Maple Valley Farm
     
Home         About Us         Events        Products        Links        Contact Us       Order Online

A herd of sheep graze at Maple Valley Farm. Photo by Bill Weaver

A herd of sheep graze at Maple Valley Farm. Photo by Bill Weaver

Why We Love Our Farm by Bill Weaver Published 5/16/09 by Bloomington Herald-Times Homes. Used with permission.

“We kind of stumbled into this,” Larry Howard says of his family’s Maple Valley Farm in the rolling hills northwest of Bloomington. “We’d looked for fifteen years when we saw the ad for the place,” adds his wife, Tina. “We had always loved this area. It’s a wonderful community. Families have been here for generations. To a lot of people it’s not a farming friendly—or developing friendly—piece of property, but we liked the hills and the creek. We thought, ‘Wow, it’s our own little park,’ our own private hiking place.” They didn’t consider farming the property at first but, as Larry says, “We didn’t want to bring in a tractor to keep it nice. I thought we should have something we could eat as well as graze so we got a few sheep. We decided to rotate them around the pasture each day to get fresh grass. We started off being sheep farmers and ended up being grass farmers. When your animals are eating high quality food the meat is going to be high quality in terms of nutrition.

The chilckens’ moveable enclosure protects them from predators. Photo by Bill Weaver

The chilckens’ moveable enclosure protects them from predators. Photo by Bill Weaver

Our meat has more texture, is delicious, and is healthy for you. “We made a decision the first year that we weren’t going to do all the pharmaceuticals,” he continues. “We were going to try to develop a native genetics that was fine-tuned to this place. It’s tough,” he laughs, relishing the challenge. “You have to improvise, think on your feet, come up with solutions quickly when stuff happens but our outlook is long. We’re doing this, in a lot of respects, for our children.” The children, Grant, Elena, and Ethan, are at the center of the household, involved in every aspect of the family’s life. “Tina decided she wanted to stay home and focus on educating our children and I did too. We’re not making a huge amount of money but it’s more about lifestyle than anything. I can work out of the house with my engineering and software work and be involved with training them.” The children are enthusiastic about helping with the animals. They each have their special projects and responsibilities, which they take very seriously. “I like to call it business boot camp for five year olds,” Larry smiles, “because they get to learn everything from the production cycle to the working end. We call it the Howard family enterprise. There are a lot of different things we can do. Farming is the anchor.”

Grant (3) and Elena (5) pose by one of the maple syrup collection spiles in 2008. Photo courtesy Larry Howard

All the animals are range fed, without insecticides, hormones, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or pharmaceutical anthelmintics. “We decided this grass-based approach was a lot better,” Howard says. “Better for the animals, better for the land, better for us in terms of what we’re trying to do for our children, and better for our health.” Things worked out so well that they decided to make a business of it. “There’s a lot of potential for doing multiple things with the same small piece of land,” Larry says. “We started with sheep, now we’re raising broiler chickens; Elena collects eggs from our laying hens every day. I get to mess around with beekeeping, honey production, and maple syrup. Grant’s the mechanic. Ethan raises Silver-fox rabbits. We started turkeys last year. It’s neat to see how many things you can do to get a synergy going.” “There are a lot of people who want this food and not a lot of people who provide it,” Tina adds. “People don’t know where to look on either end. There’s demand and there’s supply but it’s a challenge to make the connection.” Acceptance of organic farming among traditional farmers has been slow. “It’s ironic that there’s not more of an acceptance among older people of ecologically sound farming,” he says. “I think it goes hand-in-hand with family farming. It’s going to take time for people to see that industrial, factory-style farming doesn’t have a place for families. I hope that more people will be willing to go back to the older way.” Larry sees the coming year as critical for their business. “We had a lot of new customers last year. The question is how many will come back. People say that they care about local food and supporting local family farming. They should commit to come and see how their food is being produced.” The Howards welcome guests to their farm. Call (812) 876-5023 for details or visit their website at . “I’ll talk people’s leg off about pasture-based farming and what it does for the environment and for health,” Larry says smiling, but serious. “I’m for trying the hard thing first and then backing off if it doesn’t work. I’d rather begin with the ideal.”

Ethan, age 8 with his new friend the Boer goat. Photo courtesy Larry Howard Grant, 4, finishing up some work in last year’s garden. Photo courtesy Larry Howard

Ethan, age 8 with his new friend the Boer goat. Photo courtesy Larry Howard

Grant, 4, finishing up some work in last year’s garden. Photo courtesy Larry Howard