This is the first post in our new series entitled News from the Farm. Our family farm is located in Hartsburg, Missouri. Rodger and I moved from Missouri to North Carolina back in 1992, and it wasn’t until 2007, when Rodger’s dad’s (Norm) health started to fail, that we became involved with running the farm again. At first Norm didn’t need much help, but with each year’s passing, we found ourselves taking over more and more farm chores. Norm passed away in October 2013 and at about the same time the arrangement we had with Terry Durham, a previous farming partner, fell apart as well. We have spent the last year remodeling the farm house and looking for a new farm manager, and as of March 2015, the farm house is done, and Bennett Wickenhauser, our new Farm Manager, has started!
Hind site is always 20/20, and if we knew that we’d be trying to run a products business out of North Carolina and run the farm in Missouri too, we might not have even started the products business. But we didn’t know, and the products business is going great, and now we have a chance to make the farm an amazing and productive place, and lord knows, we can use all the elderberries we can get!
So, many times a year you’ll find us on the road, headed in one direction or the other. We most recently made the trip to the farm on Tuesday Feb 24, in a snow storm. The roads in North Carolina were bad but as soon as we made it west of the mountains, it was pretty much smooth sailing. We arrived just in time for some artic cold (-1 degree Thursday morning) and then a nice 5 or 6 inches of snow on Saturday.
Whenever we come to the farm we stay in our little “off-the-grid” cabin, heat with wood and power our lights, music, phones and computers with our little solar system. Our solar system came from Harbor Freight and cost less than $250.00. This great kit is comprised of 3 solar panels that generate 15 watts each, a controller that prevents overcharging of the batteries and alerts you when the voltage is low, and all the wiring you need to produce your own power. We set the system up one afternoon a couple of years ago and have never needed anything else in order to be comfortable and get our work done when we are at the farm. If we ever desire more power, we can add on to the system we have. So far, as long as the sun shines every other day or so, we’ve not had to worry about being without power.
We spent some of our time in Missouri walking the farm with Bennett and laying out plans for alley cropping and incorporating livestock (think chickens, sheep and cattle) into our overall operation. We are excited about the help the livestock will give with pest and weed management and the compost material that they will create. We are drawing inspiration from Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm and author of Restoration Agriculture; Real World Permaculture for Farmers to create a whole ecosystem that will allow us to grow the healthiest, best tasting elderberries and other foods possible. That means moving away from the mono-crop culture and towards a system that features many different kinds of woody perennials and trees, along with annual crops that will feed the livestock and us, too. We know we have a long way to go, and also know that every journey begins with a single step. We are pretty excited about this journey! For those of you interested in the concept of building farms that are healthy Eco-systems, you might find this you-tube video by Mark Shepard on Restoration Agriculture pretty interesting!
Bennett, Rodger and I harvested a little over 3000 cuttings while we were on the farm. Many of them are destined for special spots on our farm. Many more are being shipped to folks who’ve decided that growing elderberries might be the right thing for them to do. As a result of the extended winter, we’ll be harvesting and shipping cuttings throughout the first two weeks of March, possibly longer if old man winter decides to hang around longer.