North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Artisan Farming

(Traditional Folk Song)

O, I like to rise when the sun she rises

Early in the mornin’

I like to hear them small birds singin’

Merrily upon their laylum

And hurrah for the life of the country folk

And to ramble in the new-mown hay.

Everyone who’s lived it knows that “the simple life” isn’t so simple.  It’s getting up early and working late.  It’s getting down and dirty with the animals and in the garden.  It’s always having more things on the “to-do list” for the day than can be accomplished in a week’s time.  But small-scale artisan farming brings a direct connection with the land and all its creatures that is hard to reach from the office or even inside the air-conditioned cab of a highly computerized tractor.  It’s knowing the shifting of the seasons by the change in the smell of the wind, of learning to read the emotions of livestock by their body language, and of finding sheer joy in the summer’s first ripe tomato.

In the spring we sow and harvest mow

That’s how the seasons round they go

But of all the times to choose I may

For to ramble in the new-mown hay.

Artisan farming has many historical role models.  Thomas Jefferson, who championed the notion that our national backbone was in agriculture, devoted considerable time to diversifying his plantation farm—trying new cropping methods and developing new varieties.  His view of American culture and landscape stands in stark contrast with the Hamiltonian belief in urban growth and the power of industry, the latter of which has grown to dominate our society for at least the past 200 years.  Then in the 1900’s, there was Wendall Barry, who as a philosopher and essayist merged the concerns of environmentalism with a growing movement towards agrarianism—sparking a “back-to-the-land” movement that empowered many to reclaim heritage farming methods, breeds, and varieties.  Today, we have locally focused, pasture-based advocates like Joel Salatin, who demonstrate how small-scale, diversified farming can make a substantial positive environmental and community impact.

In the summertime we work the land

With sweaty brow and calloused hand

But in the warming light of the longest day

We’ll go ramble in the new-mown hay.

There is an Old English saying when a bride is getting married—“Something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue”—and such a phrase might also aptly describe artisan farming.  On our farm, a 1950’s-era tractor may be parked alongside a PVC “chicken tractor,” which is a portable pen for pasturing poultry.  (Though, calling it a chicken tractor is a slightly misleading term…it doesn’t actually involve a motor or the farm tractor.)  A chicken coop may be cleaned out with a shovel and an old manure spreader, while the barn gets cleaned with a miniature skid-steer.  Heritage methods are updated with contemporary understanding of crop rotations and pest cycles, and the mix feels antique yet progressive at the same time.

In the autumn time when the leaves do fall

Then it’s apple pickin’ time for all

But when the cider’s pressed and it’s stored away

We’ll go ramble in the new-mown hay.

Artisan farming is diversified, involving complex cycles and systems that nurture each other.  The pigs root up a new patch of garden, eating roots and weeds and working up the sod.  The next year, the space is a vibrantly emerald squash patch.  In the winter, when some of the squashes start to rot in storage, they’re taken out to the chickens, which devour the seeds and pulp gleefully.  The chickens lay chocolate-brown eggs that help give the farmer energy in the morning, and the manure from the chickens goes out to fertilize the fields.  The field grows hay, which is harvested for the sheep to eat in the winter when there’s no grass.  The sheep offer meat in the fall and wool in the spring, and as they graze the lush pasture during the growing season, they naturally scatter their own manure in the fields.  The pastures are shared with the chickens and turkeys, which scratch away and break up pest life cycles, and the processes of permaculture keep going.  The farmer serves as the orchestra conductor—and the elbow grease—that keeps the system flowing as smoothly as possible.

In the wintertime when skies are gray

We hedge and we hitch our time away

But in the summertime when the sun shines gay

We’ll go ramble in the new-mown hay.

When I think about artisan farming, I also think about all the stories.  There are stories from my grandparents and their times growing up on small farms in central Illinois.  There are stories from last summer’s terrible thunderstorm that hit just as we were bringing in the last loads of hay.  And there are stories about the latest adventures with our cantankerous guard donkey named Belle.  Stories find a way to connect the past with the present, heritage with hopes for the future.  They give us a way to look back and laugh at moments on the farm that were anything but funny when we were right in the middle of all the action, and they give us a chance to remember the kind words and deeds of others we’ve met along the journey.  Artisan farmers are often happy to share stories at the farmer’s market or over a cup of steaming coffee—offering these stories is part of passing on the knowledge, experience, and appreciation of this life choice as a contemporary agrarian.

And I like to rise when the sun she rises

Early in the mornin’

I like to hear them small birds singin’

Merrily upon their laylum

And hurrah for the life of the country folk

And to ramble in the new-mown hay.

Do you know your local, artisan farmers?  This week, take some time to learn some of their stories as we enjoy the bountiful harvest of the summer season.  When you offer a moment to listen, I can almost guarantee that you’ll be invited to come on down to the farm sometime and share in a little slice of the simple life.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café.

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