Gravel Road Farm Greenhouse Kickstarter Fund

2014-12-21 16.00.34UPDATE! We were successfully funded on February 7th, 2015! We are thrilled with the outcome of our campaign, and thankful for all the support.

We’ve created a Kickstarter campaign to fund our greenhouse.  As you can see in the above photo, we’ve already pounded in the ground posts, and built the framing, but need your help in order to purchase the rest of the materials.  Here is the list of things we need in order to have a functioning greenhouse:

Plastic greenhouse film to cover the whole building 523

Endwalls made of polycarbonate $1510

Wooden Baseboards, from untreated wood, likely cedar, $400

Insulated Doors, Roll up and Person sized $1750

Heating System $1775

Ventilation Exhaust Fans $855

We are offering some fresh food incentives from our farm, and some great rewards for anyone who is farther away.  Go to This link and help fund us and you too, can be a part of the positive community that surrounds and resonates from this farm.

 

Gravel Road Farm Holiday Gift Guide

Looking to support local food networks and accomplish gift giving as well?  Our small farm offers a couple of green and healthy gifts for the local foodie on your list, or anyone who appreciates small family farms.

1. Gift Cards  Our paper punch cards are available in two denominations, $25, and $50.  They are good for the 2016 season at our market stand.  If you would like to purchase one of these cards for someone this holiday, we will have them available at the Waupaca Saturday Winter Farm Market on December 12 & 19th, located in the lobby of the library/city hall.  Or you may also make arrangements to pick them up at our farm, or have them mailed to you directly.   Just email us at brigid@gravelroadfarm.com, phone 715-281-0812, call or text.

2. CSA membership   If you are interested in buying a CSA membership for someone, please contact us directly about this option.  Our 2016 CSA information will be ready after the first of the new year.  Our CSA membership is a weekly or bi-weekly box of vegetables delivered to a local drop site, or for pick up at our farm.  Each week we fill our wooden crates with the best produce that is in season. Here is a long list of everything that we grow on our farm.

3. Wool   We have bundles of wool batting for spinning, or fiber fill, or needle felting, or other crafts.  We also have queen sized quilt battings.  All of our wool is from our small flock of California Red Sheep, it is a natural cream color, with red and grey hairs mixed in. All of our wool is $20/lb.

 

For the Love of Sheep

20140209_141603We have currently 13 sheep, 6 ewes, 2 ewe lambs, one ram and 4 ram lambs. The lambs are almost the same size as the ewes, at around 5 months old. They are a very unique breed of sheep, (likely not many other sheep of this breed in Wisconsin.) The breed is called California Red, and if you google that, you will come up with a variety of pages, all telling a similar tale about the origin of this breed.  Long story short, a shepherd in California wanted to try to build a medium sized, gentle sheep, that was resistant to parasites, with good mothering skills, and heat and cold tolerant. By combining some hair sheep (Barbados) and wool sheep (Tunis), a new breed was born, but the result was not exactly what was wanted, so the flock was sold to other shepherds, and they developed was is now the California Red sheep. They are a naturally polled breed, which means they are born without horns, with red hair on their faces and legs, and beautiful cream colored wool with flecks of red and grey. They are born dark red brown, and grow their cream colored wool as they get older.  They are good mothers with rich milk, and very docile, although their personalities vary. The wool is great for hand-spinning, of medium weight and softness. They are good for both meat and fiber, the small scale farmers dream come true.

So when a nearby farmer called us on a Wednesday in August of 2013 about selling her little flock of California Red Sheep, we were at a crossroads. We have always talked about sheep, and now we had a real live farm to keep them. But were we really ready? We had never heard of California Red Sheep. We decided to look at the them the following Friday. I fell in love with their beautiful doe-like faces and darling personalities, and we proceeded to bring them to our farm on Saturday using a borrowed trailer and truck. 20130818_133236

20130818_133701We had just moved to our farm in May of 2013, and were very busy with our vegetable operation, but the chance to welcome such a unique breed of sheep to our farm was hard to pass up. We have about 7 acres around our farmhouse that was horse pasture in the past and would be so great to keep a few sheep. These sheep are so very gentle.  We love having animals that our children can be with and pet, and know by name and personality.

