It was the Winter of 2009, and we were sitting in Genna’s Bar in Madison, WI talking about the future. I had come to visit, and ‘the plan’ was still me moving to Wisconsin and attending UW-Madison to earn a PhD. There would be some time between when I arrived and when my program began, so we contemplated what I could do in the interim that I could still do once things got rolling with the PhD. Working full-time and then quitting? No. Working part-time somewhere and not earning that much money? There must be something better. “How about we try farming?” I said. We could have a small sort of hobby farm situation where I ‘earned’ money by not having to buy most of our food from the store, and a hobby farm’s schedule could work with a PhD program…right? “Really?! Are you sure?” Maria asked. Why not? We were both really interested in food, Maria worked with food and farmers at REAP Food Group as the head of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Program, and I loved to cook. Neither one of us had ever farmed, but Maria had worked on a couple of farms and also worked at Madison’s famed Saturday Farmers’ Market on The Square with another well-known farm in the area. We could ask a few questions, figure out the very basics and get going relatively easily. Let’s do it!!
Thus began the Nami Moon adventure, and we spent the next six months trying to figure out what we were going to call ourselves. Given that our name had to be unique and nothing like any other LLC out there, it took some time. People had already taken most of the names we came up with, but Maria finally just said that she wanted “Moon” in the name. I was fine with that, and she said that I should come up with the other part of the name. “Moon” is obviously a popular word to have in a name, so that’s why it ended up taking so long. We felt like we had exhausted our options when Maria started to ask me how to say certain words in Arabic. I had been teaching Arabic for about eight years at that point, and it seemed like a great way to get something we wanted and something that was uniquely from me. It still took forever. Then, I wrote down “Nami” and she asked me what it meant. In Arabic, “Nami” means “growing, rising, or resurgent”. The definition that stuck out to us was “rising”, so we felt like Nami Moon could mean “Rising Moon”. I loved the idea because the root of the word (Arabic words are all derived from roots) was “to grow”, very fitting for a farm name. Happy with a punerrific name for our farm, we filed the paperwork and became a farm in early 2010.
We didn’t know it at the time, but there was also a NAMI (North American Mechanical Institute) just north of Madison, and we started to see their vans everywhere. Later, we would also discover that NAMI also stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We rarely run into people who know of the former, but the latter is a near-constant conversation starter at our farmers’ markets. One day, I Googled our name to see what would come up, and I found link after link to a message board dedicated to the players of the video game, Harvest Moon. I dug through some of them to see why our name would bring up this result, and I found that one of the characters in the game is called, yes you guessed it, Nami. Who knew!?
A few months later, we had purchased what we thought we needed to get the farm off of its feet, and we had ordered our first chicks. We shared the news about the farm with everyone we knew, and one day we were asked if we could provide The Tornado, where Maria worked, with some chickens for their Sunday Chicken Dinner. We agreed, and we were soon celebrating our first sale as farmers. We felt like kings, and we had eight chickens per week in The Tornado! The chef world in Madison being one where most people know each other one way or another, the word about our chicken apparently got out. We had no idea that it was happening, but we started to get phone calls about what we were raising, and if we could bring some samples by for chefs to try. We were happy to oblige, and one day we ended up in an unplanned conversation with Sardine about our birds. They had decided to try sourcing local chickens for their menu, and they loved our chicken. We asked them how many they would need, and they said 40. No problem! We could do that. We had more chicken than 40 birds, but still this was another step in the right direction. Then they made clear what we had not quite understood. They wanted 40 birds per week!!!
All-of-a-sudden we were looking at a restaurant that wanted around 2,000 birds per year…from us! This forced me into one of those Y-intersections in life where I would choose to say “No” and continue on with my PhD program, or I would say “Yes” and I would push the PhD to the back burner and see what this farm could do. Obviously, I opted for the farm. As soon as Maria and I had agreed to jump in with both feet (again), we upped our chick order to 3,600 birds and expanded the farm’s operation accordingly. Of course, the farm was outside of Stevens Point, and we both still lived 100 miles away in Madison. This was not going to be easy.
That year, and most years since, we put the “Truck” into “Truck Farming”. Once the farm was underway, we would work all week in Madison and then drive to the farm every weekend and do as much as we possibly could to set everything up for the next week. Maria’s Mom stepped in and was a key part of our first year’s success. She would watch the birds during the week and feed them when needed, and if something else popped up we would talk on the phone and come up with a solution. The craziest days for us that year were probably the ten different times that we took birds in for processing. We still lived in Madison, and our processing dates were usually on a Tuesday. That meant working all day and night Tuesday, driving up to the farm late that night, getting up a few hours later, rounding up 3-400 birds, driving them to the processor, driving back home, showering, getting dressed and then driving the 100 miles back to Madison for work on Wednesday. Going through it, we were exhausted but didn’t contemplate how crazy the situation was because it just had to be done. Granted, it was even crazier because we had little-to-no experience with any of it. Looking back now, we tend to laugh a little and we can’t believe we all did it. It’s at this point in the story that I usually remind people that the way we got into farming was not one I would recommend, but there is something to say for jumping in with tons of enthusiasm and enough energy to get you through just about anything.
– Maria was born in Eau Claire, WI and she lived there until moving to the Stevens Point area nearly 20 years ago. Upon graduating from high school, she attended The University of Wisconsin-Madison with a full sports scholarship. Maria was a member of the women’s rowing team while she studied toward her major in Microbiology, and during her time on the team she and her peers placed 7th at the NCAA National Rowing Tournament. After graduating, Maria continued to work at the Tornado Steakhouse in Madison, and she was then hired by REAP Food Group to head up the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Program for Southern Wisconsin. In that role, she facilitated the connection of farms and restaurants and ran several major fundraising events around the area to support her program and REAP’s other programs as well. She currently works for a Patrick Rothfuss, a New York Times Bestseller author in the Stevens Point area, who started a non-profit organization called World Builders. World Builders raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for Heifer International, and the fundraising is an exciting process as donors are entered into a very large contest where they can win books, rare items and other fantastic prizes. Maria is the manager of World Builders, and she helps Patrick wherever else help is needed.
– Chris was born in Oceanside, CA and he grew up all over the United States. Most of his early years were spent in and around Eugene, OR, the place he considers “home”. In 1989, his family moved to the middle of the Navajo Indian Reservation, and they lived there for the next seven years. After graduating from high school, Chris joined the US Army where he served as an Arabic Linguist from 1995-2001. Toward the end of his enlistment, he was picked to be a military language instructor, and he spent over a year teaching Arabic to fellow members of the military. His experiences there would spark an interest in teaching that he carried over to the University of Oregon, where he taught Arabic, worked as a member of the university’s staff and studied full-time. Majoring in Geography and International Studies, he graduated in 2004 and then went straight to graduate school to earn an M.A. in Geography and Geography Education. In 2006, about two weeks after graduating, he was hired to start the Arabic program at the University of Oregon. Over the next four years, he would build the program so that it taught first-, second- and third-year Arabic and had approximately 375 students studying in it. He left Oregon for Wisconsin in the early summer of 2010, and the farm was already underway. As the farm has grown, he has taught at UW-Madison, Madison College and he is currently finishing a two-year contract at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, IA (Spring 2013).