Learning About Life on the Farm
My family and I are embarking on an adventureBy Annemarie Bretz
My husband and I bought 30 acres of land in Union County, just outside of Monroe, to begin a hobby farm. We both are educators in the county and have dreamed of having a small farm of our own. We’ve had a small garden for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, cut flowers and a few blueberry plants. Neither of us grew up on a farm, but we do remember days spent in the backyard gardens of our parents and grandparents. My husband, Shannen, inherited his grandfather’s green thumb.
Why did we start a farm now? After years of dreaming, Rob and Cathy Thorstenson invited us to intern last spring at their organic strawberry farm, Wise Acres, in Indian Trail. We then knew that a small farm was in our near future.
Shannen chose blueberries for our farm because their peak time is in summer when we are out of school. Plus, my oldest daughter, Emma, and her daddy love picking ripe berries off our garden bushes.
A neighbor leases and farms three plots of our “new” land. The blueberries would replace soybeans. Last fall, we bought new blueberry bushes and anxiously waited for the soybean harvest. Heavy rain in October delayed the harvest until November, which meant we had to place 420 one-year plants in cups to await field transplanting. After four weeks of moving, watering and protecting our investment crop, we FINALLY planted these baby bushes. In late November, my husband, two young daughters and I, along with my sister and her family, painstakingly began digging holes with shovels. On hands and knees, we filled the holes one by one with blueberry plants. The job was long and arduous, but the feeling of accomplishment was well worth the sweat!
Our plants survived the winter and we watch every day to see how many will flourish this summer. This spring we also planted 48 new rabbiteye blueberry bushes and incubated eight Guinea fowl. One pasture will eventually hold goats.
Emma and I attended bee school with our local beekeepers club. We recently established our own hive. We enjoy learning how to take care of bees together, despite the occasional sting. We watch our hive grow and look forward to our first batch of honey.
We have big plans for this small farm. As much as I want to, we can’t do everything at once. We have to stick to a budget and choose the projects that are highest on the priority list. The blueberries will not be ready for another year or two, then we will open a “you pick” blueberry patch. We hope to build a chicken coop and add homegrown eggs to our list of accomplishments. This summer a produce stand will offer tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini, as well as honey from our hive. All the produce will be from the crops my girls, Emma and Betsy, started as seeds.
Farm life is how we want to raise our kids. Now that the weather is nice we work outside after school on projects like painting our new bee hives, weeding, mowing and planting. The girls love their electronics as much as any other kid, but they also love being outside and getting dirty.
Right now we both plan to stay in education, but I anticipate a lot of life lessons will be learned on this farm. Wild animals may take a beloved farm pet, or the weather may damage the plants. But we are also learning that with hard work you can accomplish anything. Ultimately, I want my girls to learn the most important lesson: That their parents took a dream and made it happen.