We bought our chickens, and their coop and fencing and supplies from the same farm at the same time with our plan to follow behind the sheep doing rotational grazing. They work up the manure the sheep have left, and scratch up the top of the soil, and of course eat the greenery, and bugs. It is a good system, and has been helping to build the soil. We decided not to keep the sheep and chickens in the same fence together for a few reasons, but mostly because the sheep were eating the chicken feed, and the chickens were perching on the sheep, causing bare spots in the wool.20140703_152205_resized20140703_152949_resized

Sheep eat grass, very simply, we don’t have to feed them anything else.  We buy local grain that we tempt them with when we need to move them from place to place.  Grain is like candy to sheep, best kept at a minimum.  We also give them a small amount of minerals each day. The minerals are important, since the pastures have been neglected and are likely missing nutrients, and the sheep are always eager for them.  When the sheep are pregnant and lactating, they need more hay, more water, more minerals.

Our current goal is to continue growing our flock of sheep until we have around 10 breeding ewes and one ram. We raise our own hay, (a neighbor has been baling it for us in small bales) so we know that it is good quality mix of grass and alfalfa. Besides storing the hay there are a variety of jobs required by a small scale shepherd. We bring them fresh water every day. We move them around the pastures using portable electric fencing, and this requires us to have two sets of fencing, grazing the pasture one section at a time. We have had some crazy days in the past nine months where they sheep have pushed under the fencing, their wool insulating them from the zap. We’ve learned that they don’t like to be separated, don’t like to be hungry, and don’t like fireworks. The first few times they escaped, it was like a most exciting adventure in farming. The 50th time, surprisingly, not as fun. We are getting a new permanent fence later this summer that should really help keep our troubles to a minimum.20140117_150156

We also have to trim their hooves, which can be okay in the winter when the ground is snow covered, but not very pleasant in the spring when things are muddy. When the ewes are lambing, we patiently wait for the lambs to arrive, watching, waiting. When they do come, there is much celebration! Last winter was hard, very hard for us, every day, frozen water, and carrying hay through the deep snow. But we lost only one little lamb out of seven due to the cold, and all the ewes made it just fine.20140228_130533

20140504_145933We had the sheep sheared in April, and it went really well. We took the wool to a small woolen mill in Appleton, down on the river called Courtney Woolen Mills. I highly recommend taking your wool there to be cleaned and carded. As a new shepherd, I needed help figuring out what to do with the wool, and Tom Courtney, the owner, provided excellent customer service. He is a third generation owner operator, and uses the same machinery they’ve used for many many years.  If you are a shepherd, please consider supporting them. As with many small businesses, it is hard to find a way to meet your costs these days.

20140703_154620_resizedSo now we have cleaned, carded wool made into batts for spinning, or for quilts. Anyone could buy the batts for crafting too. It would be great for stuffing into small toys, or pillows. It is going to be used for some dyeing projects, and for needle felting here on the farm, and of course for our children’s school projects. Next week, at the Saturday Farmer’s market, we will be bringing our wool to sell, and we can’t wait to show everyone our ‘golden’ fleeces.

We also have cuts of lamb available, shoulder roasts, leg roasts, ground lamb and stew meat.  The boneless roasts are $12/lb, the bone in roasts are $10/lb.  The ground and stew meat are each $7.50/lb.  If you are ordering a whole or half lamb the cost per pound is much less, but you would pay the butchering fee.  We do have to pay license ($165) fees every year to sell our lamb at the farmers market, so we have to figure this into the cost.  As it is right now, we have only taken four lambs to the butcher, and we put one of those in our freezer so that we would be able to try the meat ourselves.  I would have to say that I really do like the taste of our lamb.  It is somewhat closer to the flavor of venison, but almost like grass fed beef. We have simplified our cut list to roasts, ground and stew because some of the other cuts are just not as practical for our uses (lamb chops), but if you order the whole animal, you can get whatever cuts you prefer.

