Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?
We have been operating our farm using strict organic methods since our farm’s inception three decades ago. Building soil organic matter has been very important to us, as well as sustainably improving our woodlot for wildlife habitat and maple sugaring. With the introduction of livestock in 2010, we’ve been using management intensive grazing with our sheep to improve our pastures. The results, in terms of biodiversity of all forms of life in our pastures, are awe-inspiring.
What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?
Adding the livestock enterprises to our farm posed immense challenges both in terms of knowledge and infrastructure. Our family had plenty of knowledge about raising beautiful eggplant in our northern climate, but very little in the way of animal husbandry skills. In the first two years, I dealt with significant predation loss of our chickens and a case of nearly deadly fly strike with a lamb. We also had no fencing on the farm. Today we have 5.5 acres of pasture, fenced in half-acre to 1-acre paddocks and have also dramatically reduced predation.
What do you enjoy most about farming?
There are so many things that stand out as joys in this line of work — the companionship of working with one’s family to bring beautiful and nutritious food to our friends and neighbors and the smiles on our customers’ faces when we deliver our product to their homes. Also, seeing the return of biodiversity as we continue to improve the land.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received about farming?
As a young farmer, I have a tendency to jump in with a lot of vigor and energy. My more experienced farming partners — my parents — have tempered that tendency by advising a much slower and steadier approach. Instead of raising 100 chickens our first year, we raised 25. Instead of a dozen lambs, we raised three and grew from there, building our market and our knowledge. This approach has enabled us to build our business with limited risk and no debt.
Maple Hill Garden
Long Prairie, Minnesota
Farmer: Colin King
Farm size: 36 acres
Year established: 1984
Number of years farming? 30
Years reading Acres U.S.A.? 10
Products: Cheviot lamb, pastured poultry, maple syrup, fruits and vegetables, honey
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 320- 874-0744 or Facebook.com/MapleHillGarden
What do you enjoy most about living on the land?
My job nourishes my family — especially my little boy, whose first foods all came from our farm.
What learning opportunities have helped you?
Knowing other farmers has been key to my success and my inspiration. Working with my parents and grandparents, as well as working as a hired farmhand while in middle school through my college years, really helped. I am also always reading books and magazines about sustainable farming. Reading is as important as doing the daily farm chores.
This article appears in the February 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.