Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Evolution of Small Town Farms

Small Town Farms was started back in 2010 by Nate. He focused on filling freezers for friends and family and selling bulk to others in the community. At this time he had stints with goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows. Doing his best to grow the farm and try to reach out more to the community, life happens and he was required to shut the doors. He continued to do his best to facilitate finding local sources for those customers who were needing to fill the freezer but was no longer raising his own. 

In May 2017, Nate and I met and we started talking about the life we wanted together, day dreaming of building our own farm, bigger and better than what Small Town Farms had already been. Discussing the types of food we wanted to offer, the garden we wanted to grow, the animals we eventually would like to raise, the marketing channels we wanted to follow, and deciding on the main ways we wanted to help support our community and better the environment.

Fall 2018, we decided we were done just talking and dreaming about the farm we wanted to have, we were ready to start putting our dreams in motion. With space being limited on the property attached to the house, we agreed our first step to reaching our farming dreams would be starting a market garden. With months of planning, gathering and ordering supplies and, building our first "grow room" in the basement, we were ready to start making this a reality.

By March we had our little grow room full of seedlings, from peppers to tomatoes to sweet potatoes, the latter which we later found out does not thrive in clay soils. We had registered for our first local farmers market and started our social media journey. Each day I shared a quick picture, video or update on the seedlings or outdoor garden prep that we had been working on, either through a post or stories. We started gathering followers and had people messaging us to encourage us on a journey that they knew would be a struggle, but we believed we were ready to handle it. We started new seedlings as others were ready to move outside into the cold frame to start acclimating to the weather outside. 

The long weekend of May 2019 meant it was go time. We had a planting party, invited our family to help get all our little seedlings in the ground. Plus, we still had other crops that we needed to direct seed into the ground. We were optimistic as seedlings began to thrive and other seeds began to germinate. We were on the right path, this was going to be our window into life as a farmer, this was going to get us the farm and livestock we desired so much. Keep in mind, we both work full time. I would get up with the sun in the morning and go to the field, weeding, planting, harvesting anything that needed to be done before I left for my day job. We would both get home from work, grab a quick snack and a drink before heading straight back to the field and working until the sun went down, which, in the middle of summer was almost 10pm. As the sun would finally set we would sit down for dinner and discuss what needed to be done the next day, before falling asleep and starting all over again.

I'm going to pause here for a moment for the few people that think we are so lucky and privileged to have a farm and grow food for our family. Or that we are even more privileged to have the opportunity to share our story and the food we grow with the community but I assure you, this is not an easy path. Most days we are exhausted, but that is usually a sign that we have ONLY a few more hours of work left to complete that day. Its a struggle to keep a balance between the farm and our lives. It is a life of sacrifice when it comes to visiting with friends, taking vacations, or having anything that is actually "in style." We have to scrimp and save for all our infrastructure, to maintain our vehicles, even for that single weekend we get away to camp in the summer. It is a long, hard path to reach our goals, but each day we get closer and we know, years down the road we will look back and say it was all worth it.

The 2019 season went off pretty well, we were ready to grow more and reach out to bigger opportunities. We found a local market store that was looking for a produce vendor, and we wanted to be it. We built a larger "grow room" and a new greenhouse to replace our cold frame. We spent months working together, planning new products specifically around their needs, all while prepping for the farmers' market, but of course, Covid. Farmers' markets were no longer operating the same way, the market store went all online and did not want to have to maintain our inventory along with theirs, so we were back to square one. This was our time to move online like everyone else, even though this was never an avenue we had planned on taking. We enjoyed talking to our customers about our products, having them come back week after week with rave reviews, and we knew moving online would severely limit this interaction but, we had to do something to remain in business through Covid. Our website went up but of course our sales went down. We did everything we could to scrape by, praying that 2021 would be better, and in some ways, it was.

That winter we decided that we really wanted to start raising a meat source, even if it was only going to be for our own consumption, so we went back to discussions. We decided it was time to start raising rabbits. They were small, easy to keep, could be raised in the backyard and would never be able to seriously injure one of the kids while we taught them how to raise their own animals. We worked that spring on breeding and raising rabbits while maintaining the market garden. We had a few veggies that were selling online and meat that was growing for our freezer. Processing day for grow-outs was met with a variety of emotions, sad to lose our fluffy little friends but excitement to learn the skills of butchering your own meat and enjoying a tasty meal. This was definitely an animal the kids wanted to continue raising, so we kept a few extra does to start the process over again.

The produce side of the farm was not getting the attention we needed while only being online, but we were doing the best we could with that situation when we found it! We found the pasture that we needed to branch out into raising more livestock. We had the opportunity to grow our farming passions and go back to the roots of Small Town Farms. So we jumped on it! 

Within months we had built tractors ordered our chicks and turkey poults. We had laying hens on pasture and our teenage bunnies had been upgraded to a tractor of their own. We built our little make-shift brooder and picked up our baby birds. We found a local feed mill that could provide us with local non-gmo grains for our animals. It really wasn't much in the way of livestock for this property but it needed as much love as it could get. The pasture had been a hay field for as long as we could remember. It was cut and baled then left until the next cut was ready. The pasture needed some love, the soil needed to be amended and brought back to its former glory. The dirt was lacking the nutrients, organisms and micro-organisms that it needed to be the soil we wanted our cover crops to feed on. 

The tractors did lap after lap around the field. Each line behind the tractor left lush, nutritious grasses in its wake. We moved the tractors every day to fresh pasture, the animals ate their fill and left fertiliser in its place. Plus spilled a little bit of seed from their feed on the ground, some of which started to germinate to fortify the grasses and clover that was already in the pasture. We were building the soils in the way nature intended, followed mimicking the migration patterns of wild animals and establishing our rotational grazing methodology.

Eventually fall brought extreme amounts of rain. The fields got too saturated to be used. We weren't able to complete our potato harvest, the wet clay and mud was just too heavy to turn over to gather all the potatoes. The ground was just too wet and sticky to pull more onions. It also meant, the pasture was too slippery and soft to continue to move the tractors daily. It was time to park them for winter and switch to a deep bedding method. The deep bedding was able to keep the animals dry and while the bottom layer was already composting, the heat that it produced, stopped the ground of the tractors from freezing and kept the chickens, rabbits and turkeys warm. 

The tractors were a success. We were starting to rebuild the soil. They kept all our animals safe from predators in the summer and protected them through the winter. This was something we wanted to continue and expand on. So we ordered more chicks and turkey poults, we found and booked slots in at a local-ish butcher and got to work on building more tractors. Of course, we knew this still was not enough livestock to maintain this property and we wanted to branch out passed the poultry. So, we got to work on building a fence and looking for cows. Enter Charlie, followed by Pepp and Chip. As fun and tasty as they are, cows eat grass but they weren't the right tool that we needed to keep rebuilding the soil and clean up the property. So we reached out to a friend that had some pigs that required, a little extra love let's say, and brought them to the farm. Well, 2 pigs was not enough when you enjoy watching them play and clean up the scrub on the edge of the forest, so we came back with 6 more.

Now, here we are. Cows eating grass and growing for our family freezer. Chickens, turkeys and rabbits roaming the grounds eating and fertilizing the pasture while they grow. Pigs working up the ground in a more natural way than a modern plow while eating all the extra scrub so the sun can reach the ground on the edge of the bush to start encouraging fresh growth. All while growing and getting ready to move into a freezer in our community. We are trying to share our journey and continue to answer questions and educate on our practices as the farm grows and we learn more from our experiences each day.

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