My one piece of advice to aspiring farmers

Planting buckwheat and clover with my dad.

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

I’ve never had a job so rooted in place as farming, and I’ve certainly never known a career that combined proactivity with futility so beautifully. For the most part, the calendar sets us, we don’t set our calendar. We always aim to cut first crop hay on the 15th of May, but as we get closer and closer to that date, we invariably surrender our best laid plans and spend the rest of the summer doing our best to keep up with the swirling clouds and make the best decisions we can along the way. Each year has its spectacular challenges, humbling setbacks, and plenty of room for improvement.

Now that the leaves are falling and a killing frost looms, we have our eye on the next season: winter. Perhaps in a few years, winter will become more of the reflective and expectant season it is intended to be, but for the next few years, I’m sure it will be as busy as any other season. This winter we have a daunting to-do list: fencing and treeline management; weaning calves; building our grain cleaning and processing facility; developing expertise in grain cleaning and dehulling and establishing a business around it; beginning to market our flour and grain to bakeries, restaurants, distillers and brewers in the region; and creating a grain and flour CSA to reach our own rural community (shameless plug: send an email to meadowlarkorganics@gmail.com, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop about how to get our flour). Oh, and we’re expecting our second child in February. (more…)

Make hay while the sun shines (and market grain while the toddler sleeps)

By Halee Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

Hello! Halee Wepking here, trying to do what I can to help out my husband, John, who is currently turning over windrows of hay that was rained on yesterday in hopes that the predicted storm will miss us tonight and they can bale dry hay tomorrow. As they say, make hay when the sun shines, and get to work when your toddler’s napping!

I don’t spend much time on a tractor these days, but I have been spending most of our son’s naps working on our packaging copy, marketing plan, and coordinating a few wholesale orders for a local grocery store, catering company, and independent bakers who use our flour. Though we’re just a few years into growing small grains, we have made many valuable connections with bakers, larger retail stores, distilleries, and grain buyers. (more…)

Organic farming is freedom

Halee and Henry posing on the Oliver.

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

This spring has been marked by extremes: long periods of frequent rain and then weeks without a drop. Our soils have plenty of room for improvement, but I am grateful to be farming ground that is relatively balanced and has a decent level of organic matter, which allows our soils to receive moisture during heavy rains and hold that water during droughts. Without cover cropping and crop rotation we’d certainly be losing this battle.

For me, organic farming is freedom: freedom to choose the way we farm. In a conventional system, nearly everything is prescribed for you: when and what to plant, when to spray, what to spray, where to sell your grain, how much your grain is worth. You may decide to use cover crops or no-till equipment, but beyond that, conventional grain farming is relatively devoid of choice and full of expenses that we in the organic world do not rely on to the same degree. In order to succeed, we need to listen to the world around us. Nature has no shareholders, needs no profits. Given the choice of listening to nature or listening to the businesses that exist, fundamentally, to make ever-increasing profits off of farmers, I’ll listen to nature every time. (more…)

Heart and Grain: When oak leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears

 

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

Last year, after we harvested our wheat, we planted a diverse cover crop mix designed for forage and biomass production. It was a rainy summer, and we were getting close to the date when seeding this mix wouldn’t be as effective since the days were getting shorter. I was on my last field, after just refilling the grain drill with seed, and as I passed through a grass waterway, my right grain drill tire (a very specialized tire, of course!) was completely punctured by a 20-year-old hay rake that was lying hidden in the grass. Rains were imminent, and I was stuck. Walking back to the farm would have taken me 30 minutes. I called Paul, who was working in the shop. (more…)

Heart and Grain: A not-so-restful winter

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

As anyone who has had a garden can attest, buying seed is one of the most exciting activities of the farming year. Seed-buying is always full of hope and promise—nothing has had the opportunity to go wrong… yet. But this winter was so busy, seed buying really got away from us.  (more…)

Heart and Grain: Meet John and Halee

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

In late January, a surprise calf was born on our farm. Out of context, this may seem like a happy accident, even a bonus. However, it was still mid-winter in Wisconsin, and we were unprepared. Calving is a regular event in a beef herd, and we had been looking forward to our first calving, but we weren’t expecting any births until late April, when the weather would be warmer and the cows would all be on good green grass. (more…)