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Profitable Small Farm Built From Scratch
Jeff Hall and Cindy Hale are proof that inexperienced people can build a small farm from scratch that’s profitable enough to support a family.
They got their start when they bought 40 acres near Duluth, Minn., intending to produce food for family and friends. More than 20 years into their venture, operating Clover Valley Farms is the full-time occupation for both Hall and Hale.
They produce specialty meats and several types of artisan vinegar, salts, mustards, and jams. Other products include shrubs and a blend of fruit, sugar and vinegar syrups used to make sparkling sodas and cocktails. They also raise rabbits and sheep for specialty products.
Over the years, their business has evolved as they monitor and assess what works and what doesn’t. They built a greenhouse that’s irrigated with greywater from their house to produce herbs, flowers, vegetables and greens. They also planted fruit trees and berries, then diversified into chickens. Eventually, their flock grew to 500, and then came ducks, turkeys and pigs.
In recent years, they changed their focus. “Livestock is very labor-intensive. We decided to simplify our processes, reduce waste, and focus more on our fruits.”
Hale drew on her background in science and obtained a grant to study the feasibility of turning their fruit crops into value-added vinegar. They began using elderberries, juneberries and Aronia, all fragile fruits that wilt quickly after picking, to produce wine. Live acetobacteria were added for a secondary fermentation that produced fruity and healthy live-cultured vinegar. Homegrown rhubarb, apples, pears, currants and wild cherries are blended to produce Rhubarb Wine vinegar. Made in small batches, the herb-infused varieties add layers of flavor to the original crisp rhubarb. Hale says the honey-sweetened version is both sweet and tart. “We’re part of a very small group of culinary and artisanal vinegar producers in the country,” Hale says.
Their farm has more than 20 varieties of apples, two varieties of cherries, three types of plums, and nearly 10 species of small bush fruits. They’re also propagating pear varieties from historic trees.
Clover Valley’s livestock operation has pivoted from poultry and pigs to meat rabbits and sheep. Hall says these species are less work and more sustainable because rabbits reproduce on their own, are small and easy to care for, and their housing can be picked up and moved instead of cleaning out manure required with other livestock. Sheep graze their fields, provide excellent weed and pest management in their fruit orchards and supply high-quality meat, wool and hides.
Products made on the Clover Valley Farm are sold at local farmer’s markets, area co-ops, and a few retail stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hall also produces beautiful wooden bowls, and the couple offers workshops and classes on sustainable farming at Clover Valley.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Clover Valley Farms, Duluth, Minn. (www.clovervalleyfarms.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #1