Two weekends ago, Jeff and I visited Live Springs Farm for their open farm day. Live Springs is an organic farm in Carrollton, Illinois and is the result of a partnership between Alex and Bobbi, who run the farm, and Dorothy their Slow Money investor. I am not too familiar with how Slow Money investing works but I understand it as a sort of matching system that connects consciously minded investors with a new generation of small farmers.
After driving roughly a hour and half through mostly a flat landscape we arrived at the farm. Nestled amongst large crop plots, the farm is an oasis of trees, meadows and rolling hills. We were the first to arrive and were greeted by the two employees that help Bobbi and Alex run the farm. Soon after more cars starting pulling in and we made our way down to the house for a picnic lunch.
The tour officially began with Bobbi speaking about how the farm came to be and a sincere welcome. Then we were off to see the fields and animals via foot and tractor. The first stop was to the laying hens and the egg mobile. Since discovering Live Springs' eggs two years ago I pretty much tell everyone I know about them - usually saying something like "you can't even call what you find in the grocery store eggs once you have tried these TRUE eggs". They have around 350 laying hens and a few roosters who apparently help keep the hens calm and alert them of approaching predators. The hens are contained by a temporary electrified fence. Inside the fencing, is the egg mobile and a couple feeding and water stations. The egg mobile was custom designed for the farm's purposes. It has a netted floor so that the hen's waste drops through and in turn fertilizes the soil. It also is one wheels. Key to the farms whole process is open pasture grazing. This is achieved by moving the animals and corresponding structures just a few feet forward every several days hence the wheels. This gives the animals new feed as well as allows the pasture to grow back.
Adjacent to the laying hens are the bee hives. Alex is the resident beekeeper however he said he hasn't had time to harvest any honey yet or really tend to them. His beehives were really interestingly designed as he constructed the boxes to accomodate a more natural shape of a hive - apparently a method he learned while working on farms in Germany .
From the beehives, we walked up the hill and through some of their fields. Alex explained his process for growing crops which I wish I could explain but it really went over my head. What I did gather was that he rotates his fields between wheat, barley, alfalfa, oats and spelt; that he is still experimenting with the best way to work his fields and that he pays a lot of attention to putting nutrients back into the soil. If you are curious to know more their website has more information about biodynamic farming methods as well as the "Eco-Dyn" cultivation and planting system that they use.
Down from the main fields and close to the road are the butchering chickens. They, like the laying hens, have moveable shelters and are contained by an electric fence. The chickens are sold to market at roughly 4 lbs. The farm has no onsite butchering facility so each week a batch of chickens are driven 2.5 hours to an amish processing facility then the next day someone has to drive back to get them. Alex explained that since the advent of industrial farming the infrastructure to support small farms has almost become non-existent and that to find facilities and business that will work with a small farm and are in line with their organic processes is extremely difficult.
The next stop was to the pigs. The pigs are located in a pasture along the fence that connects to a wooded, wet area. They explained that since pigs do not sweat it is extremely important to provide them with a muddy area for them to cool off in. This is where all the children started to lose it a bit so the informational aspect of this stop was cut a little short. We did learn that the pigs are taken to the butcher at roughly 300 lbs and that male pigs must be kept separate unless they are raised together since birth.
The last stop on the tour which put us right back where we started was the cattle. Their herd is relatively small (I think they said around 30 but I really can't remember) and they also have 3 bulls. At this point, I have to admit that I wasn't paying as close of attention as I was thinking about the ice cream that was waiting for us back at the main house. We did get the opportunity to meet the farm's butcher from Millstadt, Illinois and speak to some people about their experience (and love) of Live Springs' products.
Our day at the farm concluded with purchasing some eggs and cherry bratwurst (also ice cream which I, of course, thoroughly enjoyed). It was an amazing day and I cannot wait to go back for their fall open farm day on October 2nd.
If you are curious to know more about the farm you can check out their website or if you are local to St.Louis you can find Bobbi every Wednesday at the Schlafly Maplewood Farmer's Market and every Saturday at the Tower Grove Market.