Entries in Research (26)

Tuesday
Jul122011

5 things I plan for our Natural Sustainable Farm

There is something very good about starting a farm with absolutely no previous experience -- you get to start from scratch both in terms of what you physically purchase as well as the mental aspects of planning.  For me, I have put a lot of thought into what our farm will have.  The ability to think about these before you actually are in the middle of it would appear to be a real blessing -- except of course you don't yet know what the heck you are doing.

So from my planning -- here are 5 things I absolutely expect without a reasonable doubt will be true about our farm*:

  1. We will strive to become more and more sustainable by minimizing off farm inputs to both feed our family and our animals.  This will be challenging as we balance the need to scale upward to increase financial support, while ensuring we don't outgrow our lands ability to provide for the animals.  It will take time to nourish the land and make it the rich, healthy land needed to support an abundance of life. 
  2. There will be hardships and setbacks that I cannot even imagine which will be magnified by the pressure to make this work and to provide for our family.  These hardships will often include loss o life and therefore be even more heart wrenching.  However, it will be these hardships which shape future decisions on our farm -- ultimately making it stronger.  
  3. I will have doubts often on the best way to do things and will have to combine a healthy dose of intuition, innovation and invention to make up for my utter (or udder if you want to be honest) lack of experience.
  4. Interacting with a variety of customers who share our view of food and the importance of healthy, natural, nutrient dense food will motivate and inspire me.  
  5. We will eat really well on our farm.  Delicious beef, scrumptious pork and amazing chicken in addition to the harvests from our vegetable garden will be what sustains us and gives us the energy to accomplish these lofty goals.

* I reserve the right to edit, add on to or delete any part of the above list as I see fit - once I know what the heck I am doing. :)

 

 

 

 

Friday
Jul082011

Food Independence -- Small Farms are Key

An unusual combination of events last week has sent my mind thinking very hard about how our world, and even I specifically, are prepared for any kind of food emergency.  

How does a local producer of grass fed beef, pastured poultry and natural pork play into Kansas City's ability to withstand a food or water shortage?  

Last week, our community of Overland Park, KS (pop. 400,000) suddenly had no avaialble drinking water.  Turns out a raccoon chewed on some wires at the water treatment plant causing a minor interruption in service.  However, the pumps going off line and then surging back on again caused a large 5 foot water main to break resulting in a boil order being placed by our water district for nearly one whole day.   This meant we could still use the water externally -- just not internally unless you boiled the water for two minutes.

The results?  In less than 12 hours you could not find a bottle of water on a store shelf anywhere in Kansas City.  Gas stations were sitting half full since they could not serve fountain drinks or dispense ice, restaurants were unable to serve sodas and water fountains in public places had to be switched off.  All of this in less than a day, and remember, there was no shortage of water just a two minutes of work required in order to drink the water.  What would happen if we had a real water shortage?  If we turned on the tap one day and suddenly no water came out?  This weeks experience showed me that we would all be in trouble and at the mercy of outside support.  This is never a good situation to be in.  

According to FEMA it is best to have three gallons of water on hand per person in your family.  This should be equal to a 3 day supply.  

I was thinking this over in my mind on the Fourth of July - Independence Day and I began to wonder if we really can be considered an independent nation if we are so completely dependent on other people for food and water.  If for any reason our supply of food and water collapses we would quickly be in real trouble.  As a society, our water is stored by the government, in water treatment plants and our food is housed in stores and warehouses by corporations.  As our local mini-crisis showed last week, this will quickly lead to a shortage in supply and having to turn to someone else to care for us.

Let's instead look at the alternative where our food system makes a shift (albeit a radical one) where the majority of people get their food from small local based farmers or grow it themselves.  Suddenly, we become much more immune to outside forces.  As long as our local farmers are able to sustainably produce food with few outside inputs then it would be very difficult to have any significant impact our local food supply and as individuals we would primarily be responsible for having a store house of water and personal needs available.  

Saturday
Jul022011

Synergisitc Acres now has a face

One of the very first decisions we made when we chose to devote our lives to producing high quality meat for Kansas City was to settle on a name.  At first, it seems like a trivial detail.  However, to us it is an extension of our values - and our values are central to everything we do on the farm.  It would be the first thing many people would see and begin to make assumptions about our farm and the way we choose to raise animals. That is why we wanted our farm name to represent something important about the animals and their care, rather than a physical attribute of the farm such as Tall Oak Farm.

The name Synergistic Acres is meant to to show how our farm requires the synergistic cooperation of several species to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.  The cows, the chickens and the pigs all work together to create a system that allows great natural meat to be produced while also enriching the land wih few outside inputs.

After we decided upon a name, we had a logo designed.   We turned to a designer with whom I had a lot of previous experience, Shawn Honea at IM Design Group.  Shawn has done other design work for my landscaping business.

We went through several drafts and Shawn listened to our ideas and this is what we came up with.  Our goal was to find a logo that would represent the melding of honoring the traditions of farming while also showing the excitement of looking at it in a new way. 'Synergisitc' represents the new while 'Acres' honors the tradiitonal.

