Rashell Aunchman’s relationship to farming is one with remarkably deep roots. It was as a small child that Rashell first discovered her love of working outdoors, a realization she credits to her mother for giving her the freedom to explore and connect with nature at a very young age. Years later, at the end of her high school career, Rashell participated in an Honors program at Camp Hill Vintage, where she worked with disabled individuals in a natural setting, and was introduced to Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on biodynamics.
Her learning and experience at Camp Hill Vintage ignited Rashell’s passions in a way that the idea of attending university never had. Nevertheless, Rashell gave college a shot, deciding after a year that this was not her path. She then began traveling and working on various farms, gaining a range of farming experiences. These explorations led her to a earth skills training where she was introduced to a lifestyle she says just makes sense to her. “People lived this way for years,” Rashell says, “and only recently came away from it.”
As the years and her path continued unfurling, Rashell sought further training in Biodynamics, worked with Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve, and shared her knowledge of earth skills and gardening to campers from all walks of life at Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center in Deep Gap, NC. Shortly after the birth of her son, Mason, now 4 years old, Rashell moved back to Boone. It was here in the High Country that she co-founded Grateful Roots Farm with long time friend Thomas Cooper.
Inspired to “build community and nurture a different way of living,” Grateful Roots was originally intended to become a school for farming and primitive skills. Though this hope has not dissipated, as time passed, the Farm’s focus shifted toward herb and vegetable production to be sold at both the Watauga County Farmer’s Market, and through Grateful Root’s own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Grateful Roots is a sustainable, organic and earth centered farm. Rashell and her co-farmer choose to forgo chemicals and large machinery, eschewing even a tractor for their fields. Instead, everything is plowed, planted and harvested by hand.
They even deal with farming’s inevitable pests using the most “natural” methods possible, including allowing certain weeds to flourish in order to distract Japanese Beetles. These decisions are not made haphazardly, but rather stem from a deep personal desire for true sustainability. In Rashell’s words, being sustainable is about “seeing symbiotic relationships and giving nature the space to work things out. Farming automatically disrupts the balance of nature, that’s just how it is, but trying to farm in balance with nature to the best of your ability is the most sustainable way.”
Rashell’s passion for sustainability extends beyond the farm into the realm of natural healing. As she and Thomas are both avid herbalists, they are hoping to move the farm in the direction of medical herb production, as well as spread their knowledge through teaching. “Medicinal herbs are a door to… a whole new way of being in the world. A lot of people get sick and go straight to the doctor. [They] take pills, and it’s this huge circular effect of ill health. If you [first] go to the plants, it opens the gateway to real health.”
Wise and beautiful, Rashell is one of many women in this High Country community who choose to live lives they are passionate about, despite immense workloads and minimal financial compensation. Rashell measures the rewards of her work in other ways, saying, “farming is a lot of work, and it is really hard. But it’s also really real…a lot of people don’t get to experience that. I am paid greatly in..having friends and community that I can help feed and heal.”
Rashell also spoke of being a mother and the importance of raising her son with these values. She told a story about Mason recently going into the woods to collect Plantain for a friend who was stung by bees. He knew where and what to collect in order to help his friend heal her stings with this native plant. An impressive feat for a four year old, and one of the moments that inspires Rashell to continue on her path.
If you’re interested in seeing or learning more about Rashell’s areas of expertise, come on out to Grateful Roots Farm! Rashell and Thomas always welcome volunteers to the farm in exchange for vegetables and education; they encourage people to make a full connection with their local farmers. And Rashell’s advice to any new and upcoming farmers or folks considering a homesteading lifestyle? “Just do it! Be open and flexible, and tap into the local community that’s already doing it!”