Our Philosophy

The philosophy behind our family farm has evolved over the years as we’ve learned more about farming, the world around us, and ourselves. What began as “let’s have a few chickens for fun” has quickly become a holistic microfarm who’s purpose is to produce virtuous homegrown goods for a happy, healthy life. Our farm philosophy is inseparable from our approach to life: anything that takes this much work has to have roots deep in our souls!

Every farm is different, and that’s the way it should be. If you are looking to start your own farm, maybe learning a bit more about ours will be helpful to you. Maybe you just want to learn a bit more about holistic or microfarming, or are looking for a farm in our community to support. Whatever the reason, we’re glad you are taking the time to learn a bit more about us and why we do what we do.

What is a microfarm?

We own 9 acres in upstate New York. When we first moved from England, 9 acres seemed like more land than we could imagine: our entire English village (including the school and chip shop) could fit in our back yard! But as our hobby homestead of 6 chickens and a vegetable plot grew into a real farm, we needed to become more mindful stewards of our space. A microfarm is able to produce abundantly on a small amount of land: many microfarms operate on only 2 acres or less! It requires meticulous planning and management to create a tiny ecosystem. The management method we use to make our microfarm a success is holistic farming.

What is your farm’s vision?

Anyone will tell you farming is a lot of work. Even having a small hobby farm requires every day, round-the-clock dedication to keeping your animals happy and healthy, your farm mutually beneficial, and your bank account solvent! You really have to believe in what you’re doing if you are in it for the long term. When things get tough, I like to remind myself of the reasons we do what we do. Some of the benefits of producing our own food we knew from the outset, and others we have discovered along the way:

  1. Conscious consumption: our farm decisions reflect our life decisions. There are many things in the world that “taste good but have no nutritional value.” Social media supplanting real relationships, drug and medication over-reliance, self-centered consumerism, commercialized food produced in questionable conditions; much of our society is sold to us as a “tasty treat” that actually holds no value (except to those who make money from our purchase). Farming makes us more conscious of what we are consuming in all aspects of our lives. We make better use of our time. We educate ourselves to make better decisions. We making feeding our bodies, minds, and souls the best things a priority.
  2. We understand the value of hard work, and teach it to our children. Absolutely nothing compares to the physical, mental, and emotional work of farming. It produces immediate and long-term, visible results that literally become a part of who you are.
  3. We are self-reliant. We have years of staple foods grazing in our backyard. The food we eat isn’t subject to the same price fluctuation, shipping and quality issues, policy changes, or other problems as grocery store food. Our animals not only produce our food for today (eggs, milk) and tomorrow (meat), but also reproduce – ensuring the future of the farm and our food supply. We also can, freeze, and cold store food for months when we can’t grow it. We’ve learned how to pressure can and vacuum freeze all different kinds of foods: the week or two or hard work is more than made up for in the convenience of opening a couple of jars to make a quick, healthy meal! Farming also gives us skills that make us more self-reliant: we know how to grind our own wheat, mix our own animal feeds, and slaughter a chicken, but we also are able to endure harsh weather conditions, overcome physical challenges, and push past problems to get the job done without giving up.
  4. We are vitally connected to our community. This may seem at odds with our goal of self-reliance, but having intimate local connections actually makes us more independent. I know my suppliers: I can store up a year of hay in advance, know if there is a shortage or windfall of grain, and can call on friends and family to help me when I can’t do something alone. I add value and goodness to my community, and they strengthen me. My family apply the values we have on the farm to everything we do, making our community a better place. Just as their patronage, help, resources, and support make our farm better. We are also more connected as a family; we and our children experience firsthand the necessity of sharing the load – sometimes quite literally! We value the power of a team, and our ability to be a real contributor.
  5. We foster gratitude. My son recently said to me “Mum I love helping you in the mornings because it makes me so happy to hear the little piggy noises when we go out to the barn.” Getting to see the sun rise and set every day brings a profound sense of appreciation for nature and the blessings of life.
  6. We treasure humility and simplicity. There is nothing like farming to keep you humble. Sure, we take pride in hard work and a job well done. But when you know that any day could bring flooding, escaped animals, a fox attack, a stillborn animal, a downed tree… your wants become simpler and you acknowledge that you cannot always be the master of your own destiny.
  7. We make real change. The change we have seen in our own lives since starting the farm is incredible. Our children are more resilient. They prefer (and expect) homemade food over prepackaged or storebought. We spend more quality time as a family, and take those moments to have quality discussions and interactions. Our new ‘default’ is health, quality, and simplicity.And the impact of farms like ours on the community shouldn’t be underestimated either: each farm makes virtuous food that much more available, affordable, and better known. Studies increasingly show that local efforts to fight poor health, malnutrition ,and poverty are not only the most effective, but actually integral to improving well being. Local farms with integrity contribute to the local economy in positive ways, and avoid the negative impacts of not-in-my-backyard industrial farming.

