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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Returning to Roots, Young Couple Invigorates Family Farm with Focus on Sustainability

May 7, 2012 |

Josh and Sally Reinitz, Owners of East Henderson Farm

When Josh met Sally at the University of Minnesota, both had a somewhat romantic idea of family life on a farm.

Josh was born on a dairy farm, but by the time he was eight-years-old, his family had given up farming and sold off much of the 160-acre homestead, holding on to just 40-acres. His memories of farming were fuzzy glimpses of afternoons hunting for frogs. Sally describes her childhood self as “a typical city girl.” Although she had spent some time visiting her grandparents’ old farm, most of her ideas of farming came from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books in her Minneapolis bedroom.

Today, Josh and Sally Reinitz are 5th generation farmers. The two bought a 26-acre portion of the family homestead from Josh’s father and started East Henderson Farm, LLC. Dad still lives in the original house and occasionally helps in the fields.

A large portion of East Henderson Farm is devoted to certified organic vegetable production. On six acres of organic certified land, the Reinitzes grow a wide variety of crops including potatoes, cabbage, swiss chard, collard greens, dill, sugar snap peas, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash. They sell their produce through a 95-share CSA program as well as via wholesale to a local food cooperative, two area restaurants, and a nearby college. Soon they hope to start supplying local food to the public schools in the district.

This year, they plan to raise 450 meat chickens in three rotations of 150 each. Right now, they have 150 baby chicks, which will soon be relocated to moveable coops on pasture. The chickens spend a day or two naturally fertilizing a patch of pasture before Josh and Sally relocate them to a fresh spot of grass. An additional 150 egg laying chickens produce 8-9 dozen eggs a day that are distributed to CSA customers and local restaurants. Josh says that the cost of organic feed prohibits them from certifying their chickens. In the future, he hopes to grow his own organic feed in order to do so.

The Reinitzes also keep several cows on the farm. They buy two or three bull calves from dairy farms, and raise them humanely on a diet of grass to be butchered and sold as meat.

Josh says he and Sally are continually thinking about how to keep their farm diversified. “We know better than to have our minds set on something, because farming is so variable.” This year Sally is trying her hand at a goat dairy with four goats, under the guidance of a mentor. If all goes well, she thinks they might consider making goat cheese. Josh is taking a stab at beekeeping. Maple syrup tapped from their woods also brings in a bit of additional profit.

Josh chuckles when asked about initial funding. Much of it came from personal savings and his previous salary as a full time carpenter. (He still works as a carpenter in the winter to make ends meet, but hopes that in a year or two the farm will be profitable enough to give that up.) The couple kept start-up costs low by salvaging whatever they could. Josh’s Dad offered up what land, buildings, and equipment he had from his own farming days.

Big-ticket items such as farming equipment have required more careful planning. Josh says that they plan to purchase one new piece of equipment each year. In some cases, they have been able to obtain funding through the USDA. Last year, they were able to build a large pack shed for washing, packaging, and storing their produce through financing from the USDA. A couple years back, a USDA grant contributed $5000 in a cost-share program towards a high tunnel to extend the growing season.

In terms of financial profit, most of what the farm takes in as a limited liability corporation goes toward the Reinitzes salary or is put into capital improvements, Josh says. Sally says that becoming self-sufficient was a more meaningful milestone than turning a financial profit. Other farmers are starting to take notice as well, she says. With relatively few organic farmers in the area, many have been curious to see how the Reinitzes can make money organically on a small scale.

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