Summer Cooper: Farmer, Forager, Freethinker

Summer Cooper ForagerSummer Cooper

I do believe life begins outside of your comfort zone. When you stop pushing yourself mentally and physically, your mind and body get soft.

Summer Cooper

Summer Star Cooper was born in the living room of an old farm house in the Indiana countryside. She and her nine sisters had a very religious upbringing. The family did not watch television or movies, listen to secular radio, or read secular literature, so they filled their time reading, crafting, and playing outside.

After spending some years in her twenties in the Pacific Northwest and working on an organic family farm in Western Washington State, Summer returned to her hometown. There she and her sister ran a small produce farm on their family’s property for a couple years. These days, the self-described forager, sustainable farmer, and vagrant splits her time between field and forest.

What did you want to be when you were nine? 

When I was nine, I wanted to be a writer, actually. I’ve done just a teeny bit of writing on foraging and I’d really like to do more of that.

Are any of your family members creative? 

My dad is very creative person. He made a dulcimer (musical instrument) by hand in his twenties. My parents had 10 children and took great care of all of us. I feel like raising a big family like that takes a kind of resourcefulness that is creative.

Foraging for Fiddlehead Ferns

Please share a bit of your story as a small family farmer, forager, and entrepreneur. 

I started foraging to survive in a way, but not in the same way our ancestors did.

My sister and I started this tiny farm that was under-financed and under-planned. We were behind on planting and we needed cash to get the farm up and running and we needed a product to market and we had all of this wild field garlic growing like crazy in the fields surrounding ours. So I called a friend and we sold 3500 bunches of the stuff as our first official act of business!

I don’t farm on my family’s property anymore. My sister (…) received a promotion at her day job and decided not to farm any longer. I decided not to farm without her. Running a farm alone is incredibly isolating and we weren’t in a financial position to hire the help that would be needed. And I fell in love with foraging over farming. Wild things kept dragging me away…

I still own a business called Sunny Creek Farm, but we now focus almost exclusively on wild and perennial growing foods. I will always love farming, but I feel like foraging suits my personality [and] strengths a lot more.

Foraging for Mushrooms

Do you have any advice for those thinking about farming or foraging as a way of life? 

I fell in love with farming because it seemed like a very healthy, wholesome lifestyle and an honest way to make a living and mostly work outside and keep lean, but most small farmers don’t really make their living farming. Usually a spouse or a second job is what really pays the bills…

Author Wendell Berry has been quoted as saying “my advice to young people wanting to farm is don’t, but that’s like telling someone not to fall in love.” I feel my advice is the same… Sustainable farming is a difficult undertaking and it’s constantly humbling.

I have a theory that people don’t farm because they want to, it’s because they have to. I don’t mean financially have to, it’s this drive from inside of you and if you have that farmer drive in you, it’s like you can’t help yourself.

It seems that creating community and preserving traditions are important to you. 

I’m actually a total loner, but no man is an island so yes, community is important to me. We all need each other… I’m a big believer in peace, love and understanding. I guess I’m passionate about heritage and traditions because those are the things the future is built on… Nature will always win because we depend on nature for our survival. We forget that we are nature. Learning to live in harmony with nature will be the biggest asset of our future and to do so perhaps we have to explore the past a bit.

What is catching your attention and inspiring you right now? 

Nature is endlessly inspiring to me. There’s always something new to learn and see. They say the nature is slow, but it’s not. Things happen startlingly fast out there.

I’m really getting into trees right now. Identifying them is a challenge for me, but I’d like to be able to identify trees by just their bark. I think I know more trees by their bark than I do by their leaves right now.

Foraging in the Woods

What is your favorite book? 

I can’t answer that. I’m always stumped whenever I’m asked to chose favorites. That said, I really enjoy Rachel Peden’s writing. Check her out if you get a chance. (See below for the three books that have influenced Summer the most.)

What are your local haunts? 

I actually don’t go out much, but when I do, I try to go to locally owned places and spread the love around. 😉

Would you give us some insight in to your personal style? 

I’m kind of a mood dresser so I tend to dress according to whatever mood I’m in.

When I shop though, I try to buy quality classics that fit my body well and funky final-final clearance shoes. Quality is important. I don’t like the idea of buying a lot cheap clothes just to throw them out. The cheap things we enjoy here in the U.S. often costs someone in another country a lot… I’m fundamentally against cheap and disposable.

My work clothes are mostly hideous hand me down things I don’t care to lose to briars and grass stains… And work boots.

Where on earth have you been and where do you plan to go in the future? 

I love Colorado. A lot of my favorite people are there which helps. I’ve been to most of the states and out of the country for spring break a few times, but no major trips. I don’t have big travel lusts.I really haven’t travelled too much. The only wanderlust I usually feel is in conjunction with foraging… I travel on my feet… Most of the time I’m right where I want to be, in the woods being amazed.

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The three books that have had the most effect on Summer’s life:

♥  Anna Karenina
♥  Leadership 101
♥  The Forager’s Harvest

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Photo Credit: kaitlyn tierney (CC),TheGiantVermin (CC), Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis (CC), wilbur (CC)