Friday, December 07, 2007

A Q&A With Nature's Harmony Farm

I've got something a little different for today's blog... Recently I contacted Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm to see if I could conduct a question and answer series with him to share here on The Beginning Farmer blog. Well, I'm excited to say that he agreed to do it so for the next couple of days and possibly more I'm going to post some of the questions I asked and Tim's answers.

You can check the link to their farm website and blog above for all the details, but let me give you the rough sketch. Tim and Liz have done the urban corporate life for a while now and decided that maybe they wanted a place in the country that they could enjoy. The more they thought about it and the more they thought about the lifestyle and culture around them the more they became interested in raising livestock, growing food, and running a small sustainable family farm. So, the jumped right in. I mean they really jumped in and now they are really starting to get some momentum going. I encourage you to check out their blog for all the details ... maybe even work your way through all the posts over time because it is a pretty interesting journey. I hope these questions and answers will shed a little more light on their whole process.

So, without further ado...

The Beginning Farmer - Alright Tim, thanks for agreeing to take some time and share with us a little bit about Nature's Harmony Farm. I hope this isn't too overwhelming for you, but I know that I, along with others are interested to learn about the steps you are taking and have taken in the beginning of your farm venture. I guess the first question is what led you to farming? And, do you already have a background in farming?


Nature's Harmony Farm -
We started by not trying to farm, but rather we just wanted to “opt out”. Opt out of industrial food and not knowing where our food comes from or how it’s grown. Opt out of supporting inhumane treatment of animals. Opt out of contributing more than our fair share to carbon footprints by buying food (in restaurants and grocery stores) that had traveled 1,500 + miles to get to us. Opt out of forgetting our heritage and confronting the fact that, despite all of our glorious technological accomplishments, we did not possess basic survival skills that our grandparents had. Such as knowing what seeds to plant, how to raise and kill the chicken and how to can and preserve our food. We just became aware that we were part of the system and therefore part of the problem. We knew that we couldn’t change the system, but at least if we could change ourselves, maybe we could help others change as well.

At first we thought we’d have horses because we thought they were pretty, and in addition maybe raise enough food for ourselves. We were fortunate enough to buy 72 acres with 45 in pasture. We knew that we only needed maybe one cow and one pig for our food needs, but there was lots more land than we would need. We started reading voraciously, all of Joel Salatin’s works, but of course MANY other authors as well, in addition to reading the Stockman Grassfarmer, Acres, Progressive Farmer, etc. We visited farms in Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, North Carolina and Polyface farm in Virginia. We thought about the soil, how animals should be raised and our responsibilities, and all of a sudden, the idea of raising a few horses seemed pretty selfish to us. I mean, they would be there for our enjoyment and entertainment, but how would that benefit our community? In the end, we decided to have no horses, and to focus on more productive animals in the food chain.

So, we made the leap and decided to farm. And we approached this from a very different point of view from most farmers in the sense that neither my wife Liz or I have any farming experience. Nor did we grow up on a farm. I had spent the past 25 years in corporate America, founded an Inc. 500 international company and was a serial entrepreneur. The business world is one that I understand well, yet it was always impossible to explain to a 5 year old (or my mother) exactly what I did. We have all complicated the world too much. I longed to commit myself to something more fundamental AND more important. Farming felt good. Food was going in the wrong direction, in our opinion. And, Liz and I LOVE animals, and we wanted to know that any meat we ate came from animals that received GREAT treatment. Not just “humane”, but rather raised in a way that nature intended so that they, as Joel Salatin would say, could “express their physiological distinctiveness”.

The more conferences we attended and farms we visited, the more excited we got. And we committed to roughly emulating Polyface Farm (with some differences important to us) and bringing high quality food to our local communities. We knew this decision would not make us financially wealthy, but we sensed it would make us wealthy in every other way. So far, I think it has.

All of this has happened in only the past 12 months. A year ago, we didn’t even own the property. We’re moving fast because we are passionate and motivated.

The Beginning Farmer - What is the story behind your farm's name, Nature's Harmony Farm?

