Cold Climate Farms Created on a Clean Slate
COUPLE WORKING TO MAKE SMALL FARMS PROFITABLE, SUSTAINABLE
After seven years of living, studying and working in Madison, Benjamin Blohoweak and Sarah McCarty decided to return to Ben’s roots and start a sustainable small farm operation called Cold Climate Farms on 30 acres of land in southern Door County purchased from Ben’s uncle. Although Ben has an anthropology degree and Sarah has a degree in art history, they were both drawn to the local food movement.
“I took horticulture classes, too, and was involved in the Farm to Table movement with the restaurant and catering scene. We also worked at a student garden there,” Ben said. “I grew up gardening, not farming. But my grandparents grew up on the farm.”
The land they purchased in November 2014 was a clean slate; it had no buildings, driveways or any improvements. Soybeans and corn were the most recent crops grown on the land. Ben and Sarah planted a market garden on a little over an acre of the land, started the hard cider orchard with heirloom apple varieties and planted a potpourri of small fruits such as currants, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and strawberries. The couple, both age 27, is still working on their plans of just what to make Cold Climate Farms into.
“I was excited to move back here,” Ben said.
“I am Green Bay-born and raised and Sarah is from the Milwaukee area. We wanted to find some property to do our own thing … but didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, perhaps a vegetable or herbal operation,” Ben said.
“Small Farms Are Real Farms”
— Ben Blohoweak
Ben and Sarah have been working intensively planting and preparing the habitat of their farm by putting up bird houses and bee habitats. Later in the year, they will add a dozen Shropshire sheep to their farm operation. The breed originates from England as a meat and dual purpose sheep that excels on pasture feeding. And Ben plans to eventually press cider.
The key theme of Cold Climate Farms is to diversify. “We want to apply the skills we have — for example, we have worked in the hospitality industry — and the different strengths we have to work to our advantage as we would like to make our full-time income from our farm-based enterprise,” Ben said.
Ben and Sarah were selected for a Rural Enterprise Network scholarship to attend the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference in La Crosse this past winter. They soaked it all in and then brought back information to share with local growers at a mini-conference in Algoma in March. Ben presented “Small Farms Are Real Farms”, discussing the potential for small farms to be profitable and economically stable for operators versus hobby farms and mega farms. He also discussed how to utilize a small acreage farm to its full advantage through business planning and selecting the right types of crops to grow.
Cold Climate Farms uses organic practices “and a fair amount beyond that,” said Ben. They do not have plans in the near future to get certified.
“Most people are open-minded about sustainable farms that are not necessarily certified organic. With direct marketing all of our produce, it is really not a big deal,” Ben said. “We do everything in an organic style as possible. We use organic seeds, organic amendments for the soil, our pots are made from organic manure pressed into the shape of containers … it is our personal conviction, too.”
As Ben and Sarah gain and share knowledge, they continue to grow their Cold Climate Farms. The most recent addition was a barn. Ben and his father harvested trees to mill the beams to build the barn. They milled the wood at Scarboro River Barn and Lumber in De Pere.
“The whole building except for about one log is made from the logs we harvested,” Ben said. “I did the design and carpentry on the structure.” The barn, the first structure erected on the property, will be used as the central hub of the farm operation to be used for storage, sheltering animals, post-harvest processing and eventually a farm stand and artist studio.
Cold Climate Farms produce can be found at the Kewaunee County Farmers Market held at The Flying Pig, the Jacksonport Farmers Market and the Green Bay Downtown Farmers Market. Ben and Sarah also participated in the Green Bay Downtown Farmers Market Winter Market this past year offering greens, spinach and winter radishes.