by Laura Johnson
Lively Up Farm is back on the tour again this year, but you’ll have to wind a ways farther up the mountain to find it. Farmer Matt Cooper, his wife, Natalie, and their two little girls have finally found their own land after 7 years of searching. They still lease the land off Dutch Creek Road in Valle Crucis, featured on last year’s tour, but now they’ve got a place to share that’s all their own.
If the gorgeous, curvy drive up to Upper Crab Orchard Road or seeing the house that Matt built, perched naturally atop a lush green slope on their 66 acres, isn’t enough reason for a visit, then meeting Matt and seeing what he has in store is an opportunity in itself. I got to hear a bit of his story one evening in early June; he seemed to feel most comfortable seated on the dirt outside his new home. He resourcefully turned over a bin to serve as our table, and there we sat and talked.
Matt first came to Boone from Nashville, Tennessee, in 1999 for school. He received two degrees from ASU and considered a third, but this time he opted out of the diploma route and headed for an experiential one. Having become interested in renewable energies and agro-ecology, he spent six months in New Zealand working on 12 different farms through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program. “I learn the fastest through experience, which I think almost everybody does,” Matt said. “So I went and just did my own thing and taught myself with people who were willing to open their door to strangers. Now I’m here, I came back to do what they’re doing over there.”
“Water, food, earth and sun...let’s keep all those things healthy, and everybody’ll be just grand.”
When Matt came back to Boone, he continued on his personal path while trying to teach others as well. “I just kept on teaching myself how to grow food and then started trying to get people involved,” he said. At age 24 he started the Leola Street Community Garden, by the Wal-Mart in Boone. After that he started farming his leased land off Dutch Creek Road, got involved with FIG (Farmer Incubator and Grower) Farm and, finally, found a place for his family to call their own. So far they have an acre plowed and the house built – a huge undertaking, Matt said.
In Valle Crucis Matt’s been growing a variety of vegetables organically – garlic, two kinds of kale, swiss chard, winter and summer squashes, collards, onions, peppers, specialty pumpkins. The plan for their land is to keep that going and add to it. “The goal up here is just kind of continuing what we’ve been doing down there, staying diverse in the vegetable world,” he explained. But with the extra space, they’ll add fruit trees, berries and livestock. “Those are the main goals for food production – chickens, pigs, goats, vegetables, fruit-bearing plants and mushrooms. And that’s pretty much the long-term goal, just to get it to where we’re almost eating everything we raise.”
Matt is passionate about healthy food and sustainable agriculture “because it’s what keeps us alive,” he said. “Water, food, earth and sun. So let’s keep all those things healthy, and everybody’ll be just grand.” He cares most about fostering awareness, relationships and connection. “(I want) consciousness to rise and kindness to shine,” he smiled. This is his mission, his passion, his drive.