By S. Michal Bennett
Growing up a city girl in Mexico, Ixchel LaJoie never thought she would become a small farmer tucked away in the Idaho Panhandle of the United States. “In the beginning,” she says, “I didn’t even really like farming. But just doing it, learning and seeing everything grow…it’s been amazing, and I started liking it.” But I’m getting ahead of the story.
Ixchel first visited the States over a decade ago to help her cousin in Boulder, Colorado. “She got married and had a baby,” Ixchel explains. “She needed somebody to help her, so I came and visited a couple of times.” On the second visit, Ixchel met James LaJoie, who grew up in North Idaho and was working in Colorado. It was a classic boy-meets-girl story, and, as she puts it, “I just ended up staying a little bit longer!”
The couple decided to have their wedding in Idaho on James’ mom’s property. From the first time they met, his mom welcomed Ixchel into her home and their lives. She had kind of thought that James would never marry, so having a daughter-in-law was exciting. But, it would be a little while before James and Ixchel moved to Idaho. While still living in Boulder, James would often drive by the Wednesday Farmers Market and say, “Someday I want to move back to Idaho and learn how to grow my own food, how to live practically from the dirt and have something good to eat.” That day came sooner than expected, and they arrived in Idaho to find 1000 blueberry plants along with raspberry starts and asparagus plants, had been delivered and were waiting to be planted on his mom’s property in Post Falls. “James had already ordered them without telling me,” says Ixchel, “So when we arrived, we just started working to get them planted.”
They started stocking the local farmers’ markets, checking out what others were offering and formulating what they could sell well. They noticed there weren’t a lot of meat vendors, so they began raising Berkshire pigs and over two years added 600 chickens to their farm. When they officially established Sunny Springs Garden and became members of the Kootenai County Farmers Market (KCFMA) in 2012, they did sell a few vegetables, but mostly they offered pork and eggs. “I used to bring 80 dozen eggs to market and deliver eggs to several local restaurants,” Ixchel recalls. “It was just a lot of work, so we decided a few years ago to take a break.”
Today, Sunny Springs has moved from their original Post Falls property to 10 acres behind Hauser Lake, and they primarily grow vegetables and fruits without chemicals or pesticides on about two of those acres. You can find an alluring spread of berries, winter and summer squash, greens, tomatoes, garlic, green beans, peppers, and melons at Ixchel’s KCFMA booth on any given Saturday throughout the season. She’s also thinking of adding eggs back to her menu, crafts jams from her berries, and will be selling salsa when her tomatoes and peppers ripen.
A few years ago, James was in a severe snowboarding accident that resulted in major injuries to his ribs, collarbone, and spine. Amazingly, he is still able to walk, but his involvement in the farm is now limited. Ixchel sometimes ropes in friends and neighbors to help with harvesting or planting. It’s hard work, but it’s also highly satisfying for both Ixchel and her customers. “I love to see everything grow,” she says. “Every year, we are just waiting for them to be ready. It’s amazing that each day you go out to the farm, the plants are bigger, the flowers have bloomed, and the tiny cucumbers are finally there!”
Ixchel struggles to imagine herself doing anything else than farming. She wants to take her son, Anthony, to Mexico for a year so he can go to school and learn to speak better Spanish. “But,” she says, “if I don’t have my plants to grow and care for, what am I going to do?!”