By Lisa Everhart Myers
We moved to the country because I wanted to see the sky again.
Okay, it was a little more complicated than that, but, at the heart of it, I really just wanted to see the sky again. From our screened-in porch in Broad Ripple, an urban neighborhood on the northside of Indianapolis, I would regularly look over our tiny backyard where four hens scratched contentedly and scan for the horizon. There was no angle from which I could see the blue sky, the stars, and harvest moons; nor could I watch a summer thunderstorm roll across a field as it bore down upon us. This, in combination with the inherited blood of over 200 years of farming ancestry coursing through my veins, had created a longing to return to my roots that I just couldn’t ignore. After days and weeks of regaling my partner, Julie, with stories of the glorious nature of country living and the joys of farming, I was able to win her over. We moved to five acres on Indiana’s Johnson/Shelby County line in November of 2017.
So, here we are on our very own farm!Sitting in our newly remodeled living room with the wood stove blazing as it staves off sub-zero temps, spring seems very far away. Yet we both know well enough that it will be here in the blink of an eye. Despite her deep reluctance to move from the city, Julie has always harbored dreams of self-sufficiency (a little different than my dreams of having a farm, but they do overlap nicely). During a recent cold snap, she dove headfirst into the plethora of homesteading books she had accumulated over the years. These books now surround us, piled high on our coffee table, and we have begun to dig through them to figure out what to do first. The blankness of this canvas that surrounds us is intimidating, overwhelming and, at the same time, exciting. What will we create? How can we become self-sufficient? And, most importantly, how can we be profitable while taking the best possible care of this land that the universe has seen fit to put into our hands?
As you might have ascertained, I grew up on a farm … a very large farm. My Dad, Grandpa, and Uncle farmed more than 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. My Dad and Grandpa raised beef cattle, mostly Charolais and Simmental, and my Uncle raised Hampshire hogs. My sister and I showed cattle throughout our 10-year 4-H careers. I worked side by side with the men in my family in the barns and fields from the time I was old enough to see over (or through) a steering wheel. My major chore was feeding the 20 to 30 head of feeder calves my Dad kept each year. These calves were grain-fed and never saw a blade of grass once they were weaned and moved into the feeder lot attached to our barn.
The grain my family grew (and still grows) was doused in a chemical bath of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Once harvested, the corn that wasn’t used to feed livestock was sold and, most likely, ended up in high-fructose corn syrup or modified corn starch. I didn’t know there was a different way back then. Farming was done only one way in my mind. It was the 1980s and “organic” was a word that I only knew as associated with the word “chemistry,” since I was taking that course at Purdue University. “Grass-fed” was something we allowed our herd of cows. So, my early experiences in farming don’t really translate to what Julie and I hope to do on our small plot.
What do we want to do though? Well, we know we want it be organic if it’s being grown. We want it to be grass-fed if it is livestock. We want to nurture and care for the soil. Honorable goals, yes, but not much potential for profit here. I think I would like to find a niche market crop, so I have researched growing hops extensively, even though the expense of the infrastructure required to grow hops is daunting, not to mention that the crop does not come to maturity for three long years. Despite these facts, hops are still on the table as a possibility. We do want to have livestock but need new fence around the pasture out back. The pole barn needs some work to be able to accommodate livestock, too. We need to build a coop to expand our chicken flock, which leads us to consider the idea of having pasture-raised chickens. I love the idea of having either sheep or goats, but the two coyotes that hang out in the tree line behind our house give us a bit of pause. This leads us to consider the possibility of getting a guard dog to protect whatever livestock ends up out back. Did I mention that the blankness of this canvas is a bit overwhelming?
As I write this, I can see the sun breaking above the horizon and the sky is brilliantly bathed in pinks and reds. One of my goals has already been achieved! I will continue to write this blog as we fill our canvas and reach new goals. I’ll be sharing with you the ups and downs of our journey, our decision-making processes, and helpful resources, such as the Indiana Farmers Union, that we uncover along the way. Julie and I hope we can help out other folks who are just starting out through both our successes and failures. We can’t wait to get started!
This blog is part of a new series hosted by Indiana Farmers Union. Each week, we will post a different blog, written by Hoosier farmers at all stages—from just beginning to long-established. If you’re an Indiana Farmers Union member and are interested in writing for us, please contact Sherri Dugger at firstname.lastname@example.org.