Liz Haywood, store manager, and Ethan Schandelmeier, the meat department manager for the People’s Food Co-op of Rochester, recently made a farm visit to Harmony Neighbors, Harvey Gingrich’s farm near Harmony, Minnesota. Harvey has been supplying PFC with pork products for a few years and he’s recently started working with his neighbor, Dan Borntreger, to raise chickens for People’s.
Dan and Harvey are both Amish farmers. With the average age of the American farmer pushing 57, Harvey and Dan are surprisingly young. At a guess, Harvey looks to be 30 years old and Dan 25. Harvey farms 90 acres, though he says 90 acres is more than he can do right now. He took us on a tour of his pig barn and repair shop.
“I don’t know how I got into that,” Harvey says about the repair business. “It’s a lot of work. I enjoy engines and steel work and I guess it found me.” It was a cool, pleasant morning, with only a moderate breeze off the pigsty. The repair shop is in a medium-sized barn. It’s more like a farm museum than a machinery repair shop: most of the equipment looked as though it had been broken in back in the 1940s. There wasn’t a scrap of John Deere green in the whole place. Not quite a museum though: most of the equipment here still gets used. Harvey might not see one of the big $300,000 combines that’ll pull in 10,000 acres of corn and comb your hair at the same time, but this equipment will work fine for 90 acres.
As we stood outside the repair shop, we could see another neighbor of Harvey’s coming down the gravel county road. The visitor drove a two-horse wagon at a good clip, and the man’s two dogs ran ahead of the horses, leading the way. Business in the repair shop is strong these days.
In addition to the hogs, the vegetable and forage acreage, and the repair shop, Harvey keeps about 50 goats for milking. “We supply milk for the creamery that produces something called ‘Montchevre,’” Harvey says. “The creamery’s not very big.” (But you can buy Montchevre goat cheese at People’s in La Crosse and Rochester.)
Harvey takes us inside the pig house to meet the new piglets. There are about 40 little ones, who immediately run off to the far side of the pen when we enter the darkened shed. Their anxiety passes quickly and after a minute they’re all back at the railing, inquisitive snouts pushing into our outstretched hands.
Two of Harvey’s six children have followed us into the barn. Wilmer (nine years old) and Martin (seven) like the piglets but don’t seem especially fond of any of them. In addition to the 40 piglets, Harvey has about 30 pigs that are about four to six months old. They’re ready for market at about six months. “Lizzy will have four of these this week,” Harvey says.
Harvey grew up raising hogs and has been in business on his own since 2007. He is not organic certified, though he’s been following organic practices since 2000. “No antibiotics—except for therapeutic reasons,” he says. “We use organic corn, soy, hay, and oats for the goats. Most of that comes from our feed crops.
We get a complete organic ration from the feed co-op for the hogs. They eat a little of anything.”
We then went over to Harvey’s neighbor’s farm to visit with the chickens. Dan Borntreger has recently moved to Harmony from the Cresco, Iowa, area. He used to work with the State Line group of farms that supplies PFC with produce.
The chicken house was a low-roofed affair, painted barn-red. The door was open and the gate in the fence around the house was open as well. “You can’t get much more free range than that,” Ethan Schandelmeier noted.
The chickens get an organic feed, and as Lizzy was talking with Dan he mentioned that the feed store also gave him a paper certificate. “It says something about the feed being GMO-free. Is that important?”
Dan’s chicken and Harvey’s pork are available at PFC—Rochester.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of the Co-op Shopper.