Farm Beginnings program critical for beginning farmer
OWATONNA, Minn. — Farm Beginnings was invaluable for city girl turned farmer Katie Felland.
Felland and her family operate O-Wata-Farm just north of Owatonna, where they grow fruit and sell farm-fresh eggs.
She learned about Farm Beginnings, a Land Stewardship Program developed to train new farmers, from a program alumni in nearby Clinton Falls and
signed up to learn more about running her own farm.
The program leaders were fantastic and are only an email away, even though it's been three years since she graduated from Farm Beginnings. The program
was helpful in business planning and making her think about how a farm would fit into her life.
"We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without it," Felland said.
The people she met while in the course and through other LSP field days have become resources for her, people to commiserate with when things aren’t going well or to ask questions of when considering trying something new. She feels a sense of community among the farmers who all want to farm sustainably and are always willing to listen
and share ideas. There are several farmers in the same stage of life she’s in.
Katie, 39, grew up in LaCrosse, but her husband, Jack, grew up in Mora and wanted to raise his family on a farm. They found a 10-acre farm place just north of Owatonna. Jack is a family physician and the tractor driver. Katie is the farmer. She’s also the mother of three, Olivia, 12, Max, 10, and Lucy, 8, and a yoga instructor.
The children are responsible for chores before heading off to school.
Katie had the idea of starting an apple orchard before she entered Farm Beginnings. There isn’t an orchard near Owatonna, she said.
They began selling eggs, and planting trees and berries in 2008. They have 200 apple trees, which they planted over three years. They have 15 varieties including Zestar!, Fireside, Sweet 16, State Fair and Honeycrisp. They harvested their first apples this year.
They have everbearing and June bearing strawberries and raspberries that ripen in summer and fall.
They operate a CSA for their eggs, delivering them to a central pickup location in downtown Owatonna weekly. The chickens are free range or on pasture. At any given time, they have 75 to 130 laying hens. In summer, they partner with another farm to provide berries and eggs to their customers.
When weather cooperates, they plant popcorn and pumpkins.
All their produce is organic.
Katie has taken to farming.
"I love it," she said. "It allows me to be home with my kids."
They make changes in the operation every year, adjusting it to fit their family’s lifestyle.
For Katie, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 is integral to improving the nation’s health. So many health issues can be traced back to what is eaten, she said.
The programs and funding in the beginning farmer bill help people start farming and the more small farmers raising healthy food, the better, she said.