Alumni Profile: Megan Gallagher '11

Owner of be.wild.er farm, Megan Gallagher ’11 found her way to farming simply by taking a chance. While majoring in Visual Arts and Art History at Chatham University, she took an Organic Gardening class at Eden Hall Campus that changed everything:

That was my first time growing food and being part of a community of people growing food—I was hooked.

Following the class, she changed her major to Environmental Science with a focus on sustainable agriculture and plant physiology. Her advisor, Assistant Professor of Sustainability and the Environment, Linda Johnson, helped shape her understanding of plant biology and ecology, while Eden Hall’s work and trade program helped hone her newfound farming skills. Post-graduation, she continued to do work and trade, eventually working full time for a handful of farms.

Today, you’ll find Gallagher at the helm of her own ship, be.wild.er farm: a small but mighty start-up on rented land in Natrona Heights. The farm pops out of the brush with bursts of color — nasturtiums and marigolds dot the rows of rapidly dwindling crops. “There are only four markets left, so I’m going to harvest a quarter of this, and then a quarter of that,” she looks over her Napa cabbage with confidence; it’s what she is proudest of.

We wander down rows of okra, kale, cabbage, eggplant, and peppers. She feeds me a ground cherry which tastes like a cross between a pineapple and a tomato and then a marigold flower, which tastes like fruit loops. When it comes to vegetable sales— thanks to fan-favorites like her salad mix—she is satisfied. She hopes to eventually expand to grow ginger, turmeric, fruits, and nuts (anything with a longer season) in a greenhouse.

I tallied it up at one point and had over 100 different varieties of things, fifteen types of peppers, twenty-some types of tomatoes, I try to have a little of everything.

Much like her foray into farming, Gallagher’s acquisition of be.wild.er’s land wasn’t the result of heavy deliberation: “I didn’t fully decide, it just kind of happened.” She was working on friend Nick Lebecki’s farm when he decided to pivot to non-profit work. When he offered Meghan the reins—his farm equipment and beginning negotiations for land—she knew the opportunity was too good to pass up. Lebecki’s assistance helped reduce many barriers to access she might’ve faced as a beginning farmer. She also credits Lebecki for helping to shape her current farming practice.

I mimicked what we did at his farm initially and have tweaked it over the years, mostly because it was something I could do—low infrastructure, low cost. I don’t have tractors; I have a little shed with handtools. Having experience working on a small scale was really impactful.

Though her project is solo by design, Gallagher has implemented a work and trade program for some extra hands. Participants exchange a weekly shift on the farm for a share of veggies. “It’s been a cool way to have some fresh energy at the farm,” says Gallagher. She also does Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, where people can purchase $10 veggie bags. This allows her to reduce food waste after market.

Gallagher has tracked her growth at market, noting that sales have increased every single week for the past three years. The market has also introduced her to other local farmers doing cool work, like Fallen Aspen Farm, whose owners she trades veggies for bacon—albeit “gmo-free, slow-grown, pastured” bacon. Gallagher also sells to a handful of local restaurants, including Casbah (where she works), Vandal, and Driftwood.

Looking forward, Gallagher plans to expand sustainably in small ways to improve crop rotation and soil management.  She is interested in reduced tillage farming, which helps preserve soil life and soil structure, and cover cropping, which protects the soil, prevents erosion, and builds organic matter.

Recently, Gallagher was asked by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) to host a third-year farming reflection workshop for beginning farmers:

It was really cool to share that with folks who are thinking about doing what I’m doing…even just sharing what I’ve tried can be helpful.

Despite the occasional aphid infestation or tomato blight, be.wild.er farm has a leader that knows how to endure failure, “It’s usually a learning process, I twist everything into a little lesson,” says Gallagher.