Hilary Quinn Heals Herself, Others Through Diverse Farming Operation

by Ash Bruxvoort

Hilary Quinn in the high tunnel at bloomsorganics

Hilary Quinn in the high tunnel at bloomsorganics

Hilary Quinn is passionate about food and plants. She got started in her mom’s garden growing up. As soon as she moved out on her own she started caring for houseplants. When she was around 22 she started gardening for herself. When she was 28, she became pregnant and her son was stillborn.

“I noticed that my garden doubled in size. I’ve just recently begun to understand that when you create a child your body gives you energy to birth and care for the child. I remember thinking, ‘I couldn’t grow my child but I can grow my garden.’ I put all of that energy into the garden.”

Now she makes and sells toxin-free skin and body care products, runs a six member vegetable CSA, and works as a chef in the Omaha, Nebraska, area. As a single mother to a 14 year-old son and solo business owner and farmer at Harmony Farms and Skin Care, she highly values support from people in her network and mentors.

Importance of Mentorship in Farming

One mentor is her landlord, Rebecca Bloom, organic farmer at bloomsorganic in Honey Creek, Iowa. The two met at a local farmers’ market.

“She really helped me out last year,” Hilary said about Rebecca. “My tomato plants got slaughtered by hail and she donated 100 plants. I gave her a big basket of my products for that.”

Hilary has grown her operation from a home garden to growing in someone’s backyard to renting land from a local acquaintance. At the end of last season it became obvious that her then landlord and her didn’t agree on the future of the operation. “He wanted to make it this huge vegetable farm and that’s not what I was interested in. This my meditation,” she said.

Hilary Quinn's lettuce and carrots growing together

Hilary Quinn's lettuce and carrots growing together

Rebecca offered to let Hilary rent a quarter of an acre on her property. The two have completely different farming methods and goals, yet Hilary has still learned a lot from Rebecca.

“I use a broad fork and hoe to loosen the soil and create my beds. I think Rebecca thinks I’m nuts,” she said, laughing. “It was something I had to clarify with her before I agreed to rent land. I believe everyone has a personal relationship with the Earth and I really want to have the freedom and space to have that relationship and grow vegetables.”

Hilary Quinn Learns on the Farm

Hilary said she helped Rebecca in her high tunnel this season. She said this year was the most successful she’s been at starting seedlings and transplanting them. Hilary realized she wasn’t giving her seedlings enough nutrients by watching Rebecca’s methods and seeing how sturdy her transplants are.

Hilary’s own farming practices are particularly inspired by Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. She said his book, The One-Straw Revolution, helped shape her goals as a farmer. “I’m really interested in rebuilding the soil, creating micro-ecosystems, and reintroducing native plants.” She said the way she farms and her farming practices aren’t for everyone and won’t satisfy everyone, but she doesn’t care. She said the most important thing is respecting herself.

Information overload is a common problem for aspiring farmers. Hilary said she recommends starting with what you have and be satisfied with that.

Diversified Farm Lifestyle

Hilary Quinn's Harmony Farms and Skin Care products at market

Hilary Quinn's Harmony Farms and Skin Care products at market

Hilary’s work as a chef compliments her farm and skin care business. She works at a culinary school part-time as a caterer. In her off-season she works as a cook. After graduating from culinary school she worked as a chef, but she said she felt that job didn’t allow her to have a good relationship with her son.

Her culinary training taught her how food products interact with each other. That background helped her as she began creating skin care products. After researching toxins in skin care and make-up products, she decided didn’t want to pollute the environment or her body with toxic chemicals. Rosemary Gladstar's recipes inspired her and she began testing the products herself and giving them away as gifts to get feedback. Hilary said her skincare products have helped many people, including herself, heal skin problems like eczema.

“I have a four-step skincare system, bath salts, healing balms, tooth scrub, deodorant, bug repellant. Next year I want to add a sunscreen,” she said.

She said eventually she would like to have a centralized store and her own land for Harmony Farms and Skincare. Part of her dream is for customers to use refillable containers. In the meantime, she said she’s “trying to loosen [her] expectations or ideals of success and to be happy with what comes.”

WFAN's program for beginning and aspiring women farmers, Harvesting Our Potential, is made possible by generous support from the Iowa Women's Foundation and Ag Ventures Alliance.