Why did you begin farming?
I began farming the day I was laid off from my high-paying job as a commercial real estate paralegal. The day I was laid off, I was due to pick up my first dairy goat. I almost did not due to worries about finances, but I’m glad I did. That dairy goat started the journey to what is now Spellcast Farm.
Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?
We’ve always tried to be sustainable; this was by necessity. Early on, I did not have a lot of money to invest in the farm. When Wally joined Spellcast Farm, he helped financially, but we have to be creative about what we do. We elected to work with heritage breed rabbits (Silver Fox and American Chinchilla) and ducks (Ancona) to preserve genetic diversity. We use locally grown grains whenever possible and avoid soy and GMO feed.
What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?
Raising the rabbits on a true species-appropriate diet. Our rabbits do not consume conventional rabbit pellets, instead they eat whole grains, non-GMO alfalfa pellets, locally grown hay as well as pasture grass, vegetable scraps and weeds. At one time we had them on pasture, but that was difficult, and we lost a lot of rabbits. They are now in deep-bedded pens living in groups. We use the bedding to make nutrient-rich compost for our market garden.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received about farming?
Start small and stay small for a long, long time before expanding.
What do you see in store for the future of sustainable farming?
We see a true full-circle approach to farming. On our farm the rabbits produce manure for compost which we use in the garden to grow vegetables and herbs. We feed the excess vegetables, herbs and weeds to the rabbits. They grow into a valuable source of protein and all the while produce more manure — everything works together.
What is the funniest thing that has happened on your farm?
That’s hard to pin down, because there’s always something funny going on here although sometimes we do not see the humor until afterward.
Vale, North Carolina
Farmers: Michelle Bernard & Wally McSwain
Farm size: 9 acres
Year established: 2008
Number of years farming? Many years, in many different ways
Years reading Acres U.S.A.? 10+
Products: Heritage breed meat rabbits, heritage breed ducks, Jersey cattle, market vegetables
Contact: www.spellcastfarm.com, 704-530-7080
What learning opportunities have helped you become a better farmer?
The rabbits have been the most difficult species I’ve worked with. They’ve lived so long as caged animals, consuming pellets that they were no longer able to properly digest real food.
This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.