After 20 years working as an atmospheric scientist, Brad Halter is refocusing back to the earth.
"This is what I want for the rest of my life — to support small-scale sustainable agriculture, organic especially," he explained. "And I want a farm of my own."
Halter laughs as he recalls how long it took to recognize that goal. He describes himself as a "big city kid" who planted his first garden in his mid-20's.
The garden was at his grandfather's farm in Arkansas. He had graduated from Florida State University in 1968 with a degree in meteorology and then worked for two years as a VISTA volunteer. He was excited by the idea of growing food for self-sufficiency. For the first time, he tried gardening.
"The garden did better than I thought it would," he recalled. "But, I returned to graduate school and the idea got away from me."
He moved to the region of northern Idaho and southeastern Washington known as the Palouse to attend Washington State University at Pullman. He received a master's degree in environmental science in 1976 and immediately started work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the agency's Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.
His first assignment was a year at the South Pole.
At repeated visits to the South Pole, and stints at Barrow, Alaska, he worked taking measurements of trace gases in the atmosphere and other scientific experimentation that indicated ozone depletion and other major climatic changes.
After almost 20 years of studying the air, he started looking in a different direction. He was drawn to that submerged interest in farming.
"Beginning in 1994, I was traveling often between the Colorado office and Alaska, and visiting relatives in Seattle in between. So, I often drove back and forth to Seattle from Colorado looking for farmland."
He remembered the Palouse from his graduate studies, and repeatedly visited the area. He went to Moscow, the Idaho town across the border from Pullman, and began involving himself in the life of that community. He shopped at the Moscow Food Co-op and joined the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute (known locally as PCEI).
Through the newsletters at the Co-op and PCEI, he learned of the growing and marketing efforts at Paradise Farm Organics. In 1995, he took a farm tour organized by PCEI, visited Paradise Farm, and met MaryJane Butters. He returned to the farm for several years, during his summer vacations, helping out with whatever needed doing.
He also became a stockholder.
"I was never interested in investing in big corporations, and buying stock in MaryJanesFarm was a good way to invest in what I believe in. I knew the products — I ate their food at the South Pole. I knew the company shared my goals. It was an opportunity to support a homegrown company in the area where I plan to make my home."
In March of 2000, he left his job and moved to Moscow, drawn by the fertility of the land and the quality of life he experienced.
"I saw lots of good things going on, and that reinforced my interest in the area," he said. "I have been volunteering for the Co-op and am working on a community garden project for PCEI. I have also volunteered at MaryJanesFarm, working on cold frames to extend the growing season. And I am actively looking for my own farm."