Drew and Jessie
We began our journey to owning a farm while living in the Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore City. Drew and a friend built a strongly fortified coop (read: overkill!) and 8 baby chicks were purchased and raised in the front bedroom. (Lesson #1: Never keep chicks in your house. Very messy endeavor!) Five months later, the girls began laying and after a very short while we wondered why we hadn’t gotten chickens sooner. Delicious, free-range eggs from happy hens right from the backyard: we were hooked!
That first flock of hens became an inspiration of sorts. Drew had always wanted to own a restaurant and be his own boss. After reading the book You Can Farm by Joel Salatin, a new dream began to take shape. What if instead of a restaurant (long hours away from your family and intense start-up costs), we tried our hand at farming, specifically at raising pastured animals? We had already become mindful of wanting to know where OUR food came from, and saw that lots of other people were concerned about that too. (Lesson #2: Don’t watch Food Inc. or read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan if you don’t want to do some serious thinking about the food industry!) We could start small, raise some chickens for our freezer, and see where it led.
Of course, that would be a little tricky to do in the heart of Baltimore City, so it seemed a move was on the horizon. City life was awesome in many ways, but having a quieter, more peaceful environment, closer to nature and the water felt like a good choice, too. We were willing to give it a go, despite not knowing exactly how it would work out or where we would end up. We made a five-year plan to move, but then five years turned into two, and after only a few months of looking, we found a property in Cecil County that seemed like it could work. It wasn’t perfect for what we wanted, but it was affordable, in a great location, and felt right. And in the summer of 2015 we packed everything up with our two daughters in tow and drove an hour north and across the beautiful Chesapeake City bridge to our new home.
We quickly fell in love with the quiet pace of life on the Eastern shore and slowly began the process of turning our property into a farm. We began clearing land by hand. (Lesson #3: A good chainsaw (or four) is worth its weight in gold.) We ordered a new batch of birds; 75 seemed like an army back then! We refurbished an old aluminum shed to serve as a bigger coop which was destroyed a few months later when a massive tree fell over in a storm. (Lesson #4: Birds are VERY resilient: we only lost a few in that catastrophe!)
In the 3 years following, we have built 2 stronger and bigger coops, purchased many lengths of electric fencing, and grown our flock to almost 300 layer hens. We built a special brooder house to help keep our baby chicks happy and healthy until they are ready to go out to pasture. In the summer of 2017 we began in earnest to raise and harvest pastured meat birds. That summer we processed approximately 330 birds. We were also able to do a nice batch of turkeys for Thanksgiving. We also adopted two cute and ornery goats that do a bang up job of clearing all sorts of land. (Lesson #5: Goats do not eat tin cans, but they will try to open any door!) 2017 also saw our first go at selling our products at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market in Baltimore which was highly gratifying in all sorts of ways. You will find us there this summer (2018) as well!
In three years we have also grown our business by selling our chicken and eggs to three restaurants in Baltimore as well as a plethora of individual customers. We have plans to expand our enterprise to include pigs in the Spring. We will also continue to raise pastured chickens and keep our layer flock at capacity for our coops. We also did a small batch of ducks in the fall and will continue to do small batches of these fun (and tasty) animals.
It’s been a great and satisfying ride so far and we are HAPPY and BLESSED. Can’t wait to see where the road leads!