When you think of a “farm,” what comes to mind? A huge factory farm pumping out millions of gallons of milk each day (and nearly equal amounts of manure!)? Maybe a beautiful meadow and cattle grazing in the Swiss Alps as it was so fondly immortalized in Heidi or The Sound of Music? How about the small family farm where you bought milk and sweet corn each year?
There is something especially unique with farms; none of them are identical. Because of such a wide scope of what “farm” can mean, I think it only proper to begin with a short study into what our farm, ParKelm Farm, is.
Located between Princeton and Green Lake in beautiful Green Lake County, WI, the 108 acres we currently steward have been in the family since the early 1870s. Two generations of Kelms ran the farm until Mr. Fred Kelm passed in 1963. From that point, a local farming family ran the land until we took possession in 2012. As beginning farmers, it was an uphill battle: there were no usable buildings, driveway, power, water or fences on the acreage; we had to build everything.
The first year on the farm had its difficulties; trying to keep animals where we wanted them, carting water back and forth, getting stuck in the mud – all while trying to build a shed, harvest multiple crops and build fencing. Come to think of it, not much has changed since then…
Starting with 3 Icelandic ewes and one ram we have grown our flock to 35 breeding ewes, and we are expecting over 60 lambs this spring. These unique sheep provide hours of amusement, work and frustration along with plentiful wool and tasty meat. Our herd of small-frame Herefords began with 8 animals: this summer we will have 11 cow-calf pairs and 3 steers – each with a completely interesting personality and demeanor – and all willing to gobble up fresh green pasture.
We operate our land following organic principles, striving to improve our soil health and tilth. By utilizing cover-crops, multiple-species diverse plantings and long rotations, the poor soils we inherited are beginning to prosper without chemical or synthetic additions. More readily visible is the great increase in natural wildlife that we have seen over the last 3 years; bees, bugs, birds and small vermin populations have exploded.
Our animals are completely grass-fed, using an intensive/mob grazing management system. In English, that translates as allowing the animals a fresh patch of lush pasture every day, attempting to micro-mimic the grazing pattern of the great bison herds that once roamed North America. By placing the sheep just in front of the cows, they can devour the tastiest clover buds and leaves while the cows preferably munch on the leftover grasses and stems.
The products from our farm - lamb, beef and wool - are sold directly to customers through local Farmers’ Markets in Green Lake and Oshkosh as well as through friends. (Usually right alongside the yummy yogurt from Sugar River Dairy!!)
So, now you know a little about our farm. No, we don’t produce the most food. No, we don’t make the most money. But we love what we do, have animals that tolerate us being around and someday the soil will be in great shape.
Here’s to farming!