Adding Value to the Farm
In 1997, Nancy Aspelund of Aspelund Family Farm won a Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE) grant that she and her husband, Dean, called “Diversifying a Small Crop Farm with Hogs and Poultry on Pasture, Apple Trees and Plums.” Before the grant, the Aspelund’s dreamed about how to make their farm a more interesting and profitable place to live. “Dean and I started talking and found out about the SARE grant. We started adding things to the project that were important to us and that would add value to the farm,” recalls Nancy. The grant was modest, $1,531.00, but Dean and Nancy matched it with labor and equipment costs and were well on their way to their new farm plan.
The Aspelunds began thinking about transitioning their farm over to organic farming primarily for environmental reasons. As they learned more about organics and became involved in local feedlot issues, they added livestock. They raise their livestock free-range and humanely. Choosing a combination of livestock and trees to raise on their farm, Nancy says, “I hoped to raise awareness in our area of sustainable agriculture, too, and maybe show what it is all about… it just seemed to benefit our:
- the animals
- the environment
- customers in our community
It’s been a slow but rewarding process for the Aspelunds and they have learned a lot. Through the project, they raised hogs and poultry on pasture and planted apple trees and native American plums in and around the pasture. An electric yellow tape keeps the pigs from eating the plum trees that border the pasture. “They respect the tape,” Nancy says. “The trees are perfectly safe.” As for their turkeys and chickens, “they’re out in the fresh air and can eat all the green grass and bugs they want to.”
“We learned so much more than we thought what we started out to. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but our project was a low-input one. We wanted to get into hogs the low-input way and wedid,” states Nancy. “We won’t know too much about the fruit for a couple of years,” she notes. The Aspelunds have planted the four-acre pasture where the pigs and chickens are housed with:
* red and white clover,
* tough fescu,
* perennial rye and
* Kentucky bluegrass
as part of their project.
“Now we have cleaned out and modified part of another old barn for farrowing in the early spring and winter, and we are planning on adding another small pasture between the two hog barns. This project has been a springboard to other things for us, like the food handler’s license and new marketing ideas. I hope other people in our area realize there are other ways to raise livestock for money that are actually quite pleasant to do,” reflects Nancy.
A Humane Approach
The Aspelund Family Farm raises all their meat without antibiotics or growth hormones in the food and they use few chemicals on the feed crops. They raise their animals humanely, “with lots of sunshine and fresh air.” The Aspelund’s keep “the animals’ natural tendencies in mind and provide, to the best of our ability, housing that allows them to express those natural tendencies.” The Aspelund’s have their meat processed at local lockers so they can sell to local customers. Currently, the Aspelund Family Farm is working toward organic certification.
A Family Operation
Nancy says they spend a lot of time making phone calls and advertising to find unconventional markets where they hope to receive better than premium prices for their goods. “People are very satisfied with the taste of our pork, chicken and turkey. And we find it gratifying to connect with people who are trying to tread lightly by buying from organic, sustainable farmers like us,” adds Nancy.
Running the Aspelund Family farm is a family operation. The Aspelunds three children help care for the animals, create and repair pens and equipment, and learn from their parents’ successes and mistakes. The Aspelund’s open their farm to the local community through hosting field days and often meet other interested neighbors and farmers through field days and meetings throughout the state. The Aspelunds are inspired by the new direction their farm is taking and work toward their belief in sustaining their family, farm, and community.