A herd of sheep graze at Maple Valley Farm. Photo by
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
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
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 years
garden. Photo courtesy Larry Howard