This is the second feature written by Miami County farmer Caroline McColloch. Caroline is working to build soil and community through her work as the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm.
As a participant in OEFFA’s Heartland Farm Beginnings program, Caroline has been implementing important decision-making tools for her operation. “More than anything else, this course has given me confidence in my decision-making skills. Everyone knows that to make good decisions you need as much detailed and comprehensive information as possible, and the classroom component certainly delivered on that! In particular, the parts on finances and enterprise budgeting were invaluable.”
Are you interested in growing your farm business through a whole farm planning approach? Learn more and apply to participate in OEFFA’s second cohort of Heartland Farm Beginnings farmers here. If you are a beginning farmer interested in writing a story for the blog, email us for more information.
This year is a colder spring than usual. According to land management consultant Terry Lavy, our soil temperature is eight degrees below the five year average. So now I don’t feel so distraught that here we are one week out from May 1 and the field planted to perennial grasses last fall still has numerous bare spots. That’s right, bare ground even after two seasons of cover crops. No self-respecting farmer ever wants to see bare ground
On a brighter note, today was a joyful milestone! I planted a little over a half acre of native grasses and forbs for pollinator habitat in the southeast corner of the woods, thus replacing a jungle of invasive scrub and a whole lot of dead trees. This been a monumental land conversion project in the making for eight months. We’re also closing in on three grand in expenses, but the Conservation Stewardship Program payments will more than make up for that. After sawing a couple of downed trees on the access trail, I began in earnest. The seed mix customized for Monarch butterflies was applied using a hand spreader. Having never done this before, it was especially intimidating. Did I get the mix right? Am I getting the right amount in the right places? With a sense of purpose I recalled my grandparents’ commitment to conservation, and spoke my little prayer into a most beautiful morning sky.
I managed two passes without running out of a ridiculously paltry amount of seed. It was so light weight that it had to be mixed with rice hulls while I swirled my hand in the bucket and cranked the handle with the other hand, for a full two hours. The homemade drag harrow (comprised of a bundle of chain link fence) finished the job. It actually popped right over all 86 tree stumps and an ample spread of woody debris that had been previously cleared for the project. Terry says it is a long term process for these plants to get established—some might take several years—and at least a month before I see the first growth of other species. But it helps at least to know, sort of, what to expect. Such timing! The first rain fell as I was heading back to the barn.
Another milestone came to pass on the same day. I finally ordered the long awaited high tunnel greenhouse structure for raspberry production. There is no turning back.
Risks notwithstanding, there is little doubt I have prepared in every possible way for this new farming endeavor, with years of studying, working, and learning to be a well-equipped “decider.” You try to have a well-controlled plan, but experience shows generally, the outcomes are what one couldn’t possibly have guessed, and miraculously, good outcomes have abounded! Yes, I am betting the farm—literally—and one consolation at this juncture is that these decisions and risks have not been taken lightly and are of that rare breed: a good risk.
I suppose no one can accuse me of being complacent. Nor of being impatient or faint of heart. Working with land, weather, plants, and animals demands patience and observation. I’m astonished with the magnitude of waiting involved, and the confidence it takes to put a seed in the ground—and mostly very expensive seeds, at that. Then there is all the planning! I seem to never be quite sure what the next task should be, but somehow a strategy emerges, and it all seems to work.
The multi-tasking, the calculations and projections, the collaborations, the phone calls and emails, the recordkeeping, the reading and thinking! And of course, the deciding. Now that’s where rubber meets the road. And all that happens before you actually do anything. At some point, the time for planning and preparation is over and it is time to commit. Some things can be learned only by doing. Observe, imagine, research, plan, decide, execute, tweak, and repeat. And all this is performed in beautiful, complex ways: thinking about and working with sun, soil, water, seasons, people, details, time, and life.
Now the negative side of me is always harping about not being able to get it all done. Yes, I do quite appreciate that I am wearing three hats: entrepreneur, manager, technician. Everyone has an inner critical voice. Though you shouldn’t completely ignore it, the critical voice should never have the final say on whether or not you decide to take the risk to try something that you are passionate about, and for which there is potential, and that you have done your best to prepare for.
Other consolations have come to me: faith, diligence, the stock and trade of building a sustainable farm and a community around that farm. I am grateful beyond expression for the opportunity, no matter how it all turns out. I’ve been given the privilege to dream, to love others, commune with the out of doors, to practice fitness of mind, body and soul... to risk it all for this complex and dynamic natural creation that is, without a doubt, good.
Caroline McColloch is the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm located in Piqua, Ohio (Miami Co) and is working to develop a pasture-based goat meat and diversified fruit, vegetable, and herb operation. Chez Nous farm is twenty five acres of rolling pasture and woodland dedicated to mindful food production that integrates conservation, community, and health. Now in its third generation of a family devoted to stewardship, the fullest potential of its abundant natural resources is being developed not only for nutrient-dense food production, but also as a practical teaching and learning resource for the people of Miami County. Chez Nous Farm products will become a valuable component of the growing local food commerce in Ohio. This will be accomplished through wise management of habitat, soil and water, and business acumen that provides adequate income to support sustained profitability and a satisfying quality of life.
Photos: Chez Nous Farm