Staff Spotlight: Lily Gottlieb-McHale, Farm to Farmer & Working Farmland Partnership Coordinator
Lily is a vegetable farmer and landowner in Enumclaw, Washington who has served on all sides of the land access spectrum – searching, buying, leasing, and now matching farmers and landowners. Lily studied organic farming at a local farm incubator program, learning side-by-side with an international cohort of talented farmers. Lily’s passion for sharing resources and working within a community of farmers led her to start her own farm business, Shared Soil. Shared Soil addresses issues of land access by renting farmland to beginner, immigrant, and socially disadvantaged farmers. While running Shared Soil, Lily worked for a community organization in South King County where she coordinated food access initiatives and organized a community farmers market with non-traditional farmers. After serving as an advocate and organizer for beginner and immigrant farmers in her community for several years, Lily is thrilled to formalize her land access and matching work through her role at Washington Farmland Trust. Lily serves as King County coordinator for Washington Farmland Trust’s Farm to Farmer program as well as the Working Farmland Partnership. Lily’s greatest sense of accomplishment comes from helping farmers navigate barriers to land access and realizing their farm visions.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel and lived there until I was 10, when my family moved to West Virginia. I grew up playing the cello and studied sculpture at Bard College in the Hudson Valley. After school I spent years working in the art world and teaching preschool. I started volunteering on farms in California and Montana and decided to really pursue organic farming when I moved to Seattle in 2015. I enrolled in the Seattle Tilth incubator program, Farm Works, and worked for a local farmer. Soon after, my partner and I bought a farm in Enumclaw where we now run our business, Shared Soil. Together we grow veggies and lease land to two other farm families.
Please tell us why you care about local food and farming issues.
I became interested in local, organic food because I wanted to take charge of my own health. That led me to purchasing food from local farms and then eventually learning to grow vegetables. I loved how empowered and self-sufficient it made me feel to know exactly where my food was coming from. Farming is also a very creative profession that reminded me so much of making art, which was the world I was coming from.
What is your connection to farming? Do you have experiences with farms in your family or growing up?
I don’t come from a farming background, but I did grow up visiting family friends on Kibbutzim, which are farming communes in the rural parts of Israel. So, I saw a lot of these little villages where everyone was farming together. I think that influenced my love and passion for cooperative farming practices. People and communities farming together makes so much sense to me, as I believe we can do so much more together.
What is your vision/hope for farming and food production in the state of Washington?
My hope is for more equitable land access for all farmers. What I see a lot, especially in the Puget Sound region, is farmers not being able to afford the land that is available. Prices keep going up as the region rapidly develops. So, my vision is for more creative models for financing farms, such as collective ownership, and for farmers to receive more funding to secure and steward farmland. I also hope that more immigrant farmers and farmers of color can gain access to farmland and secure more support within the farming community.
What are your favorite books or documentaries about food/farming/sustainable agriculture?
As far as farming goes, I look back at “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades” by Steve Solomon and many of Elliot Coleman’s books often. The “Dirty Life” and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” really got me into farming. I also have a collection of homesteading books that keep me motivated to preserve food and be more self-sufficient.
Anything else you’d like to share?
My mother’s family were refugees and immigrants. I love working in King County because of the extremely diverse population of farmers here. The work I find most rewarding is helping people new to this country navigate farming resources and find land. I believe food and farming connects people across cultures and is truly a universal language.