Today, we were featured in the local Leader Telegram Country Today paper! I’ll include the copy below. If you’d like to see the original article, I’ll attach link below. It’s a short piece, but we’re so appreciative for the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing here! Enjoy!
Getting a fresh start: Dunn County farmers find connections to put themselves on path to success
Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 11:27 am
The Langworthys, who have owned their 153-acre farm just north of Wheeler for a year, would like you to see how their flock of Coopworth sheep — and their guard llamas — are treated and discuss with you their growing practices and what it takes to create a whole-system design for a farm.
As the Langworthys have found, these connections benefit not only the consumer, but the farmer as well.
“We’ve met so many great people, had so many great mentors along the way to where we are now,” Lauren said, mentioning a retired farmer and neighbor who has stopped in to offer advice and introductions to others in the community and a friend who brought his toolbox to their farm-warming party. “I can’t imagine trying to start a farm without any help from the community.”
The couple, both 28, started Blue Ox Farm — which became Blue Ox Organics with the move to the new farm — on rented land near Mondovi in 2012. They began by selling produce at Just Local Food Cooperative in Eau Claire and Menomonie Market Food Co-op, but with a limited amount of land and uncertainty surrounding the future with the rental, it didn’t take long before they were looking to expand, either through a long-term land rental agreement or by buying a farm of their own.
“It’s really hard to do organic produce, let alone whole-system farming when you are on rented land,” Lauren said. “It was a long-term plan to remain farmers. We just needed to figure out how to make that happen.”
It was through connections with their produce buyer at Just Local Food that the Langworthys landed an unusual opportunity for young farmers looking to buy land.
“One of their customers approached the produce buyer saying they had money they would like to invest in an organic farm,” Lauren said. “(The investors) essentially posed the question, ‘Do you know of anyone?’ And they said, ‘We happen to know of someone.’ ”
After several months of making sure both parties knew what they were getting involved in and going over the Langworthys’ extensive business plan, the investors helped them buy their Wheeler property.
“They didn’t invest in our operation on blind faith,” Caleb said. “We had significant experience in organic production, as well as having taken the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings course.”
But the decision to invest in the farm gave the Langworthys the opportunity they needed to grow their business.
“They were able to get the property off the market while we worked with (the Farm Service Agency) to get our loans organized,” Lauren said. “They gave us a nice opportunity to get started.”
“To be able to transition the land into organic production would have been really difficult to do otherwise and pay the bills.”
Finding the Wheeler property allowed the Langworthys to quickly secure several organic certifications. Land from the Conservation Reserve Program and fallow fields, including their pastures and hayground, were certified right away, and the couple is now in the process of certifying several other fields. They will have certified organic produce in June.
In their year on the new property, the Langworthys have increased vegetable production at Blue Ox by about 25 percent, hayed about 40 acres, cover cropped about 30 acres, added fencing and a high tunnel, bought their breeding stock of Coopworth sheep and machinery and plowed up what will become the extension of the garden.
“This year, we’ll be roughly the same size (as 2013), then next year we’ll double our production,” Caleb said. “That is part of our plan to grow to a scale we could make a living at while keeping our initial investments relatively low. And what that takes is time.”
The couple is working to get their greenhouse up this winter and they plan to quadruple their flock of sheep in the next four years.
“We had always planned on livestock, and we had gone back and forth between beef and sheep,” Caleb said.
They settled on Coopworth sheep — a dual-purpose wool and meat breed — after custom grazing the breed and serving some internships under Hidden Valley Farm & Woolen Mill near Manitowoc, where they bought their flock.
“I really took to the sheep that we were custom grazing,” Lauren said. “When we were looking at this property, we looked at the numbers for beef. We felt that to do them grass-based, we would have to weather a two-year cycle with them. The sheep ended up making more sense for our business plan.”
“Ruminant animals fit into our idea of a whole-system design of a farm pretty well,” Caleb said.
“They’ll really help us with fertility, especially in the garden, and bring back fallow land into production,” Lauren said.
In addition to selling produce to co-ops in Menomonie and Eau Claire, Blue Ox Organics will offer pastured lamb and wool, crop elderberries for wineries and an elderberry cooperative forming in Minnesota, possibly sell hay and will be starting a community-supported-agriculture program.
“We’ll give a newsletter with recipes along with updates with what’s going on on the farm,” Caleb said. “We think of CSA as a way to include the community on what we are doing here.”
“The ability to visit the farm and see that the sheep are happy and healthy and on grass is one of the benefits to knowing your farmer,” Lauren said. “It gives them a way to get to know their farmer and where their food comes from.
“And Caleb’s a really good cook, so I anticipate the recipes will be great.”
In about a year, the Langworthys expect their first lamb crop. They plan to deliver whole and half lambs and offer a possible CSA add-on.
“We’re really excited to set up a whole-system farm,” Caleb said. “We feel like after a long search, we’ve found the right one.
“We feel incredibly grateful to have people willing to help us build equity. We feel like it is a worthwhile investment in ourselves and our future. It takes a lot of drive to do this, but it’s our passion.”
Original Country Today Article: http://www.thecountrytoday.com/farm/article_e4c98528-76f7-11e3-b093-001a4bcf887a.html