 

How do you decide what to grow/raise on the farm?

We look at a lot of different things to decide how to use the space on our farm. The first year, I tried to plant many different foods in our garden. It ended up being a lot of work for not a lot of yield. Now I plant foods that are harder to get locally, or that we eat a lot of, or that we want really fresh (like lettuce!). Conversely, we’ve found that having more animal biodiversity has benefited the farm. We now have ducks, pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys. Each has a role to play not only because of what they provide us to eat, but also because they keep our micro-ecosystem balanced.

Holistic management is an important part of our decision-making. You can find out more about this below, but the concept is about taking into consideration the big picture every time you make small decisions. Economics is part of that picture. For our farm, we aren’t looking to make a profit, but we do choose to raise animals that can “pay for themselves” in one way or another.

When choosing what foods we will consume as a family, we tend to follow our own “food pyramid” of sorts. It helps us be mindful of our values and the food priorities we have, but is flexible enough for different situations. For every meal we can ask: “what can we prepare ourselves from our own resources? from local resources? What will we need to buy, and of that what can be reasonably purchased more ethically (organic, fair trade, etc)?” Following the values above helps us provide as much as we can from our own resources: I make smoothies in the winter from berries we have picked and frozen in the summer, for example. But when things get busy or if we are on the road, we consciously consume foods that meet our needs and our standards as best as possible.

pyramid

What is holistic management?

Advocates of holistic management are turning up everywhere, and people and organizations are benefiting from a holistic approach to all aspects of life. Holistic management focuses on conscious decision-making and an awareness of the ecosystem in which those decisions are made. Holistic management can be applied to capitalism, leadership,  medicine, meditation, and virtually any decision-making process.

As it applies to our farm, holistic management requires an awareness of how every decision affects the farm as a whole. It means having a plan for our finances, our animals, each family member, the soil, our animals’ food sources, our time, and every other resource on the farm. We have seen the positive effects of a holistic approach on the farm, and the negative effects when we are less mindful of the big picture.

Here is an overview of our farm’s holistic management plan. The beauty of holistic management is that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all: it provides a framework to help you meet your goals. We highly encourage any farm big or small to use a detailed holistic management plan: keep track of your expenses, your goals, your pastures, your animals’ health… everything that contributes to the whole picture!

Wensleydale Cottage Farm

The Big Picture: Self-reliance! Confidence and independence in providing for our needs on all levels (physical, food, energy, emotional). Building a local network to support a self-funding and sustainable farm.

Financial: Every animal pays for itself: run a break-even operation with the opportunity for the kids to learn to make a small profit on their businesses. For example: buy four pigs, keep 2 for our own food storage and sell 2 to pay for the ones we keep. Teach the boys how to save, how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of their expenses and payments received. Plan to repay farm start-up costs (selling calves), plan for future seasonal and long-term costs,

Ecological:

Personal:

Health:

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Vote with your Plate

Our endeavors to eat local, raise our own food, build up social capital amongst like-minded farmers, and eat ‘naturally’ as much as possible, are relatively new. For us, coming to this point has been a process, an evolution in our way of thinking and our way of life. I am confident we are not done. When friends and family get wind of our lifestyle changes – eat local, grow your own, and buy organic/fairtrade – their reactions are something like this: “Wow, you guys are crazy!” “I just don’t have the time or the money waste on something that seems relatively frivolous like buying organic.” “It doesn’t taste as different as I thought it would, must not be worth it.” “I just don’t have the time and money to do that kind of thing.”

