Stewards of the Heartlands

Blog — Stewards of the Heartlands

A photographic chronicle of life on the family farm from the heartlands of America and New Zealand

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Monday, 10 April 2017 turned out to be the usual magic day in the High Country at Glenariffe Station with a bluebird day in the forecast. A note from BJ and Mark the night before alerted me to the news that the Fish & Game folks were headed up the Rakaia River on Monday morning by helicopter to do a salmon count in Glenariffe's salmon spawning streams. That was enough to get me to bunk work, load up the car with camera gear and head up the Rakaia River Gorge. An added plus was the perfect weather was going to allow Mark to finish up his pasture management chores to drill grass seed and prepare another paddock with a controlled 'burn-off' so it can be re-seeded before Winter arrives in the coming months.

It was not long before I left the morning traffic of Christchurch behind in the dust and headed across the Canterbury Plains and back up the Rakaia Gorge into the heart of the Southern Alps to Glenariffe Station. It is a stunning trip in any weather. We have had some heavy rains in the previous week but the water fords were okay as water levels had dropped.

Every...

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This week, sustainable farmer and New York Times bestselling author, Forrest Pritchard, visited Fort Wayne, Indiana, the home of Wood Farms that we chronicle here on Stewards of the Heartlands. Forrest was kind enough to sit down for an interview with us, and his audio responses to our questions are at the bottom of this post. Our thanks to Michelle Merritt for scheduling our time with him.

Mr. Pritchard was in Fort Wayne to be the speaker at the city’s first “Farm-to-Table Taste” event hosted by the Allen County Public Library. The event, which sold out in 15 hours of being announced, featured tastes from local farm-to-table restaurants Tolon and Junk Ditch, the Fort Wayne Farmers Market and its vendors, the 3 Rivers Natural Grocery Food Co-op, and the Little Turtle Branch Seed Library. Jeff and Zach of Hawkins Family Farm in North Manchester were also on hand.

Forrest Pritchard has written two books: “...

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It is the early days of autumn in New Zealand and shearing day for 5000 Romney sheep at Glenariffe Station. When I arrived, BJ was busy doing the cooking in the kitchen and looking after their 10 month old daughter. BJ was keeping the shearing crew well fed with three meals and two tea breaks each day. Mark was kept busy with the dogs to keep the sheep moving into and out of the sheep yards so there is no hold up. And #1 son, Ben, was outside playing and looking after the working dogs with a bit of TLC when they were having their own break.

The shearing crew was down to their last day. The sheep yards were a busy place with sheep to be sheared and moved into the shearing shed. The sheared sheep are moved into holding pens to be released together and set off to the paddocks. In addition to the five shearers are three crew members that looked after moving the sheared wool off to the presser where the large wool bales are pressed and wrapped up.

The shearing crew works four two-hour shifts with a half-hour break between shifts. It is tough back-breaking work and the...

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Late winter brings a scheduled pregnancy check among the cows at Wood Farms, Fort Wayne, Indiana. A breeding schedule is maintained to produce calves three times a year. This time, 60 eligible female cattle were tested for pregnancy, and 52 are carrying. That's an 87% pregnancy rate and one that makes farmers Dennis and Kristen Wood happy. They aim for 90% each time. Of this number, 42 out of 46 cows are carrying, and 10 out of 14 heifers are.

When a cow or heifer is not pregnant, it's referred to as being "open." During this check, one fraternal female twin was tested, and in keeping with genetics, she is not fertile and forever open. The term for this condition is called "freemartinism," and a "freemartin" is a sterile female calf that is the twin of a male calf whose hormones affected its development.

The veterinarian hired by the Woods is Dr. Cody Anspach from the Decatur Veterinarian Hospital. A recent graduate of Purdue University, Dr. Anspach uses an ultrasound device with a transducer that he inserts in each female to detect pregnancy and whether the...

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Glenariffe Station, Aerial View Over the Southern Alps

Photographing Glenariffe Station is firstly all about capturing a sense of 'place' where location, history, legacies, community and family resound together with a beautiful story. Some 40 kilometres from the nearest highway lies Glenariffe Station, a New Zealand high country sheep farm in the Southern Alps of the South Island. Glenariffe Station is a 100-year old family farm owned by Mark Ensor and BJ (Belinda) Bull located in the far reaches of the isolated Rakaia River valley in the vastness of a wide valley surrounded by mountain peaks. Such isolation belies the close knit farming community of the families in Rakaia River gorge that have helped each other for over a century since the pioneering days of colonial New Zealand to today's iconic Kiwi farmily farm. A beautiful story to be told as the months and years go by of family farming in the Southern Alps. This aerial view was made from a flight over the Southern Alps points the location of Glenariffe Station tucked up on the river terrace in the Upper Rakaia River Valley. The braided river valley in the foreground is the...

