Welcome to our farm! Mike & Clare's Farm is run by us, Clare Schaecher and Mike Birch. We began farming in 2008, growing vegetables and raising a few chickens on rented land until we finally landed here on our own farm in Harvard, IL. This will be our 6th year in Harvard and our 10th year farming, which is crazy! It feels like we just got started! We grow on a little more than an acre using small-scale intensive techniques – which means that we grow a lot of food in a small amount of space. We follow chemical-free practices – we don’t use any synthetic chemicals on the farm, and to-date, we’ve never used a pesticide, fungicide or herbicide – not even those approved for organic use. We’re proud of the way we farm – we produce beautiful food in a way that has minimal impact on the environment -- it's win win win!
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!
As we mentioned above, we're a small scale intensive farm growing on a little more than an acre. We use 50 foot beds that are 3 feet wide with one foot aisles – it’s definitely a squeeze! Over the years, we’ve learned which plants can tolerate being super close to their neighbors and which cannot (kale does not want to be squished; peppers don’t mind at all). We carefully map out what, when and where we plant, following tight rotations and succession schedules.
To prepare the land for farming, we use compost from Midwest Organic Recycling, rock phosphate and cover crops for fertility. In 2017, we’ll begin to experiment with adding micronutrients by using amendments like kelp or seaweed. We’ll also be a little more intentional about making our own compost. 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. 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. For a number of years, we had birds helping to pick caterpillars from our kale plants – alas, last year the birds never found the plants, and we ended up doing more hand-picking. As mentioned above, we've never used any kind of fungicide, pesticide, or herbicide -- organically approved or otherwise.
We grow a diverse crop of vegetables -- in 2017 we will grow more than 50 types of vegetables and 100 varieties.
We only buy seeds from companies that have made the safe seed pledge -- which means no GMO seeds and we buy organic seeds whenever possible. We haven’t had a chance to do any organized seed saving, but hopeful this year we’ll carve out a little time and space.
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. We take special care to clean all of our equipment before use.
You can buy Mike & Clare's Farm vegetables through our CSA and at the 61st Street Farmers Market in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.
Here's what we said about our farming practices in 2012