So if you are interested in coming out to visit with the sheep, buying some wool, or ordering a whole lamb, please contact us 715-281-0812, or  brigid@gravelroadfarm.com

 

Our Community Supported Agriculture Journey

We’ve come a long way to start our farm here, we’ve risked almost everything we have to start this farm business. We left friends, family and a community of supporters to come and live here in the heart of Wisconsin. We saw an opportunity here however small, and decided it was worth it. After years of nurturing the seeds of our farm dream, we now are taking the opportunity  to nurture the local food system here in Waupaca.  So, on that note, I sat down to write something educational regarding eating seasonal vegetables and our subscription boxes, (aka CSA), but instead I was inspired to relay our evolution from ordinary citizens to local food enthusiasts.

Growing up, my parents both participated in growing a very large garden, keeping bees, and making food from scratch.  They drove to Waupaca every year from their suburban home in Chicago, to buy a side of beef from a farm we can see from our current home. So, it is no surprise that we have evolved into organic farmers, but often times I have forgotten what it was like before we embraced this farm life. I take for granted all the information I know about growing vegetables, keeping them, and preparing them, about raising animals, tapping trees, and gathering wild food.  I really can’t believe it is true, but there was a time when we didn’t even know what the CSA model of farming was.

We bought our house with one acre in the suburbs the year after we were married, and we learned to grow more than just tomatoes. Each year our garden grew in size to finally it was more than 50′ by 100′. We grew a fantastic variety of vegetables, blueberry bushes, a giant patch of strawberries, a plot of rhubarb, and asparagus plants that didn’t grow big enough to harvest before we sold our house and moved.  We eventually added chickens, and bees, and tapped our own maple trees.  But, we still weren’t storing much through the winter, and we were still going to the grocery store every week for a good portion of our food. It took the birth of our first child to really motivate the journey toward better food habits.

Like a ray of sunshine...
Like a ray of sunshine…

We began to search for local milk, then milk in returnable glass bottles, local affordable cheese, and locally grown and milled grains and flours. It was not always easy and instead of going to just one store to do all my shopping, I ended up with a list of places I went to get food. When eating seasonal food, you have to be ready for each fruit ripening, searching out ‘pick your own’ farms for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. Sometimes the window is only two weeks, or less.

Amazingly, our suburban oasis just happened to have a winery two doors down, a butcher less than five minutes away, a wholesale natural food distributor and farm markets not more than 20 minutes drive, all with the local and sustainable food we needed. When Farmboy quit his office job and started his full time farm manager position at a local organic CSA vegetable farm, we were learning more than how to farm on a much bigger scale, we now gained access to unlimited vegetables! Shockingly, even some that we had never eaten before, despite considering ourselves local foodies.

Canning can seem daunting and scary at first, especially when learning from a book, but we wanted to be able to eat local food all year long, and so we simply just began with pickles and tomatoes, and apples. We graduated to jams and jellies, sauces and kraut soon after.  We bought a chest freezer for the basement, and filled it with frozen vegetables and sides of beef and pork. A good number of people we knew were amazed and inspired by our efforts towards self sufficiency, and they wanted to be part.  We started organizing bulk local food purchases with our friends and family. We invited people over to learn about our backyard maple syrup operation, and our backyard chickens. We could never have envisioned our backyard becoming a suburban farm and education center.

Still at the end of our busy days, we sat down to a meal of our own food, and it was priceless. The food I searched for was a treasure. It tasted better, and satisfied our souls. Every single dollar we’ve spent on local food showed how much we value the small farm. We believe emphatically that small scale agriculture deserves to be rewarded a fair wage, just like any other hard working person on the planet. We are now looking to our customers to show us that same appreciation for our hard work, and our dedication to rich soils, clean water, and healthy animals. This is what buying a CSA share from our new farm is about. It is more than just plopping down $500 in exchange for a box of vegetables every week. It is a choice you are making about what kind of community you want to be part of, and what kind of business you want to see flourish.

