Couple gets fresh start with organic farm
Posted: Sunday, January 5, 2014 10:07 pm | Updated: 1:37 pm, Mon Jan 6, 2014.
WHEELER — Caleb and Lauren Langworthy of Blue Ox Organics would like you to visit their farm.
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 discovered, these connections benefit not only consumers but farmers 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 a friend who brought his toolbox to the couple’s 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 longterm 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 getting to know the investors and making sure both parties knew what they were getting involved in, the investors helped the Langworthys 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.”
Plans to grow
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.”
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 hay fields, 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, raised cover crops on another 30 acres, added fencing and a high tunnel, bought breeding stock and machinery and plowed up what will become a garden extension.
“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.”
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 start a community-supported-agriculture program.
Jackson is regional editor for The Country Today, a rural life newspaper published by the Eau Claire Press Co. He can be reached at 715-833-9275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link to the original Leader Telegram Article: http://www.leadertelegram.com/news/front_page/article_06ea4252-7688-11e3-a6aa-0019bb2963f4.html