 

Having a new logo has made the starting the farm so much more exciting --although -- in some ways the cart has come in front of the horse - literally!  We don't even have our land yet.  But...in many ways having these very important decisions made before we have land and can begin producing is VERY important.

 

If you would like to see someone smarter than me explain it more eloquently than I -- watch the video below as he explains how it works on Polyface Farm with Joel Salatin:

Friday
Jun242011

Galloway All the Way

Laura Looking at Galloway cattle

 

What do you do if you are chomping at the bit to start farming but you don’t have the land yet to get started?  Well one thing you do is you drive hundreds of miles to go stand in a field and talk grass fed cows with someone. Surprisingly, I don’t often see this listed in any of the “stay”cation brochures I’ve read.  Regardless, that is what we did on Thursday when we visited Renaissance Farms in Emporia, Kansas – and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Judy Decker, the main cattle runner at the farm, was incredibly hospitable as she spent the afternoon with us discussing her experience raising grass fed Galloway cattle.Galloway cattle grazing  She has a herd of about 60 total animals (cows, steers, heifers and bulls) that she rotationally grazes on natural forage in the Flint Hills.  Judy sang the praises of the Galloway cattle, which she has exclusively grazed on her farm for over 10 years.  Some of the real benefits she has noticed form raising Galloway cattle are:

  • Great tasting beef that finishes superbly well on grass—no need to back the grain truck up to the farm every week with these beautiful cows
  • Gentle temperament – easy to work.  We had no fear of our daughters being inside the pasture with them.  As a matter of fact, the cows were more scared of the little girls being in their pasture
  • Fantastic foragers – graze well on variety of forages even the nasty, weedy forage the Flint hills is known for.  When the region you are raising cattle on is named for the rock that lays under the soil (FLINT hills)– you know you need tough cattle
  • Hardy in sometimes harsh winter and summer climates of the Midwest
  • Good mothers who calf easily and then mother and nurse their young well – so you don’t have to
  • Moderately framed cattle that lead to great efficiency – these are not the Arnold Schwarzenegger of cattle that need unnatural and unhealthy supplements to be at peak condition.  Instead, these cattle grow wonderfully nutritious and delicious meat on natural pasture

Judy told us stories about how her cattle had been put on some newly leased land a couple winters ago and were able to get an incredible amount of forage from unimproved pastures well through the winter saving her a lot of money on hay, but more importantly ensuring she had healthy cows despite harsh conditions. Wimpy cows wouldn’t of stood a chance at doing nearly as well.

Galloway cattle have become one of the top breeds I am considering raising on our farm for all of the reasons above and because I feel strongly that many of the old agricultural breeds should be conserved – and somewhat ironically – this means we have to eat them.

I have done some research on the Galloway breed and find them to be a fantastic breed for our purposes – growing amazingly nutritious and delicious cattle in a natural pastured-based environment.  The breed originated in Europe 100s of years ago in a place not surprisingly called Galloway, which is now Scotland.  Generations of breeding in this area produced an animal that is very rugged and is well adapted to harsh conditions.  It has a thick coat and deep body to do well in cold weather that then sheds for the summer and allows them to do well in the summer heat.  Galloway cattle first came to the United States in the late 1800s and had some popularity, especially in western ranges, until about the 1960's when feedlots began to take over and America's view of the ideal cow began to change to be better suited for industrialized meat production.  According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy there are around 10,000 Galloway cattle in the United States right now and are considered a rare heritage breed of cattle worth preserving. 

Thank you Judy for sharing your afternoon with us.  My only regret from the afternoon was that we didn’t get to buy a steak to enjoy when we got home.  Hopefully I will be back down soon and can pick one up.

Galloway Cattle

 

Wednesday
Jun222011

Farm Visits

 

One of the things we have been doing as a family to prepare for transitioning to a life of farming is visiting farms that have similar farming models to our own.  It is very important to me that everyone in the family at least have a vision of what farm life could be like before we committed to  changing our entire lives in the pursuit of growing great food for our family and others.

One of the farms that we visited is Stony Ridge Farms in McClouth Kansas. Bernie Antes runs the farm and it is where we have bought our beef for several years.  He focuses on selling grass fed beef to customers direct from the butcher as halves and wholes.  

When we told Bernie we were considering starting a farm of our own, he was very open with sharing the positives and the negatives of his experience with farming.  Hearing this was very useful. Bernie even went a step further and invited us to come help process chickens with him. So that is what we did last weekend.  He raised 30 Buff Orpington chicks for us on his farm and then we went and helped process them.  It was a great learning experience to see how he did his setup from killing the birds, to scalding and plucking and finishing by eviserating and cleaning the carcass. 

I was amazed at Mr. Antes' openness and willingness to help us learn.  He has given a great amount of his valuable time talking with us about his expereinces with farming. I appreciated his generousity.

If you know of any natural sustainable farms in the Kansas City area that we should visit please let us know in the comments section below.

Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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