Working Dairy Farm Continues and Updates Family Traditions In East Mesa
by Megan Sterling
Although surrounded by urban development, Superstition Farm remains committed to roots that go back four generations. Owners Casey and Alison Stechnij third generation dairy farmers and brother and sister, are committed to maintaining a sustainable environment and being a staple in the community. The local dairy farm also provides organic goods to neighbors and offers visitors an inside look at how modern farms are run.
In an interview with Gateway to the East Valley, Casey Stechnij discussed steps being taken to embrace the farming culture while giving back to both the community and environment.
Why was Superstition Farm founded?
It was a way for us to meet our new neighbors. When we bought the land 34 years ago, we were in the middle of nowhere. Now we see rooftops – lots of them. Conventional wisdom dictates that when a farm can see rooftops, it is time to start thinking about relocating. Being a fourth generation native of Mesa it broke my spirit thinking we might have to relocate.
Why are sustainable farming practices important to you?
Farmers are the original environmentalists. We are the stewards of the land and animals. Farm life is generally multi-generational – if we do not care for the land and animals, there will be nothing to pass on to the next generation. I plan to pass on something greater to the next generation than what I inherited. It makes sense for my family and the greater community as well.
What are some of the strategies and features that you’ve incorporated into Superstition Farm to make it green and/or sustainable?
We do many things to maintain a sustainable environment at Superstition Farm. Our own store will become a silver LEED certified building in the future. We work with a local pasta plant and take the waste from milling the wheat to make food for cows—they are great at taking human waste streams and converting it into milk. We work with local food banks and take in their soon-to-be-spoiled food and feed it to the animals.
Our waste streams from butter churning find its way into pancake mixes and cookies; whey from cheese making becomes soup stocks and pet food; waste vegetable oil from fryers powers our tractors on the farm. Even the food scrap from our kitchen becomes goat and chicken feed. Our goal is a future where we are bringing in other people’s garbage to help us fuel and feed our farm.
What makes farming so rewarding?
It is a way of life. It is in your blood; your basic makeup. There is something extremely rewarding about actually making something as a part of your work. Turning milk into something like cheese or ice cream and then watching someone enjoy it has a gratification that is difficult to describe. Every “mmm” and smile is a reward for us.
What is your favorite food product that you sell in your shop?
It has to be our ice cream. We have won many awards and it is a joy to see people’s faces light up when they taste something made from the heart with simple ingredients.
We are also opening a grill at the farm. Focusing on fresh and local ingredients made simply and letting them be the star is an exciting venture for us.
One of your newest projects is the garden behind the shop. Tell us about your inspiration for the garden and why it is so important to your long-term vision for the farm.
The garden was a way to show people how beautiful the desert can be. We have seen changes in our local environment – humidity is on the rise, concrete and asphalt keep nighttime temperatures high and bringing in non-native flora uses more water. Having a Xeriscape garden may plant a seed in people’s minds and may foster a change in how we plant in our own back yard.
What is your vision for 21st-century agriculture in the East Valley?
I envision our communities rallying around the farms that have made it past the last property bubble. I believe the pendulum has swung the other way and we are more interested in growth of our communities – but not at the expense of our local heritage and history. The East Valley was built on agriculture. Many moved here to be around it.
These next years can be a new path. I envision other farms like our family’s farm diversifying and offering products, services and experiences to an urban population they cannot get anywhere else. Agri-tourism and ag-ucation are great opportunities for families and farms to build ties and build a stronger community; I see farms being energy centers for our urban friends.
Imagine farms taking in waste streams like leftover foods from food banks and restaurants and becoming food for cows. Cattle manure becomes methane and powers energy needs for our urban neighbors. Green waste from yards and landscapers become food for worms. The worm fertilizer grows food for animals and people. Hay barns, cattle shades and other roof structures can become homes to solar panels. The ubiquitous “back 40” on a farm could be home to solar and wind electrical generation. Farms will once again power our country.
How can East Valley residents best help and support Superstition Farm and other local businesses ?
We support with our pocketbooks. Every dollar we spend is a vote – we need to think about what we are voting for. Small businesses provide the backbone, character and history of a community. When people come back from vacations we hear stories that start with “We found this little place off the beaten track…”
Our nation is full of those “little places.” If we all stopped by them a couple times a month, it will change our community for the better.