I get it, I really do. I was always that person. I think this is in part the fault of the way ‘organic’ is portrayed to us. I go to the local organic and natural foods shops and I am surrounded by single, hippie-looking, vegans munching on overpriced rabbit food. Each to their own, but this certainly was not the way I wanted to go for my family. It was not affordable. I was never going to sell it to the men in the house. The food was still frequently imported green from other areas of the world. 

Let me introduce you to a new type of eating. It is a simple, you-are-what-you-eat, know-your-food-and-love-it approach. There are a few simple principles to this approach:

 

1.Buy local, and create relationships with local suppliers as much as possible. Ask around, find where your friends recommend and who they know. Find people who will swap goods and services with you.

2. Make from scratch. Things like bread are so, so easy to make yourself. Cheaper than artisan breads and yummier than the plastic bag stuff.

3.Grow or raise your own food as far as you can. Use methods like blanching and freezing, and canning, to store local, in-season foods for when they are not as readily available.

4. Buy organic and if possible fairtrade what you can’t get local. Decide on what is most important to you to purchase this way: better to have organic sugar or fairtrade sugar? What do you make exceptions for?

 

People often ask me ‘where I shop,’ and I tell them something like this: Well, I get my milk from a local dairy, and my meat from the farm shop down the road, and I grow, store, or get from a farm stall my vegetables. My flour I buy in bulk from a local mill, and the rest I shop around for the best price on organics. At this point, you are probably thinking, that’s all very well, but why? Why not just pick one store and get it all? Before you decide for yourself to dismiss this lifestyle as too fringe, too expensive, time-consuming, or just plain odd, let me explain to you why we make an effort to eat this way.

1.My husband is a businessman. For him, a change or investment of any kind requires first and foremost a logical, business-sense approach. You may be surprised that such an approach is possible in the world of local and organic food. In fact, this approach to eating offers me more economic control. When I eat local, I have greater control over what I pay for my food. Take this article from just yesterday, for example “Businesses Worry As Pork and Beef Prices Rise” (http://www.myfoxal.com/story/25314889/businesses-worry-as-pork-and-beef-prices-rise). Why are they rising? Because of drought in California and a virus on feetlot-type farms. When I purchase meat from my small-scale local farmer, I am not paying for things happening thousands of miles from me. Nor do I find my food prices suddenly and drastically increasing because of factors that have much less impact when purchasing local, like fuel prices to drive that food hundreds or thousands of miles. Making my own food also makes economic sense: from scratch ingredients can be purchased in bulk, are cheaper than their shop equivalents, and allow me control over how much we use and therefore how much we spend. When bread prices rise in the store, it’s not a problem, I just a)use the flour I have stored in bulk from when prices were good and/or b)make smaller bread rolls or half a loaf. I spend the SAME AMOUNT now on food each week as I did before. Some things, like my local wholesale honey, cost me less than the cheapest brand at Walmart. Other things, like beef from my local farmer, cost me more (although it has less fat and more nutrition). To counteract this, we eat less meat, more vegetables, more homemade, less sugar. And we do it conciously, as part of a lifestyle that puts us in control of our pockets, our waistlines, and what comes into our home.

2. Voting with your plate. I believe in standing up for the moral right whenever possible. What I eat is no different. There are numberless moral issues about what we as a country eat. I could talk about animal rights issues: as a sensitive human being with animals of my own I do not like to support places that condone using animals without feeling or humanity. As a christian who has read in Matthew “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” I cannot justify it either. And since food labelling is so convoluted, I like to visit the farm and know my farmer. I also think it is unethical to regularly purchase food for which the very people producing it (i.e. the farmers) are squeezed and pinched as hard as possible, while lining the pockets of the big companies selling it on. Even in times of drought or disease this is the case. For example: 

While higher wholesale prices are a boon to suppliers including Tyson Foods Inc, they are eroding profit margins at restaurants and… charging customers more…” (bloomberg.com)