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And lastly, my one piece of advice for everyone regarding CSAs: DON’T BE AFRAID. Don’t be afraid to try new things!  Don’t be afraid to change the way things have always been. Don’t be afraid of Food. Fresh vegetables, raw, or cooked, can surprise us with great flavor and feed us in ways we least expect.

Information about our 2014 Vegetable box click here. Our registration form here.

The Money Pit.

Remember me talking about the nieghbor across the street from our farmland who wanted to sell us a house.  Well, we decided that we really just had to buy it.  We really don’t have that kind of money to pour into a century old farmhouse, but there was no denying the fact that we loved the place.  And how about the location?  If you stand on the second floor bedrooms and look East you can see our farm laid out before you.  Sorry I don’t have a photo, but the old drafty windows are all covered with opaque plastic to keep the cold weather out.

The kitchen needs work, and the bathroom.  They are really in very poor condition. Very livable by my standards, but if we are ever going to fix them at all, we feel very compelled to do it before we move in. Plus for a family that cooks and stores nearly all their food from scratch, this kitchen would be completely frustrating to work in.

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As you can see in these pictures the kitchen looks okay, but in reality it is dirty, and there is dog scratches, and chewing damage and pet smell. There is no door on the bathroom, and the toilet looks like it might fall off the wall with the next flush.  There is no shower, unless you count the one in the basement that isn’t hooked up to any drains as far as we can tell.  The fridge is clean and new, but the stove looks like it had seen better days, and the 3/4 sized dishwasher doesn’t look like it closes all the way.

bird wall paperThe four bedrooms upstairs are all nice sized, some with some ancient wall paper on them, and some of the ceilings are very old cracking plaster, not ever painted.  Some of the rooms have some unique color choices for bedroom walls, bright purple and bright blue.  Luckily, they might be the colors of walls that children would appreciate.  Two of the rooms don’t have any closets.  Oh well, who needs closets.  We are modern pioneers, right?

Let’s not forget the 24 windows that are all in need of replacing and the roof that will need to be replaced this fall as well.  And the floors that need some refinishing, and the 7.8 acres of land that is part of the property that will all need to be mowed, and cared for.  Oh, did I forget to mention that?  Not that we need 7 more acres in addition to the 40 across the street that we own, but it will be great for keeping our small flock of laying hens up near the house. And pigs. And sheep.

We aren’t really going to have time to work on this house, but somehow we are going to make time stretch or stand still or something, because in reality, this is a dream come true for us.  Better than we could have possibly imagined.  Time to pull up the bootstraps, and roll up the shirt sleeves, and get to work.

P.S.  Anyone have an antique armoire or two they want to part with?

 

 

 

Everything Falling into Place

How could it be?  How could it be that everything is falling into place?  How could we have a great buyer for our house in Pittsburgh, the 40 acres waiting quietly for us, a farmhouse across the street, a temporary rental less than a mile away, local farmers and families that are eager to help, a new, free, Waldorf school opening next fall, a local beekeeping business, neighbors that are overflowing with kindness and advice.

I am not the kind of person who believes in the super natural, but honestly, I am starting to think there might be something to this idea of guardian angels.  My friends will tell you that if anyone deserves these things in life, it would be our little family.  I am not as inclined to believe it, having a healthy dose of humility.  But the way things look, it is hard to think it was just a series of good decisions on our part.

We close on our dream farmhouse on February 1st.  We start working on the interior work as soon as we can on that day.  Then in the early Spring after we are done with our fixing up, we move in to our forever home.  The money is going to run out pretty quickly, but I am on the verge of getting a job this week.  The taxpayers and the state of Wisconsin are going to give us a little help (in the form of health insurance for the whole family) for a few months until we get going, and I am incredibly thankful for this.  It is like a soft pillow for our crash landing.

