One of the most often questions that I am asked is why I got into farming. I have been known to respond: “Insanity!” or “Mental Illness!” Many of you have hear me say that, when I lived in England, that I fell in love with sheep and wanted to learn to play the bagpipes, but my mother told me that sheep smelled and the bagpipes were too noisy. In articles written about the farm, it sounds like I just woke up one morning and decided to farm. With September 4th, the tenth anniversary of getting the keys to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) Countryside Initiative (CI) historic Garvey Farm, I thought it was time to reflect and seriously answer the question.
I have always been a horseman; my father had me on a horse at 18 months old. While equestrians aren’t considered farmers by many, I grew up learning about care for livestock and animal husbandry. My paternal grandfather was a gentleman farmer. There was a three acre orchard; berries growing around the pool; and a greenhouse and gardens with fresh vegetables. We were sent out to pick our dinner. There was enough to feed the entire extended family. I remember making what seemed like a never ending supply of apple sauce.
Jumping forward to 2006, I was a single mother of nine year old twin boys and a newborn baby girl. We, of course, had horses and, with the arrival of Erika, had out grown a two bedroom house. I was working as an environmental planner and my scope of work often included agricultural preservation. Sitting at a farmland meeting in Boston Store in the CVNP, I introduced myself to a lovely woman sitting next to me who worked for the CVNP in charge of the CI program. During lunch, she told me about the Garvey Farm. That was the moment. I returned home to read the Request for Proposal (RFP), went out and walked the property, and spent six months writing the proposal. Sheep and the orchard were obvious choices. The spices came from the idea of growing what you love it eat. The Spicy Lamb Farm was chosen as the name as it sounded like a pub name that you wouldn’t forget.
It hasn’t been easy as I had no mentor at first. I bought sheep from someone who sold me the worst of his flock. I had foot rot, mastitis, prolapse, spider legs, et al. I had to cut my losses, get rid of the flock, and start again. I joined Ohio Sheep Improvement Association and sought out classes and mentoring in the US, UK, AUS, and NZ.
I had the same problem with the orchard. I had no experience in orchard architecture and trusted the wrong person to sell me soils. It was another huge loss. So I will be starting again using BioBlend this time, having sought out the assistance of a soil scientist.
Farming isn’t easy. There was the barn fire and the extravagant costs of rebuilding which destroyed my family’s economic security. Coyotes, black vultures, and poachers plague me but there seems to be nothing I can do about them. And, farming in the CVNP is like living in a glass house. The “fluffies” harass you for selling meat. Park visitors sometimes do not understand that they don’t have access to your private home.
Lambing is hard work but it brings so much joy to us. Our ewes have great maternal instincts and knock out their twins without assistance. Dorsets have been a great breed for us.
The Cuyahoga Valley Sheep Dog Trials are another highlight in the year. Each October, I marvel at the handlers and dogs that compete. I am so honored to host the trial, our May clinic before the Bluegrass, and Saturday training and practices. I still can’t believe our trainer drives three and a half hours each way down from Michigan each weekend to teach. And, our many volunteers and sponsors have become part of our farm family; and we love the comradery.
Posted on Tue, August 8, 2017
by Laura DeYoung