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Vince and Nancy Pope raise AWA-certified sheep on a centennial family farm in the southern driftless region of Wisconsin. Vince was raised on a dairy farm and worked as a livestock nutrition specialist, and Nancy is a practicing veterinarian. Their skillsets are strong assets in their commitment to pasture-based management of their flock. “Essentially, we have a nutritionist and veterinarian on staff,” Nancy explains. Their combined skills allow Vince and Nancy to identify potential problems in the flock early, and make adjustments or provide treatment as needed.
Circle B Ranch is nestled in the gently rolling hills and woodlands of the southwest Missouri Ozarks. The 90-acre farm is conveniently located in the town of Seymour, just 32 miles east of Springfield. “At Circle B Ranch, we raise hogs the old-fashioned way: outside on the pasture, where the hogs can run and exercise,” farmers John and Marina Backes proudly explain. “It’s the way nature intended.”
Ben Gotschall’s great-grandparents began raising commercial Hereford and Angus cattle in 1936 in Holt County, Nebraska. The ranch was eventually passed to his father and Ben was born and raised on land his family had been farming for three generations. When Ben was 10 years old, he started helping with milking and immediately fell in love with Belle, the only Jersey in his father’s herd of Holsteins. “She stood out to me as the little brown cow who was quite capable of holding her own with her bigger black and white herdmates,” Ben remembers. After a year of milking, his father let him choose one calf to care for and start his own herd and, of course, he chose Belle’s first calf. A year later, Ben used the money he’d saved from milking to buy her second calf and, through the American Jersey Cattle Association’s Genetic Recovery program, soon had a small herd of registered Jersey cattle. In 1997, as a high school senior, Ben had the top-performing Jersey herd in the state of Nebraska for milk and protein production, with just 14 cows.
Although Hamid Markazi’s family owned a farm when he was growing up, he only gained limited hands on experience with farming and chose a different career in geology and environmental engineering. It wasn’t until later on in his life that Hamid and his wife decided to purchase some land in McHenry County, Illinois, and built a house and a barn. The Markazis maintained a couple of pastures for their daughters to keep and ride their horses, and decided to introduce some other farm animals to develop their farming experience. “As the kids moved on to college to pursue their undergraduate and later graduate degrees, we began to focus on expanding our farming business,” says Hamid.
Amy and Tony Jagla acquired a historic 10.5-acre farm in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2011 that they expanded their backyard chicken operation into a business. While producing food for their family, the couple realized just how much they enjoyed farming. Now, with the help of two of their three children, Katlin and Tyler (Justin is currently in the army), they raise 300–350 Dark Cornish chickens and 50 Cornish Game Hens for meat each year. They named their new venture Platypus Flats Ranch after the animal which, like their farm, is a little bit of everything, and the flat lands it sits on.
Although Bill and Laura Berube had always lived in the suburbs, they both loved animals and were interested in one day moving to a farm to raise them. Taking a Beginning Farmer course at the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota was an important step towards realizing their dreams. For although the Berubes weren’t able to complete the course due to other commitments, it gave them the knowledge and inspiration they needed to explore their livestock options when they eventually purchased the 40-acre dairy in Split Rock Township in 2007. After considering sheep, horses, and cattle, they decided on goats—the right size for their small property, and a browsing animal that was well-adapted to the farm environment.
Sandra Sorensen manages AWA pigs at Sorensen Farm—40 acres of mixed pasture and woodland, situated about 10 miles east of Benton, Illinois. After working in the industry for decades, she eventually became disheartened: “I had always been concerned with the plight of meat animals,” she says. “I could not become a vegetarian, so I decided that I would make sure the animals that I raised would have humane treatment.” What started out a small venture has blossomed: “I now sell pasture-raised pork at local farmer’s market and directly from the farm.”
AWA farmers Lanette and Larry Stec both grew up on conventional farms, always with a desire to do something different. When, as adults, they returned to farming, they did so by transitioning Larry’s family’s farm to an organic, pasture-based system.
Creekside Natural Farm has been in Bill Kunke’s family for many years, with families growing grain or raising livestock on the farm. Today, Bill and his wife, Pam, currently grow approximately 45 acres of grain on the 70-acre farm, raising AWA laying hens and growing organic vegetables on the remaining area.
Melissa Driscoll of Seven Songs Organic Farm in Kenyon, Minnesota, developed an interest in sustainable farming at an early age. She sold garden vegetables alongside her mother at farmers’ markets and raised chickens for 4H.