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January 6, 2013Permalink 1 Comment

Our First ‘Pop In’

I’m laughing at myself a little bit here, since I hate to admit how excited I was when a stranger pulled up into our driveway.  I had read on other blogs about how in rural places everyone sort takes care of each other and likes to know each others’ business.  Being the new people in town we should expect folks to show up at anytime for a little coffee and a chat.

So this new neighbor is named Suz, and she lives just down the road a bit.  Her kids are grown, and holds the title of grandmother among many others.  She informed us of everything she could in our short visit.  There will be much more to dish out when we return the favor and Pop In on her.

For those of you who know me well, you will know right away how much I appreciate her ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ gifts.

Welcome to the NeighborhoodHomemade bread, Homemade Peanut Butter, Currant Jam from the shores of Lake Superior, some Authentic Wisconsin cheese, and of course some brewskies, including some home brew (not pictured, ahem).

 

 

January 2, 2013Permalink 4 Comments

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Remember my last post about visiting our 40 acres during the summer of 2012?  Picture us on the road, shaking hands with the man who will be our neighbor.

Me: Hello, I’m Brigid, I’m Gene and Pat Nielsen’s Daughter.  This is my husband Ross, and we are planning on assuming ownership of this property.

Fred: I’m Fred, I’ve lived across the street for 30 some years, and I think I met your parents once in the 80s.  I like to keep an eye on the place, since it is a great place to see birds migrating.  Sometimes people come to watch the birds, and that is fine, but I like to be sure no one is causing trouble.

Me: We live in Pennsylvania now, but we are thinking that we would love to move up here, and start a small organic farm.  We would like to build a house someday, so we were looking at the land today, to try to figure out where we might put it.  We might rent a place in town until we get settled.

Fred: Really? Because and organic farm would be great across the street.  I own that house right there (pointing to the house across the street from our farm the the Steelers flag in the front yard)  and I would LOVE TO SELL IT TO YOU. (he didn’t actually shout it, I’m just capitalizing it for effect)

Me: (Pause, Blank Stare.) You’ve got to be kidding me!?

Fred: I’m serious.  It used to be my sister in laws house but she passed away last year.  I bought it so that I could control my neighbors.  I’m renting it right now.  It has a new septic system, and a brand new furnace.  But it does need a new roof pretty soon, and new windows too.  My sister in law bought it with the idea that she would fix it up and make it into a little gem.

Farmhouse. Photo credit: Fred Forseth

 

So it turns out that Fred is a self-described bleeding heart liberal and because he loves our idea for a little farm on that 40 acres, he offers us this place.  He isn’t planning on putting it on the market, so it will stay there waiting for us, until we are ready for it.

January 1, 2013Permalink 6 Comments

Whirlwind.

What a whirlwind!  Packing, Loading, House Closing, Driving.  Pittsburgh to Chicago to Waupaca back to Chicago for the holiday, then back up to Waupaca to stay.  I have a hard time remembering how everything happened, but we had so much help in Pittsburgh packing everything up, and then loading up the moving truck.  We never would have been able to do it without all of our family and our friends.  I am so thankful for the loving hands and hearts of support we received during our last week there in Pittsburgh.  We made it up to Waupaca on Tuesday afternoon a little bit later than expected due to a heavy snowstorm just as we got into Madison.  There was a U-haul in the ditch off the side of the interstate, but luckily, it wasn’t ours.  We pulled into the driveway of our rental house around 2:45 and started unloading immediately.  We had four dedicated helpers, two siblings, and two cousins.  I can’t believe it only took us about 2 hours to get all unloaded.  I really don’t think I can thank them enough for coming to our aid during this stressful time in our lives.  I’m sorry I didn’t take a moment to snap a picture of the wonderful crews.