If you think your little weekly purchase wont make a difference, you are wrong. Why do you think Walmart has started actively approaching small farmers and stocking organic food? Most of all, they will make a huge, direct difference right there in your community. Your neighbors, your friends, your farmers all benefit directly, without the middleman, when you buy local. You are building your community and supporting the local economy. I pay $2 a gallon for my local raw milk. That is less than I can buy milk for in the store. But it is 10 times as much as that farmer gets paid by the company that trucks his milk away for retail. In contrast, big companies who are able to purchase corn-based products (everything from soda to diapers to ketchup) and animals raised on corn as less than it costs to grow it because of tax subsidies from our pockets, are getting us to pay double for their food-like products. Are you one of those people who gets angry when you see individuals spending food stamps on potato chips instead of potatoes? You will be thrilled to know that you are paying for those chips not once but twice: with your tax dollars for food stamps and with your taxes that subsidize the corn and gas to get those chips there more cheaply than the fresh potatoes grown right in your neighborhood. I like to know the money I spend, and the things I put into my body, are supporting good people and good values.  Your community is filled with good people who grow or raise food with enough trust and care that they eat it themselves. They would love to build a relationship with you and share that good food.

3. Food is key to how our body works, how well our mind can function, and how our children grow. It is worth our time and our money more than many other things we invest in. We will spend so much of our money on technology for our home, cars, clothes, etc. and yet the very thing that creates and strengthens the building blocks of our mind and body we look to purchase as cheaply, easily, and quickly as possible. Mass food producers are thinking about the bottom line, not your health. If we as consumers are demanding cheap food-like products, that is what we will get. McDonalds and almost all major beef companies were, until recently, ‘washing’ their burgers in ammonia to meet the demand for cheap but disease-free food. (Here is a case where consumers made a difference and this practice was stopped: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/31/10282876-mcdonalds-drops-use-of-gooey-ammonia-based-pink-slime-in-hamburger-meat?lite) It is very, very difficult when shopping in superstores to make sure your meat is not undergoing things like this. For example, food safety in China is infamous. As I was shopping at my local superstore I wanted to purchase some fish that had not come from a farm in China. I finally found some “wild caught off the coast of Norway, all natural” fish. I purchased it and as I opened the box to cook it at home, saw the size 3 font tiny print on the flap stating “fish was processed and packaged in China.” Oh goody. When I buy my food locally, I have to wait for the cows to cross the road on the way to the shop to purchase their milk or meat. I see how they live. I can visit the butcher and watch them processed. I can live with what I see and I know what I am consuming is good for my body. Not to mention, many many organic and fresh local foods are much healthier than their store-bought alternatives. Some, like vegetables, are obvious: store bought vs. home grown tomatoes anyone? Others, like beef, take chemical analysis to show you that they are lower in bad fats and higher in good fats. Same with eggs. Ever wondered about the vitamin labels on your milk? When you pasteurize it at such high temperatures, you have to add the nutrients you destroy back in. 

4. We want our children to know how to program a computer, play and instrument, and compete in sports. But we feed them nuggets we can’t even name the ingredients of. When my kids visit a farm and scoop the milk fresh from the vat as the cow is being milked, they understand where their food comes from. As my six year old runs his own egg business, he knows the value of hard work, the importance of keeping his animals healthy and clean, and appreciates the value of money. He is a more responsible, caring person because of it. I love that my children know where their food comes from, how to work for it, will eat more and experiment more with food when they see it, and appreciate farmers. My son will now ask me “is it homemade?” for just about everything (we make fruit snacks, cheese strings, and granola bars here as well as our breads and cheeses), followed by an enthusiastic “yes!” when I tell him it is. How wonderful is that? And let me tell you, the birds and the bees talk was so much easier with children who have already seen, observed, and accept what it as part of a natural and wonderful process that produces the chicks and calves they love.

 

In the end, the way we live is a logical addition to our family values. We believe in supporting what’s good and right. We believe in building our community and developing fair and meaningful relationships with our neighbors. We treat our bodies as temples and care very much about what goes into them. That’s not to say that some days don’t still look like this:

Image

 

But most days look like this, and to me, that’s a beautiful thing worth spending time, money and occasionally sanity for.Image.