Welcome to our farm! Mike & Clare's Farm is run by us, Mike Birch and Clare Schaecher. We began farming in 2008, growing vegetables and raising a few chickens on rented land until we finally landed here -- Harvard, IL. In the fall of 2011 we bought a house, barn and 10 acres -- and we're fairly in love with it. It’s a brambly, brushy piece of land, and in the coming years we'll convert 2 acres for vegetable productions, set up a small orchard, make a home for sheep and chickens (and for the first year or two -- pigs!), and attempt to restore a small wetland and pollinator habitat. We believe farmland should be as diverse as possible: green with covercrops and minimally tilled.
In 2010 and 2011, Mike & Clare's Farm was organically certified. Because we don't have a reliable land use history of our new farm, we'll transition to organic over the next three years and then resume our certification.
What follows is a run-down of our farming philosophy and practices -- we hope it gives you a good idea of what’s going on out here and why we’re doing we’re doing it. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions -- we love to talk farming!
We're a small scale intensive farm -- which means we grow a lot of food to feed a lot of people on a relatively small amount of land. To make this happen, we carefully map out what, when and where we plant, following tight rotations and succession schedules. We use 50 foot beds that are 3 feet wide with 1 foot aisles, and in 2012, we’ll grow on one acre. We grow a diverse crop of vegetables -- in 2011 we grew 33 types of vegetables and 65 varieties.
We only buy seeds from companies that have made the safe seed pledge -- which means no GMO seeds and we buy organic seeds when ever possible. In 2012, our planning includes space for seed saving plots.
To prepare the land for farming, we use horse manure, cow manure composted with yard waste, rock phosphate and cover crops for fertility. We use minimal tillage methods, which usually means that we till in the spring and then use a wheel hoe to prepare beds throughout the season. In 2012, as we convert fallow, brambly land to farmland, we'll attempt to use sheep and pigs to help clear it. During the growing season, we use compost teas to help maintain plant health. We rely on biodiversity to control pests, but when a crop is threatened, we handpick pests. To date, we've never used any kind of fungicide or pesticide -- organically approved or otherwise.
All of our harvest is done by hand. We make every attempt to harvest vegetables at their peak ripeness -- which means greens are harvested early in the morning and tomatoes are picked when they begin to soften. We hydrocool our greens and roots and store vegetables in temperature appropriate buildings.
You can buy Mike & Clare's Farm vegetables through our CSA and at the 61st Street Farmers Market in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.