There is never a dull moment at Shady Grove Farm, located on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. Their two kids plus veggies, honeybees, laying hens, and sheep keep Randy and Libby Buchler pretty well occupied; throw in a court case brought by the local municipality over zoning and the right to farm and you can see why describing them as 'busy' would be a bit of an understatement.
What is unique or special about your farm? The most unique aspect of our farm is that we are a legal farm located on 6.5 acres in a "lake residential" district. We utilize permaculture practices and have a diverse operation on small acreage.
What do you produce? Do you have a specialty? We produce a variety of vegetables and berries. This will be our 2nd year with honey bees. We keep a flock of 7-10 wool sheep for Libby's business, Woolymama. She creates nuno-felted skirts, dresses, wrist warmers, scarves, hats as well as braided, felted, hand-sewn wool rugs. We also keep approximately 150 laying hens. Grateful Eggs...laid by hippy "chicks" is our specialty item!
What are your markets? We sell to the local food co-op, at our farmers market and on farm/consumer direct sales.
Who farms with you? We are a family farm. Myself, my wife Libby and our 2 children Hala (11) and Teyan (8). We also have volunteers.
How long have you been farming? What made you want to start? We have been farming since 2002. We got into farming by simply trying to live a self-sustaining way of life. Each year we would continue adding a little to our production. Then, in 2008, I (Randy) sustained a spine injury while working for a tree company. This disability has kept me from being able to work a full time job away from home. So, we added another greenhouse (26 x 48) to be able to grow more food commercially to help supplement my disability income. We are finding that the rewards of living the farm life, while homeschooling our children, are endless! We are rich, we just don't have any money! :-)
Talk about the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a farmer. The biggest challenge we have faced as farmers has been dealing with our local municipality over "zoning issues". We recently finished a 40 month long dispute with our township. After 3 years of trying to work with them to get zoning up to speed with today's economic challenges, they decided to take us to circuit court. With the help of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and a local attorney, we were able to use the Michigan Right to Farm Act as our defense and were the recipients of a favorable ruling to allow our farm operation to continue!
What advice would you give to farmers just starting out? When we talk to people that want to farm or are beginning farmers, we think it is most important to stress starting out small! Starting small allows farmers to dial in skills which in turn makes it easier to expand an operation. This also allows for acquiring the proper tools and equipment needed to get the job(s) done and done right!
What was your most positive farming experience? Our most positive farming experiences come through teaching local school children when they come to Shady Grove for field trips. We teach them how to make soil blocks, which we have them plant seeds in (usually organic peacevine cherry tomatoes). Once these seeds germinate and grow to a height of 6-8 inches, we deliver the plants to the school for the kids to take home and grow their own food! They get to collect eggs, hand feed oats to the sheep, hold baby chickens, see honey bees working through the viewing window on our top bar hive as well as see our wool being turned into yarn while Libby shows them how to use a spinning wheel. Overall, the kids leave here with the idea of farming and farming being fun.
Describe a change you’ve made to improve operations or address challenges on the farm. One of the biggest changes we have made is becoming MAEAP Verified. This is a voluntary program through the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development which proves that a farm is operating in an environmentally friendly manner. This recent verification also helped prove in the court of law that we were compliant with the Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices set forth to be protected by the Michigan Right to Farm Act. This was a lengthy and time consuming process but well worth the effort.
Why did you get involved with CNG? We like having the "grassroots alternative to organic" and believe that CNG maintains a level of integrity behind the required standards. This is an affordable certification for most small farms without all of the "jumping through hoops". We also like the fact that it is not a gov't affiliated program. Farmers certifying each other also brings us together and creates a stronger farming community. It gives us the opportunity to learn from one another and develop stronger farming practices as a community.
Favorite vegetable: It is hard to pick just one, so I will give you a few. We love to grow different varieties of peppers, tomatoes and eggplant! We do LOTS of canning and food preservation and these 3 (along with our nearly 1000 garlic plants) are included in many canned items!
Favorite season: around this farm, our favorite season is summer! Food is growing everywhere, we are able to harvest fresh food daily for meals, and after a day of "playing" in the dirt, it is more than refreshing to take a swim in the very clean, spring fed Johnson Lake that awaits us daily on the other side of our home!
What plans or hopes do you have for your farm in the future?
Future plans and hopes for Shady Grove Farm U.P. include continuing to educate children and our community on the importance of farming and creating a local food system. This education is to include the importance of using non GMO seeds and non GMO grain for the animals while incorporating environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices. People need to understand what their money is supporting when they purchase food from a local farm or grain from a local mill or feed store, for example. We feel it is part of our calling/duty to help spread this awareness throughout our community.
It is also our goal to remain 100% transparent in our farming practices and operation. We allow people to come for farm visits, volunteer opportunities, field trips, etc. We are proud of our way of life, proud of our Certified Naturally Grown certification and proud to be Farmers!
**Shady Grove Farm U.P. was recently featured in two articles on Upper Peninsula's Second Wave - the first mostly focused on our egg business, and the second about food labels and what CNG means to us.