Local Food Hero: Spotlight on Blaine Bilyeu of Papa’s Pasture
When did you start farming?
I was raised on the farm I currently own. I have been in love with this land and the potential it holds as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of climbing out of my crib at nap time to go check on the hogs. When I was young I couldn’t get enough time with the animals. I guess not much has changed in that respect.
What is your background? How long have you worked on the farm?
I inherited the farm after my father, Jeffrey C. Metrick, who passed away in 2012. I started running the farm as a business in 2015.
Why is local food important?
Local food is the only food system I am aware of that builds trust through close relationships and transparency. One of the easiest ways to have a deep understanding of the food you eat is by knowing the person who grew it, asking them questions and visiting their farm. Local food affords people that opportunity every day.
How do you define ‘sustainable’?
When I think of being sustainable I see a long view of the future of humanity and our place in nature. I see functioning ecosystems, clean energy and farmers using nature as a template for their practices. We have a difficult road ahead of us and we are starting this battle for our future at a disadvantage. All the farmland in the United States is severely depleted of nutrients and life.
The ecosystem I inherited is no different. It was run down from years of heavy tillage, monoculture crops, overgrazing by livestock and chemical inputs. I am in the business of regenerating what has been lost. The main goal of my farm is to repair the ecosystem functions and regenerate my soil. The meat and eggs from my animals are just a byproduct of the way in which I choose to repair the land.
What do you wish people knew about the food system in St. Louis?
It could offer a huge economic opportunity if more people chose local foods.
Why is it important for people to know where their food comes from?
Eating is one of the most intimate acts we participate in every day. If you don’t know who raised your food how do you really know what you are getting? Can you be certain the food you are choosing aligns with your values and dietary choices.
What has been your greatest struggle as a small farmer in the food industry?
I don’t think of anything that has happened in my journey as a struggle. When I come to an obstacle it is just an opportunity to problem solve and gain knowledge.
How do you sell your products… do you sell to restaurants, CSA, farmers market or grocery stores? Why did you choose this distribution method?
I direct market to my customers at The Land of Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville Il every Saturday from mid May to mid October. I sell at Grassroots Grocery in Alton Il and at Three Rivers Community Farm in Elsa Il. I am in the process of rebuilding my website to allow for online preorders. Those pre-orders will be distributed at drop points around St. Louis and the metro east. So keep an eye out for that next month.
How do you see your role in the community?
I see myself as a provider of nutrient dense foods, as an educator for regenerative farming practices and a bridge between people and the source of the food they eat. Often times I feel like a mouthpiece for the land I tend and the animals I care for. I speak for their importance because they are not capable of doing so for themselves.
What changes have you seen in the farming industry throughout your lifetime?
I have seen the dismantling of the local food system my parents and grandparents enjoyed but now I am seeing it be rebuilt.
What is your favorite growing season/crop?
I love the late spring; it is filled with the hum of insects and the songs of birds. The air seems alive. It makes me feel surrounded and whole.