einvesting in community farming

einvesting in community farming

Image Credit: Dave Mast

When people visit Amish Country, they tend to envision vast farmland spreads of rolling hills and corn, soy and many other crops.

However, the goal of Family Farm Field Days that took place Friday and Saturday, July 15-16 was to serve as a reminder there are many ways families can build a reliable and sustainable form of farming for a worthwhile income.

This year’s newest edition of Family Farm Field Days ventured to a new site at the farm of Paul and Rebecca Nisley, near Charm.

While the host family farm may have changed, what didn’t change was the purpose of the event. According to AJ Miller, planning committee member, this event remains entrenched in the promotion and education of ways farming can be a viable income for families, whether it’s on a 100-acre farm or a 1-acre lot.

“Every year we develop a theme, and this year’s was ‘the development of agriculture in today’s environment,’” Miller said. “We know in today’s environment, the challenges of farming are ever-changing, from the way people do business to the economy, banking and weather. We realize we need to keep progressing and educating people on more efficient ways they can make a living.

“Inflation is at an all-time high right now, and we are headed for more challenging times, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and for us to be able to inspire and motivate people to create farming opportunities that can be sustainable in produce and dairy is why we are here. It’s getting people back to the earth and to basic living skills than can be gratifying. That is our mission.”

Miller said in finding a new farm to serve as host for the event, the committee looks for farms that have grass-based farming on flat fields. He said because each host farm hosts for two years, the fields where the event takes place will be unable to sustain any type of crops, so the host family is compensated for the use of the land.

As with any large undertaking, there is a great deal of preparation that goes into bringing in dozens of speakers, a large host of vendors, entertainment, and the setup and tear-down for the two-day event.

Miller said preparation for the event begins in December when the committee maps out a game plan of vendors, speakers and what topics they would like to see covered. Then there are logistics that must take place as they create a blueprint.

“It’s a lot of work being done by a lot of people, and immediately after we are done, we are already talking about who we could bring in next year and what we can do differently to make it even more enjoyable and educational for people,” Miller said. “But it really gets tense the week of the event.”

He said 180 volunteers united on the Tuesday of the week of the show, setting up tents and preparing the grounds. That is a big undertaking, with the crew starting tent setup at 3 p.m. By 6 p.m. they were basically done and eating supper together.

Wednesday and Thursday were reserved for setting up tables, chairs and booths and putting the finishing touches on the speaker venues, and all the small details are finished by early Friday. By Saturday evening, volunteers swarm the place once the show is over, and in a matter of a couple of hours, everything is down and gone.

“It takes many hands to make it happen, and we are grateful to everyone who helps create a special show,” Miller said. “One thing this event does is bring like-minded people together to share and learn.”

To keep things fresh and exciting, the committee is continually working to find new speakers and events to go with some old favorites.

On Friday Marlin Eash served as the keynote speaker, telling stories about growing up on the farm and growing into ownership of a 100-acre organic dairy farm near Shipshewana, Indiana. He, his wife Doris and their eight children milk 45 Holstein Friesian cows.

According to Miller, the Eash family took over farm operations in 2005, and they became certified organic in 2009.

“He is a phenomenal speaker and a very entertaining storyteller,” Miller said of Eash.

Eash took listeners back to when he was a boy growing up on the farm, moving through some lean years, struggles and hardships and finally the success story the farm has become.

Also on Friday evening was a horse-training session by Joe Miller, a man driven by his desire to help people help their horses. Miller owns Valley Ranch and Equine Services LLC with his wife Mary Esther Miller. He drew a large crowd, who watched him work a horse that hadn’t been broken.

A third Friday evening demonstration was presented by the Baltic Fire Department, who provided a mock crash and a fire-safety demonstration by presenting a controlled burn on a small structure.

Saturday was when the meat of the event took place. Presentations on raising market lambs, start-up farms, gardening, a grass milk panel, raising fruit, equine health nutrition, beekeeping, getting creative with spices and herbs, building enthusiasm for the farm in children, gardening, a ladies homemaking panel discussion, timber farming, knife making, raising kune pigs, hog butchering, nature in a woodlot pond, pond management, monarch butterflies, easy ways to food plotting, a timber walk, trapping and luring basics for deer, a nature walk, and a butterfly walk highlighted the seminar. In addition, the event featured a timber frame being erected.

Then there was the lineup of vendors, who were set up under four large tents. The vendors brought in anything even slightly farm related.

“We had more vendors than we have ever had before,” Miller said. “I think that, along with our speakers, leads to having a terrific event. The community has loved supporting the vendors, visiting with them in a relaxed atmosphere.”

He said following up with the vendors is important to the committee and the vendors, and building the relationships and learning what they would like to see and experience at the show is always something they take to heart.

That has been the same for the speakers, all of whom are passionate about what they have to offer.