Winter time and the turning over to a new year is a natural, almost instinctual time to sit down and reflect on the past year and the lessons learned, and we've been doing a lot of reflecting on things that went well, and things that didn't work out so well in 2016, our first full year on our little farm.
It's been just over a year since we set out on this somewhat audacious adventure of starting a small farm. After studying permaculture and urban farming, and growing a sort of successful garden for a few years, we found ten acres of organic alfalfa, jumped on it , and sold our home in Northeast Minneapolis. (miss you still, love you NE!)
Since leaving advertising, years ago now, I have been dedicated to finding a heritage breed of animal that we could raise, promote, and maybe help even help sustain. Yes that means slaughter, yes that means eat, but the only way to beat the industrial farming machine and change our food system is to raise awareness and drive demand for slower and more diverse products that are better, and more kind to the planet. Like many heritage breeds, the Mangalitsa had an incredible story to tell rich with history, and we knew we had found our breed. So we accepted the challenge of raising an animal with a very slow and long growing period, and one that many had not heard of, but we were confident the flavor of real pork and the Mangalitsa's deep red, fatty, and healthy marbled meat had a place in our marketplace.
We started out with a name before we even dug our first fence post. Naturally any good Minnesota farm name has to include a Bob Dylan reference so we chose Beatty Stone Farms, named after Bob's mother Beatrice Stone, who to her good neighbors and friends went by Beatty. (bee-tee)
Don't Ever Compliment a Farmers Rooster Unless You Plan to Take Him Home/Don't Have a Baby and Bring Home Three Roosters All In The Same Month.
The Least Sexy Projects Come First
Projects like paddock/pen design, fence building, grading, and water management will absorb a lot of time and money but without them you can't pass go. We spent and will continue to spend time building paddocks, hanging gates, and adjusting grades and paddock placement to manage these insane rain events and reduce wet, muddy, dirty pig pens, with the ultimate goal of keeping the pigs and the land happy and healthy.
They Call it Back Breaking Work For a Reason
Full System Design
You can't just drop a pasture/paddock somewhere without creating a system that works for everything and everyone around the farm. You must consider the impact on the natural surroundings, water, weather etc. There's a system that can work in a sustainable way, you just have to figure it out. We will be figuring it out indefinitely!
Even Small Farming Is A Big Commitment
We knew farming would be hard work, and we can now say confidently, farming is definitely a lot of hard work. While we didn't really know what to expect, we now know that raising livestock and cultivating land takes serious time, commitment, and dedication. There's a reason why you hear about farmers never leaving their farm, there is just too much to do. Your life has to change, travel is limited, weekends away reduced, time away at all reduced. You need to be all in.
The Art Of Feed
With our heads and lives deep in the organic food world, we were surprised at the limited options for organic grain and livestock feed suppliers. While much of the food world, restaurants, and groceries have transitioned to organic options, the feed world is far behind. With the goal of raising the healthiest pigs and highest quality meat, feeding chemical free, non GMO, soy-free and limited corn feed is a must. We are grateful to have found a great local feed supplier who sources and mixes up for us a complex blend of organic grains to ensure we are raising the healthiest and happiest pigs possible.
The Waste Has a Job To Do
You can't let manure and debris just pile up, you've got to put it to work. Animals poop a lot. Have a plan for the manure, and get out there and get your hands dirty.
We've learned to throw away very little, spent produce and clippings and peels are composted or fed to chickens or pigs. Feed crates are refurbished for gardening trellises and shelters. This also means working with local twin cities breweries to find a home for their spent brewery grains while helping to feed the pigs year round. This spring, our unprocessed maple sap will also go un-wasted and will be used to finish the pigs, and inject some sweet sugar content into their marbling!
Soil Comes First - Always
From grading and water drainage, to using good compost and amending for your garden's overall health health and production, we learned the hard way - always consider the ground first. If the soil isn't on your mind or properly cared for it has a way of reminding you, from flooding to useless garden beds, mind your soil!
Start a List: Prioritize and Set Goals
There are not endless hours in a day, especially if you are still working a full time job. If you try to get everything done all at once you will go crazy. You can not start a profitable farm, even on a small scale, over night.
The Kindness of Strangers is Your Classroom
When we first started farming I was super gun-shy when it came to asking other farmers for help or guidance. Maybe I had too much pride or I felt like people would avoid sharing their secrets to success, but we honestly couldn't do what we are doing without stepping out of our comfort zones and asking questions, (a lot of questions). Farming, especially something like a rare heritage breed pig, isn't something you can really learn in a book or on a website. It takes jumping in and doing it, and the generosity and kindness of strangers willing to help troubleshoot and share in their stories and experience. In fact, farming needs story telling to survive and grow.
As we continue to learn and grow, fail, get injured, pound our thumb with a hammer, get knocked over by pigs, and hopefully succeed, we will continue to share our ups and downs, and our story.