It’s an interesting and simple question I often get asked, “What made you decide to start farming?” The answer is a complex one. Truth be known, I’ve always wanted to farm. From the youngest age I was captivated by planting a seed into the ground and watching it grow. But as clearly as yesterday I can remember my Grandfather telling me at five years of age “You can’t make a living farming anymore. Go do something else.”
The time was 1979, and in many ways he was right. The vertically integrated agricultural conglomerate machine was breaking the backs of small family farms all over this country. My Grandmother got rid of her laying hens, Grandpa sold off the beef cattle and the decision was made to lease out the farm to a neighbor. They were content to buy a two bedroom bungalow in Gulfport, FL and snowbird with all of their retired friends, and the dream of farming became a distant and seemingly unobtainable goal. So as Grandpa advised me, I went and did something else, never learning a thing about farming. But as I began to age and mature, I realized that what I wasn’t doing all that God had wired me up to do.
Our farm has been in my family since 1828 and I always knew that someday it would be my turn to steward this “family heirloom”. In 2004, my wife and I moved back to the Martinsville area after a nine year stint in Greenwood, IN. In 2005, we finished a tedious twenty seven month renovation of my family farm home, built by my Great, Great Grandfather from 1877-1879. I was on the farm, but still didn’t have any immediate aspirations to farm, other than starting a large garden for our own consumption. Some years earlier, I had begun researching some potential farming ventures that I thought would be viable as a “second career” when I was close to being an empty nester. Most of this included vegetable production and never in my mind did animals enter the picture. With animals, you are tied to the farm full time and that wasn’t anything I was interested in.
But in February of 2007, I very clearly felt a prayerful direction to start farming immediately – and with animals no less. Now keep in mind at the time I’m a thirty-three year old father of two, gainfully employed in the engineering industry and know nothing about farming, running a small business or working with livestock. I wrestled with God over this and quickly gave up. The vision was clear: Get some books and videos, educate myself and begin networking with other small scale, sustainable farmers in the Central Indiana region.
In July of that year, we ordered our first 50 broiler (meat) chickens to be raised on pasture. We had been on the “organic kick” for nearly five years at this point and if I was going to do this, I was going to do it in such a manner that I could feed it to my two boys and not lose a wink of sleep over what I was putting into their mouths. I read books, borrowed videos, talked with other farmers and dove in. The result was a real success. We intended to fill up our own freezer, give the rest of the chicken away as a marketing strategy (as was suggested in my reading) and call it a year. The idea was to pass out the chickens free of charge and gather some valuable feedback, while at the same time building a small potential customer base for the future. After convincing the first two “recipients” that this chicken wouldn’t kill them and their families, the third person we approached offered to buy three. That conversation will forever be etched in my mind. I said to her “But you don’t understand, you don’t have to buy any, we’re going to give you one.” to which she replied “No Darby, you don’t understand, we’ll take three. Now how much are they?”. We kept two out of those original 50 chickens. We soon ordered 100 more and sold all of them as well. So in 2008, we ramped things up and ordered 1,000 chicks in four different batches. Our customer list quickly swelled, we were soon working with some local health food stores and even some high end restaurants. With the chicken enterprise beginning to blossom, and being a tad adventurous, we sent out an e-mail soliciting potential pork sales from our existing customer list. Two weeks later, we had seven little pigs running around in some electrified portable fencing out on the pasture, six of them presold. We were really off and running with our business. In 2009, we hope to add a small grass-fed beef herd to meet the wants of our customers and begin to diversify our offerings.
In short, our business has simply exploded. It seems that when you raise animals on pasture the way God intended, they taste really good. When you raise them with care and humanely, they are healthier and don’t require antibiotics and vaccinations. When you communicate in a timely, professional and personal manner to your customers (who are also your friends, relatives and neighbors) they patronize you and spread the word. When you are passionately pursuing what God has laid on your heart, you are successful. This has been our “recipe”, and is my complex answer to a simple question. It is simply “our story”.
Darby E. Simpson