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Our rental house is snug and cozy, the furnace works wonderfully!  The kids have a playroom that is now going to be even more filled with all our new presents.  The bedrooms are all bigger than before, and with four of them we have one room just for our crafting and sewing and painting and learning.  And one room for all three kids to room together.  The day after we moved in the kids came up with family from our stopover near Chicago.  That night mother nature laid out a welcome mat of 10 inches of fresh new snow.  Perfect for fort building and snow people.

So now, we are trying to get back to blogging here since I know most of you are wondering about our plans for the future or our farm.  Ross is attending a farming conference for beginner market gardeners in Madison in a couple of weeks.  I am working on finding some income for the family and making connections in our new town.  All the while we are working on our plans to buy a house and start our business.

I have a hard time feeling down about anything these days.  Everything is new and exciting, like the prospect of fresh snow and sledding.  There might be problems ahead if we can’t find a way to earn a living while the farm gets on its feet, so keep us in your thoughts and hold us in your hearts while we make this greatest leap of faith in ourselves and humanity.

 

 

 

December 26, 2012Permalink 5 Comments

Going Back to The Land

At some point in 2012, we had decided that we would sell our house, buy a yurt or trailer and some solar panels and put in a well and make our dream a reality on our family’s 40 acres.  Or maybe we could rent a place in town, get part time jobs, and build the farm slowly with our small amount of cash from selling our old house.  It sounds like a really great idea right?  We had already planned to take a summer trip to visit with family in July, and we would have a chance to look at the property again, and walk around and see what the land would tell us.

After driving 14 hours to get to Waupaca from Pittsburgh, we relaxed at our cottage with family for three or four days.  On Wednesday, we got the grandparents to watch the kids, and Farmboy and I went for a drive to walk around the farm.  It is 7:30am, and the air is still cool.  We park the car, get out and start to walk around.  The rocks are still there, the grass is growing.  The thistles are still everywhere.  It is quiet for the most part, there are birds in the trees, calling.  There is about 25 acres of alfalfa growing, planted by the farmer who rents the land from my parents.  The wind was blowing just a little, the trees were all a little bigger than I remember.  As we came to the highest spot where the gravel pit ends, and the tillable land begins, where we can see far to the horizon, we could here the cranes calling clearly.  Then we could see them, in groups of two or three wandering down near the wetland.

Yes there is a wetland down near the bottom of the land!  This is not decidedly unusual, but makes the place special to us.  It is a fairly large piece of water in surface area, but not in depth, and sometimes it dries up.  From looking at the satellite image, we can see clearly that the about 5% of the open water is on our land, but we have a little patch of woods that is cradles the marsh.  I can’t wait to get down to that spot and see what kind of interesting things are living there.  It will be a great spot to create a trail for classes, or a birdwatching blind.   Despite how much we wanted to walk down there and explore, we only had a short time and thought we would come back later and do that with the kids.

It was very quiet and still, only one truck had gone by on the road in the last hour or so.  I know, because I was counting.  We talked at length about where a house might go, or where an education building might sit.  I found a few piles of used broken concrete and the remnants of one very old bag of trash and its contents.  There are piles of old stumps, mostly rotten scattered about.

We headed into the woods toward the road to see what we could find.  Luckily, not too much poison ivy.  The wooded area was thick with invasives like buckthorn, but with lots of tall oaks, a couple of cottonwoods, medium sized pines, and some big maples too.  It was too steep to think about building anything in there, but lots of opportunity for a structure on the edges.  We walked through it despite the thickness.  We came out at the road, and found the corner of the property.  Looking down the road, there is a gentle slope just right for kids on bikes. *Note to self: we will need one of these:

We were walking the road, measuring the property by footsteps, when Farmboy happened to see a Steelers flag in front of the farmhouse across the street.  We thought ‘how appropriate, and maybe they will let us come over and watch the games with them’.  We joked “To bad that house isn’t for sale, it already has a Steelers flag”.  A little bit after that we see a man walking down the road toward us.  Turns out, he will be our closest neighbor, and his name is Fred.

October 26, 2012Permalink 3 Comments