Monday, June 1, 2015

Spiral Path Farm, a pioneer in progressive agriculture

Today's post is part one of a reprint from an article by Don Helin in THE BURG magazine (04/15). Used with permission.

Spiral Path Farm

Spiral Path Farm, a pioneer in progressive agriculture, 
seeks to assure its legacy.


As kids, Mike and Terra Brownback shared a dream, even if they didn't know it.

They never mingled much, though they attended the same suburban Philadelphia school. "There was no big connection between us in those days," Terra said. "Mike was just one of the neighborhood guys."

Their shared dream was to farm and, even more precisely, to farm organically.

Terra's love of the outdoors was rooted in the three years she spent abroad as a teenager.

"Germany had a big impact on me," she explained. "I learned to love the outdoors by spending time in the Black Forest -- a beautiful place."

After high school, Terra moved back to Philadelphia and enrolled in nursing school with plans to become a midwife. The idea of farming, however, never strayed from her mind. Meanwhile, Mike had bought a rototiller and had begun helping his grandmother cultivate her four-acre farm.

It was then that Terra and Mike reconnected and began dating. They discovered their common ambition and started dreaming about building a life together on a farm.

"I chose Perry County," Mike explained, "because it had affordable land closest to my home near Valley Forge."

So, in 1978, at the tender age of 23, the couple found themselves moving to a farm in western Perry County with a small nest egg, a dream and a 1-year-old baby.

And that's how Spiral Path Farm was born.


In those early years, the Brownbacks maintained a small organic vegetable garden for their family. Most of their 255 acres of land, however, were farmed traditionally.

"Our farm was successful," Terra said. "But we made a decision in 1991 to transition the entire farm to organic methods, a major undertaking."

At the time, there was no organization in Pennsylvania to certify farms as organic.

"We had a number of friends who were also interested in growing crops organically," Terra said. "So, we met with them and began to do research on organic certification."

The group connected with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and received guidance on the necessary requirements for farm produce to be certified organic. From this beginning, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) became a reality.

For the Brownbacks, the first step was to eliminate the use of any toxic chemicals and fertilizers for a minimum of three years.

"We had been farming that one acre organically," Terra said. "So, we had a start."

Over the next few years, they transformed all of their acreage to meet the organic requirements.

"Every year," Mike said, "our farm must undergo a rigorous inspection to ensure that all produce is free of any harmful chemicals."


Their entire farm became certified organic in 1994, the same year that Mike and Terra took their next big step. They began a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of the story and learn more about CSAs.

Spiral Path Farm is located at 538 Spiral Path Lane, Loysville. For more information, visit, call 717-789-4433 or email

Don Helin published his first thriller, "Thy Kingdom Come," in 2009. His recently published novel, "Devil's Den," won Best Thriller at the 2015 Indie Book Awards. His latest thriller, "Secret Assault," was published in November. Contact Don at his website,


  1. I love it when people succeed in making their dreams come true. It gives hope to the rest of us.

    1. So true, Jan. And to see that they've sustained their dream for all these years is equally inspiring.


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