This week's featured farmer is Mike Sommer. Mike Sommer is an organic farmer in the Treasure Valley in Southwest Idaho. He is the production manager for his family’s farm, Purple Sage Farms, and directs the employees, plans crop production and manages sales. Mike works side by side with his father, Tim Sommer, who grew up in the same town working in agriculture since the 1960’s. Tim has been growing fresh herbs and specialty greens on the farm in Middleton since 1988 and he helped create the organic certification program in Idaho, making Purple Sage Farms one of the oldest organic farms in the state.
Tim and Mike operate twelve, 3,000 sq. ft. greenhouses, and 38,000 sq. ft. of terraced outdoor vegetable fields where they grow everything from Basil and Rosemary to Arugula, Red Russian Kale, broccoli and beets, planted directly into the ground and irrigated by a well with drip lines and sprinklers. Animals are also a small but important part of the farm. A small herd of sheep grazes on 40 acres of pasture and they provide meat for family, and the manure and bedding from their winter feeding and lambing area is turned into compost for the crops.
The majority of their products are sold to Southwest Idaho wholesale accounts like restaurants, grocery stores and produce distributors but they also do some direct sales to retail customers at the Boise Farmers Market each Saturday in Boise and through an organization called Idaho’s Bounty Cooperative which has producer and consumer members in Southwest Idaho that have come together to improve the local food system by providing sales and logistics for farmers and by improving access to local food for consumers by providing a website and pick-up locations where they can purchase it.
Mike began helping on the farm as soon as he could count and the work he did there through middle school and high school helped pay for a part of his college education. He graduated from the University of Montana in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and an emphasis in botany and brought much of what he learned back to the farm in fall of 2009. Since then he has added many new aspects to the farm such as winter crop production, vegetable production, herb drying, blended herbal teas, kombucha brewing with herbs from the farm, medicinal herb production, farmers market sales and plant pressing, and many more new value-added products like fermented vegetables and pesto will be coming soon after construction is completed on the farm’s new commercial kitchen.
Mike serves his local food community by being a founding member on the board of directors for the Boise Farmers Market, serving on the board of Idaho’s Bounty Cooperative for the past 3 years, and participating in local agricultural organizations like Idaho Preferred, Idaho Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Treasure Valley Food Coalition and Ag in the Classroom. The farm also participates in grant programs with the Xerces Society and Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides to improve pollinator habitat and use ecology and biodiversity to decrease weeds and pests and increase fertility. Many times throughout the year Mike and Tim host tours of the farm for groups of chefs, teachers, students, other farmers and anybody else who has an interest in local, small scale, organic agriculture and food and are able to share what they have learned with many others.