To continue our blogging series, today we are going to tell the story of the farm from the time Ralph was a boy, to current day.
As a young boy, Ralph logged many hours adventuring and exploring the woods and creek surrounding the farm. He also had many responsibilities and farm chores. Gathering and packaging eggs was a big job, as the family raised chickens to supply a local hatchery with eggs. He also helped with milking cows, working in the very large gardens, making hay and much more! Ralph is number 4 in a family of 12, and when he was a junior in high school, his father was killed in an auto accident. This tragedy shifted management responsibility to him and his older brother in order to keep the farm running. He would milk cows before going to school in the morning and before going to basketball practice in the evenings and then home to finish his homework.
After marrying Sheila, they, and two of Ralph’s brothers, took over the farm operations. A new tie-stall milking barn was built and they began to register their herd of Holstein cows. A tie stall barn is a barn where each cow has their own stall, and milking machines are brought to the cows, rather than cows brought to a parlor to be milked. At this time the farm was named Ravina Farm, because of the two ravines that ran through the farm. In addition to the dairy, they also did rotational crop farming, practicing a four year rotation of corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay. After going through some years of high interest rates and low commodity prices and the farm machinery deteriorating, Ralph and Sheila decided it was time to try something different or get out of farming altogether. They received a gift subscription to the Stockman Grass Farmer, and their interest was piqued because it was a way to remain in farming and have low input costs.
In 1993 Ralph and Sheila took 80 acres that they owned separately from Ralph’s brother and planted it to grass. The first thing they tried to raise on grass were broiler (meat) chickens. After a few years of raising chickens on grass, and separating operations from Ralph’s brother, the main farm was all converted to grass and perimeter fences were installed. The dairy cows were let out of the tie-stall barn and allowed to graze the new pastures. They still came back to the stalls twice a day to be milked. In early 1998 renovations were made to the tie-stall barn to convert it into a New Zealand swing style milking parlor. This allowed milking to be a quicker, more user-friendly and efficient process.
Since 1998 the farm has gone through a lot of changing and learning. The farm name was changed from Ravina Farm to C/J Natural Meats. And recently the farm has been rebranded as Canal Junction Farm, paying homage to the history of the area and bygone canal days, which will be the subject of subsequent posts.
We went from feeding the dairy cows 30 lbs of grain per day, to switching over our genetics so that we don’t feed them any grain now — trying many different breeds along the way. We went from switching to grass farming because it was a viable option, to continuing with grass farming because it heals the land and produces nutrient dense food. We went from raising chickens and dairy cows on grass, to adding in beef cows, pigs, sheep, laying hens, and turkeys. We went from selling our products on the commodity market, to direct marketing everything we raise to individuals and families. The changes in farming practices have not only allowed Ralph and Sheila to continue farming, but have enabled them to invite the next generation to join them. All of this has been made possible not only through hard work, but also through the growing awareness of the importance of well-raised food for health and planet, and through the longstanding and ongoing support from our customers, followers and cheerleaders.