By Riley Haun
For Terry White, the best food has always come from the land he lives on. As a kid, he remembers hunting, fishing and trapping with his dad in the forests of North Idaho. Family dinners were harvested from the sprawling garden on their property, now somewhere under the Dworshak Reservoir.
When everything was at its freshest, it was only natural that Terry learned to love just about every vegetable there was - even today, he can’t think of one he would turn his nose up at, as long as it’s prepared the right way. It was a way of life that stayed with him even as he left the family farm for a long career in fighting wildfires, a path that often took him far from his home base in Orofino to battle blazes across the country.
Whenever he returned home, though, Terry would turn to his own garden for some productive relaxation. Raising heads of lettuce and towering tomato vines out of the soil isn’t exactly easy work, but those moments of reconnection and slowing down were always meaningful to Terry, especially when he could share the fruits of his labor with family and friends.
So when Terry retired, he of course found himself spending more and more time in the garden. It was strange going from the hectic, high-risk work of fighting fire to working completely at his own pace. To curb his boredom that first summer of retirement, Terry planted more in his little garden than he ever had before. When he found himself with more melons, tomatoes and greens than he knew what to do with, Crescent Arrow Farm was unintentionally born.
At first, Terry sold his produce just to neighbors and friends. As his yields grew ever larger, he took his wares to the Orofino Farmer’s Market, then to the market in Moscow, where he found a thriving network of fellow farmers and supportive buyers. These days, farmer’s market Saturdays in Moscow are his bread and butter, along with selling wholesale to local stores like the Moscow Food Co-op. At the height of COVID, Terry launched a CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture Monthly Subscription) that met with massive enthusiasm from customers missing the freshness of farmer’s market produce that just couldn’t be matched in the grocery stores.
“People appreciate local food because it’s fresh and, well, it’s local,” Terry said. “There’s nothing wrong with produce from the grocery store in the winter, but once people get a taste of a fresh summer tomato grown just down the road, you know they’ll be back, and they’ll want to support you in any way they can.”
Crescent Arrow Farm’s produce is all naturally grown, with Terry using alternative methods of pest and weed control similar to the ones used in his family’s kitchen garden for decades. That’s helped Terry find customers who value organic practices and grown his business along the way, but it also keeps him in touch with the old-fashioned way he grew up doing things.
“It’s the way we’ve always done things, because back in the day when you didn’t have fertilizer if you were living on a homestead, you just used chicken manure or you ended up rotating your crops, growing peas and beans for fertilizer,” Terry said “So it’s just kind of a natural thing that that’s how I run my farm now.”
His insistence on using natural homestyle methods of growing and the small scale of his farm mean that most of the work of keeping the farm running falls to Terry alone, with the occasional help of retired fire buddies and hired weekend hands. Especially in the burning sun of an Idaho summer, it’s exhausting work, and Terry has spent countless hours learning from the knowledge of fellow farmers at markets and on YouTube about ways to innovate and simplify the way he does things while staying true to his values.
Along the way, he picked up the strategy of laying black plastic sheeting between rows of ground crops, which both suppresses weeds and helps the soil retain more moisture, reducing the time Terry has to spend weeding and watering his plants. Another local farmer told him about that method and even brought up his own tractor to help Terry get started.
An old friend started growing mushrooms at his farm in Wyoming and persuaded Terry to do the same - the market was booming, and mushrooms were far easier on the back when harvest time came than hefty melons and potatoes. Now, Terry’s developed his own process for growing beautiful shiitakes and oysters through trial and error, and he’s excited to see how his faithful customers will respond.
“I have to be careful of getting too carried away because there’s always some new thing or another I want to try and people do love variety,” Terry said. “But in this business, you really are your own boss and you have to keep motivated and trying new things to make it work. Even when it seems like it’s nothing but work, those quiet moments when you finish for the day at dusk, when you get to meet the people who loved your food, it makes you see how it’s worth it.”