNTER

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Strawberries growing at Little Busy Bee Farm in Stagecoach

In 2010, Marc Houle met the woman who would become his wife, Elisa, in a Morgan Hill, Calif., supermarket. After striking up a conversation, they found they had much in common. Just a few years later, the couple sought a new piece of common ground to share. They found it in Stagecoach, Nev.

As children, both of the Houles grew up on farms, though on opposite ends of the planet, working hard to help their respective family businesses.

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Freshly harvested strawberries and melons. Little Busy Bee Farm grows three heirloom varieties of strawberries

Marc grew up in Sturbridge Village, Mass., born of several generations of French farmers and carpenters. His family’s farm featured blissful bovines and an expansive apple orchard. In Iloilo, the Philippines, Elisa was raised on a rice farm, which also produced other foods and flowers. Both were familiar with the rigors of working a farm.

Longing for the country living they once had known, they bravely purchased a one-acre plot of land in 2013, sight unseen. Potential risks did not faze them, and luck thankfully was on their side.

Farm focused, the Houles took their new land’s soil for testing at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, which told them it was “fantastic.” It was fertile, practically rock free, with an ideal pH, and at an elevation conducive to raising many things. For plants not quite so enthusiastic about the temperatures that come with the farm’s 4,300-foot elevation, the Houles built a 16-by-24-foot-high tunnel.

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The Houles' chickens dine on discarded organic produce grown on the farm

Organic only

“Know your farmer; come to the farm,” Marc says.

Seeing a farm firsthand is the best way to know what you’re ingesting, he explains. At Little Busy Bee Farm, the Houles practice only organic methods.

Though the farm is not officially designated USDA Certified Organic yet, the Houles are careful to follow all the processes required. Nary a synthetic pesticide or fertilizer has ever touched their earth, they say. Only heirloom and heritage variety, non-GMO, organic seeds have ever been planted on their acre, and now they’re producing and planting their own.

Houle claims their flat drip-tape irrigation system uses less water on their entire farm than most single-family homes use for just their lawns. The Houles add amendments to the sandy soil based on its needs, largely using Epsom salts, fish fertilizer, and kelp, with organically fed cattle manure to supplement.

They also make their own biochar, inspired by the method of using rice husks after they are cooked that was practiced at Elisa’s childhood farm. A 2,000-year-old practice, the use of biochar helps soil retain both moisture and nutrients. The Houles create theirs using noncarcinogenic, super-heated wood that turns to charcoal, and their plants seem to adore it.

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Marc and Elisa Houle, owners of Little Busy Bee Farm

Big dreams, little land

It’s astonishing what the Houles produce on just an acre of land.

Within the fully fenced, hand-weeded plot, a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, and nuts is grown. High elevation is excellent for beehives and colonies, which the Houles also now raise and sell. Their resulting honey has a sought-after golden hue and is tinged with a lavender flavor.

Dozens of fruit trees offer succulent peaches, nectarines, apples, and cherries near others laden with Carpathian walnuts and almonds. Twelve varieties of winemaking grapes complement crops of potatoes, kale, beets, chard, radishes, garlic, cabbages, sweet corn, green beans, peppers, asparagus, and more, most in multiple varietals.

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Marc Houle harvests carrots and radishes

Mizuna, an Asian mustard green, and Charentais cantaloupes, a sweet French variety, are among the more unusual crops found at Little Busy Bee Farm. Three thousand heirloom strawberry plants in three varieties were imported from New England. The fruit is so delicious that, after using them for two years, The Canvas Café in Virginia City now wants to purchase the Houles’ entire crop this season.

“It’s awesome to have a chef want our products,” Marc says.

What isn’t sold, Elisa uses to make jam.

While they sell their mouthwatering fare at the Dayton Farmers’ Market and their farm, the Houles invite folks out to the farm to pick produce for themselves.

“Like any farmer on any farm, we’re always in the field doing something,” Marc says. “Call anytime, email, or just show up at the gate and ring the bell.”

Elisa’s long-honed cooking skills help her create items from their harvest, such as sauerkraut fermented in earthenware crocks from their all-season cabbage. She’s also happy to teach visitors how best to prepare what’s found on the farm.  

“People say ‘I don’t like kale,’ so I ask, ‘How did you cook it?’” she says. “When people are scared of new stuff, it’s because they don’t know how to use it.”

Natasha Bourlin is a freelance writer and amateur gardener who loves learning from the experts.

Resources

Little Busy Bee Farm
5520 Navajo Trail, Stagecoach • 775-526-9189

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