Members of the Hiram Farm Community –
As you may know, recent months have been difficult for the Farm as we struggle to address the Farm’s challenges and identify leaders who are capable of bringing this institution to its potential. That process has necessarily required a great deal of change, and it was our hope that the recent hiring of the Executive Director had set us on the path to long-term stability and vitality. Unfortunately, events of recent weeks have made it clear that we must engage in seeking new leaders for the Farm’s future, a process we are starting immediately. In the interim, David Lundeen, the former CEO of the Cleveland Christian Home, has agreed to step in and direct the Farm’s daily operations. He will be assisted in that effort by Habilitation Manager Missy Bookbinder. Together, they will do all that is in their power to maintain the services the Farm provides to its farmers, and to put the Farm on firm footing financially and operationally going forward.
The Farm’s ability to survive and thrive is of the utmost importance to our farmers, and all of us who love them and this place. Though the Farm faces many challenges to come, we remain committed to ensuring that the Farm not only faces those challenges, but emerges from them better equipped to provide high-quality services for years to come. In the days and weeks ahead, we will be engaging in a full review of our organization’s practices in service of that goal, and we invite you to be a part of that effort. If you have suggestions about ways we can improve, please do not hesitate to let us know.
In establishing the Farm, its founders sought to create a place where adults with autism spectrum disorders could grow, learn, and work in a setting focused on respect and support for individuals and the environment. Over the past six years, the Farm has seen its efforts blossom and bear fruit. We are committed to continuing that work, and to the special service Hiram Farm provides.
Doug Brattebo, Board of Directors President
Hiram Farm Living and Learning Community
Late June is an exciting time at the Farm, with the first vegetables starting to be ready for harvest. But if you stop at our farm stand, you’ve noticed that we’ve been selling lettuce, basil, and cilantro for a while now. These greens and herbs were available so early because they were grown in the Farm’s exciting new hydro-organic system.
The two sets of hydroponic trays housed in our greenhouse were funded by a grant awarded by the Michael Talty and Helen Talty Charitable Trust in December 2014. The project wouldn’t have been possible without Bob Berg, a Hiram Farm board member and parent of one of our farmers, who wrote the grant and still comes to the farm almost daily to maintain the system. The plastic hydroponic trays were generously donated by Great Lakes Growers, who also provided helpful guidance on the project.
Along with help from the farmers, Hiram Farm family member and volunteer Bob Lambert (“Opa”) worked hard building the wooden supports and setting up the piping that make up the system. The farmers continue to be involved with the hydroponics, planting seedlings, collecting produce for the farm stand, and educating customers about hydro-organics when the Farm sells produce at Hiram College.
What is hydroponics? It’s simply a way of growing plants without soil. As important as soil might seem to farming, giving plant roots direct access to the water, nutrients, and oxygen they need allows plants to grow faster and healthier. The “nutrient film” technique our system uses pumps a thin stream of water and nutrients through the plastic trays the roots of the plants sit in. Like everything we grow on the Farm, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used. The nutrient solution we add to the water is made completely from plant and animal sources.A hydro-organic system like the Farm’s can grow a lot of produce quickly without all the effort of composting, tilling, watering, and weeding that goes into traditional farming. The plants get exactly what they need, so the produce is higher quality than traditionally grown produce. And the plants stay fresh in your kitchen longer because of their attached roots. Hydroponics uses less water than growing in soil, and because rainwater works best with hydroponic systems, we don’t use any tap water, just the rain that usually goes to runoff. One of the most exciting parts of this new addition to Farm infrastructure is that the greenhouse will allow us to grow hydroponic produce year-round, even in the coldest days of winter.
For our farmers, the most valuable benefit of the hydro-organic system is year-round growing season. The hydro-organics will give farmers the opportunity to engage in more work in the typically quiet winters, and the extra revenue will add to their much-deserved paychecks. In addition, the increased amount of produce means the Farm is starting to sell in more places than the farm stand, including Miles Farm Market in Solon and Hiram College on Thursdays from 12 to 1. With every plant we sell, more people are learning about—and getting excited about—the amazing things we do at Hiram Farm.
Over the last few weeks at Hiram Farm, our farmers have been hard at work building new tractors. These aren’t the sort of tractors you normally see on a farm, though. No tires or engines here—these are “chicken tractors,” or portable chicken coops.
Moveable chicken coops were made famous by “alternative farmer” Joel Salatin, whose family runs the organic and non-industrial Polyface Farm in Virginia. Our new Farm Manager, Jason Bricker-Thompson and a few of Hiram Farm board members heard Salatin speak at Hiram College’s campus in March 2013. Implementing some of Salatin’s techniques will be an exciting goal for the farm this year.
Like all of Salatin’s innovations, portable chicken coops are designed to allow every component of the farm to work together as they would in nature, which makes for agriculture that is surprisingly productive and self-sufficient. Simple wooden frames covered with chicken wire and re-purposed sheet metal, are much more impressive than they seem at first glance. The tractors are moved across our pastures, a few feet each day by our farmers, preventing disease by allowing access to nutritious grass and insects, unlike the chickens confined in factory farms. The movement also allows for a strategic and natural fertilization of our pasture. The tractors provide protection from sun, rain, and predators, missing from the lives of free-range chickens.
This innovative project is a great experience for our farmers. They are able to show off their carpentry skills in the building process, while being flexible as we adapted the plans for each tractor to make the best use of reclaimed materials. During the building process, we were excited to watch the 100 new chicks grow stronger in the barn, and then move them outside to their new homes. Our customers will be happy to learn that the chicken tractors will provide shelter for three dozen new layer hens, and we will be producing many more eggs, as well as meat chickens in the early fall.
Many of customers express sheer delight at having locally grown food. There is a growing movement toward smaller farms because of the impact industrial farming has on the environment and the deplorable treatment of animals. These five new “tractors” are just one of the many examples of how creativity, hard work, and a strong sense of community come together at Hiram Farm to create wonderful opportunities for learning, environmental responsibility, and good food.
The above information is from PolyfaceFarms.com and Dr. Mercola Discusses Chickens with Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm.
Hiram Farm was all abuzz anticipating a visit from Senator John Eklund (R), 18th District of Ohio who arrived on the Farm just after 10:00AM on Thursday, August 22. Although the farmers were hard at work harvesting vegetables and completing special orders of patio furniture in the woodshop, it was easy to spot the man in shirt and tie walking the farm and introducing himself to each of the farmers he came into contact with. Senator Eklund took time to speak to the farmers about their lives on and off the farm. He heard of the hopes and dreams of some, the personal accomplishments of others, and the growth and expansion of Hiram Farm since its inception in June of 2009.
“The Farm is plainly a place of caring and love, and when you add the professionalism and commitment that you and the staff bring to bear, I just know you are positively impacting the lives of your farmers and their families. I could feel it in my interactions with them that day,” comments Senator Eklund.
“We were honored by the Senator’s visit and his on-going commitment to assisting individuals and their families living with autism to live and work in settings that are supportive of their needs,” says De Ann K. Brewer, Executive Director for Hiram Farm.
(Left to Right) Jason Bricker-Thompson (Board Pres.), De Ann Brewer (Executive Director), Dr. Candace Jeavons Wilkinson, Doug Brattebo (Board Member)
Our new Pavilion is just waiting for the trusses so the roof can be finished! We can’t wait for our shade~