Nature's Harmony Farm - My wife Liz came up with the name, and it’s a good one. We discussed what we wanted to accomplish and we wanted our name to reflect that, rather than being named after a physical feature of the farm (such as Seven Maples Farm or something like that). More than anything, we care about the animals; how they are raised, what they eat, how they feel and how they are treated. However, I am adamant that we want to mimic nature. That means that if one of our animals, a pig, for example, gets a limp, I won’t call a vet. Neither would nature. Nature has a way of helping to make culling decisions, and our goal is to allow nature to happen to a great extent. But we have set the animals up in their natural environments. Pigs are in the woods with some pasture as well. Cows are on grass, and we are working hard to keep them on nothing but grass year round. We won’t even build a barn for them. Neither would nature. Chickens are free to roost, scratch, eat insects and wander.

When you get a mental image of this description, you may see why Liz thought of “Nature’s Harmony”. We just want to stimulate an environment where everything is working in harmony with nature.

We’re far from perfect at this, but are clear in our vision for what we want. We’re working hard to accomplish it, and have chosen this way of life over what we knew previously. I think it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.

**This is just part one of a multi-installment interview with Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm. In encourage you to check out our blog for more tomorrow!**

8 comments:

Steven said...

Easy on the horses. :-) I have 3 and at this point they don't by any means earn their keep but that's what I hope for in the future. I often think of the the words of an older relative when he saw my wife's horses (before we were married). He said "You need to make them earn their keep... just put a collar on them and have them plow the garden."
Ever since I've been interested in real horsepower, have trained 3 horses to pull in harness and have became friends with some people that show haflingers and belgians. These friends also use the teams to spread manure, rake and ted hay, and plant corn. There's nothing more awesome than to be driving a horse and cart down a turn-row at the farm in near-silence, peace and quiet and have time to appreciate how we are working together and how she is choosing to do everything I ask her. I've done some harrowing with my horses but someday hope to make them really "earn their keep" In hay work and spreading compost.

John said...

Ethan,

you have an error in your first link to Harmony. It shows hhttp instead of http.

John

Ethan Book said...

Thanks John, for some reason when I put in a link with blogger it does something weird like that. Thanks for pointing it out.

John said...

BTW, thanks for the info on Harmony. I have spent the last hour reading the archives. So much Good Stuff!

John

Steven said...

Has Ethan or anyone else read much from www.ruralheritage.com it's a good site focusing mostly on the use of horses for small farming, but they are a great read for anyone because they just have a general message about "small family farms" and it always seems like you're reading something that your grandpa wrote.

Tim said...

Steven,

Sorry about the horse comment! :-) I love horses, and that's what got us started on this journey. But as we progressed, we just went in a different direction, and horses just didn't fit. They are magnificent animals and beautiful to behold.

Tim
Nature's Harmony Farm

Ethan Book said...

Steven - I think the problem with horses (if there is a problem) is that there is a much higher learning curve involved with them. You need to know more than just their basic care if you are going to use them for field work. You need to know the ins and outs of training and working them which is really an art I believe. That being said, I know I wouldn't mind having some working horses around!

I hope everyone enjoys reading these interviews ... maybe it is something I can do from time to tim if I can talk others into responding.

Steven said...

Tim, Don't be sorry. I just don't want people to always think of horses as toys for rich people. I think it's important to recognize that they can have a place on a farm where they are beautiful and useful at the same time. As I said in another post, I'm not there yet but I hope to be someday. So far, any work that I have done with horses was work that was created BY the horses. :-) But I don't really have a "farm" yet. I'm more of a "beginning farmer" than Mr. Beginning Farmer himself. :-)

Ethan,
I understand that working with horses takes alot of understanding of what to do if things are going right, and then also what to do if things go wrong. I didn't grow up around horses at all. I started riding about 5 years ago when my wife and I started dating and now I'm comfortable driving my own, or my neighbors team, but it did take a while to get to that point. I dove into learning about harness, equipment, and driving a couple of years ago, much the same way that I'm diving into learning about sustainable farming now.

Do the Amish around your dad's place use draft horses for alot of field work still?

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