2005. After a two year search my wife, Bethany,
and I were finally able to find some farmland that we could afford,
through the assistance of the New Farmer Initiative of the Connecticut
Farmland Trust. The program was set up to help match new farmers
with preserved farmland.
The original idea was that towns and land trusts would jump at
the idea of having organic and sustainable farmers on their land.
However, in almost every case the land was actually being farmed,
mostly for hay, and the farmers were not willing to give it up.
Finally, we were introduced to a couple who had just inherited a
small farm, nine acres total with a barn and farmhouse as well as
a dilapidated and overgrown redwood greenhouse.
In March 2004, we moved in with our two daughters: Zoe, now 4,
and Charlotte, 2. We had been raising pastured chickens and turkeys
with my father at his place, and our plan was to expand on that
and also to offer eggs and some specialty vegetables. The first
project was to turn the greenhouse into a useable space. This involved
removing the old glass panels, many of which were either broken
or has slid out of place. In the years of neglect, the greenhouse
had filled with blackberry and raspberry bushes, which I cut down
and chipped for mulch. Finally, I recovered the structure with two
layers of five-year greenhouse poly. We managed to get enough of
the bramble roots out to prepare beds in about half of the greenhouse
and plant an early crop of greens. We also established a germination
box with heating cable embedded in concrete and a removable cover.
Although the land had not been farmed by the previous owners for
many years, they allowed a neighbor, Bernie, to hay the pasture—about
7 1/2 acres—and use the barn. We decided to have him continue
to cut the hay if he would leave us enough to keep our cows—three
calves purchased in May—through the winter. He also agreed
to plow and disk about an acre so that we could start our garden.
The ground dried around the end of May, even though we are on a
hill the soil has a high clay content and there are at least two
springs on the high side of our field. So Bernie, with his big 4-wheel
drive tractor and a four-gang plow, made quick work of the sod.
He promised to be back in about a week to hit it with the disk harrow.
Well, it poured the next week and the furrows held standing water
for a week after that. By that time, hay season was beginning and
we never did get the disk harrow in there. We scaled back our plans
for a vegetable operation and just grew for ourselves, planting
in the space in the greenhouse (tomatoes and peppers) and in some
space turned by hand around the house.
By mid July, the plowed field was shoulder high with all manner
of weeds that could not be found in the adjacent undisturbed land—a
hard lesson in the pitfalls of tillage. We decided to try to salvage
some good from the situation by rotating the cows through. They
ate most of the seeds from the lambs quarters and pigweed and trampled
some of the woodier growth. The second week of August, we purchased
four Duroc feeder pigs and used electric fence to rotate them through
the overgrown area. Finally success! They trampled and rooted and
leveled off the areas they were in and we even managed to get some
rye established before the cold set in.
Disaster number two was the pastured broilers. Even though we sold
every one we raised and managed to make a small profit, we never
were able to set up our processing facility in a way that made that
part of the process bearable. In 2005 we are going to raise only
enough chickens for ourselves while we focus on growing enough vegetables
to make it worthwhile to go to the farmers' market every week. And
we are going to continue pushing forward with the beef and the pork,
possibly even two batches of pigs.