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Although not located in the Heartland of America, Walpole Valley Farms in New Hampshire is a family farm with a lot of heart. Last fall, we spent a bit of time with the Caserta family whose three generations — along with dedicated farm hands, practice sustainable, humane farming. Raising grass-fed beef, slow-growing pasture-raised chickens, heritage turkeys, grass-fed lamb and pasture-raised pork, Walpole Valley Farms provides customers in the area with delicious local meats and eggs. They use only certified non-GMO grain that leads to a healthy, nutritious product for local families who stop by and shop in a small store right on the farm.

As more and more family farms are beginning to offer, this 105-acre organic farm also has a tourism side to help maintain sustainability. The Inn at Valley Farms, on the grounds of the farm, dates to 1774 and is a graciously restored colonial home offering deluxe bed &...

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The journey to OEFFA Conference 2017.

Early Friday morning before dawn, in brisk February air on the Wood Farm in Fort Wayne, Indiana, farmhands Dom and Jack arrived at the farm for their workday: first to deliver a load of organic hay to a customer and then returning to attend to chores on the farm.

At the same early hour, Dennis Wood, farmhand Cathy Bartz, and fellow farmer from down the road at Dick's Organics, Rick Ritter, climbed into a farm pickup truck and turned the wheel toward Dayton, Ohio. It was the weekend for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) Conference, and Dennis Wood of Wood Farms was asked to present a workshop at the enormous event in Dayton's conference center for the second year running. His presentation to a capacity crowd was entitled, "Marketing Farm-to-Table Beef," something Wood Farms knows a thing or two about.

In addition to Dennis' humoring and educating during his presentation about the challenges and successes of marketing beef, he also explained how the farm's beef...

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The Bravas Wood Farms Steak Sammie

A Wood Farms Steak Sammie joins the menu at Bravas on Fairfield in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Restaurant owner Bo Gonzalez already sourced his hamburger meat from Wood Farms' non-GMO, antibiotic-free Angus beef, and now he offers more of the locally-sourced goodness in a 4-ounce tender steak cut in the sandwich that includes Horsey Sauce, Bravas Steak Sauce, and is topped with crispy fried onions. Gluten free buns are also always an option at Bravas. Only 8 miles separate this Farm from its Table. Eat 'em up!

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Bravas Burgers on Fairfield Avenue in Fort Wayne, Indiana

This morning at Bravas Burgers, we photographed the preparation of Wood Farms fresh, non-GMO, antibiotic-free Angus beef for the day's customers.

Bravas Burgers of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was keen to source fresh, non-GMO, antibiotic-free beef that is sourced from local ethical farms that produce sustainable high-quality beef that is well-marbled and flavorsome. They looked no further than a local Fort Wayne beef producer, Wood Farms, that breeds and raises high-quality Angus beef from its family farm based on principles of ethical animal welfare and care for the individual animal. Wood Farms embraces the terms of the Ancient Contract based on the simple principle that "as we take care of our animals, they take care of us."

Moreover, Wood Farms has endeavored over many years to select their Angus genetics for meat quality to meet the discerning requirements of chefs and consumers of beef products.

As stewards of the American heartland, it is this combination of ethical animal agriculture, combined directly with the...

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Chow Time!

Kent joined John in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the week of January 8, 2017, to photograph at Wood Farms. Farm work included photographing farm staff feeding the cattle and preparing bedding for the cows, steers and calves on a cold winter day at Wood Farms.

The images below testify to the hardiness of farmers who must work in all conditions, including bitter cold, snow, ice, mud, and you name it.

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Wood Farms New Year's Day Breakfast  2017

Wood Farms in Fort Wayne, Indiana, hosted a New Year's Day Farm Breakfast to, in the words of farmers Dennis and Kristen Wood, "Celebrate the achievements of the Farm's past year, to embrace the opportunities of the upcoming year, and to express gratitude to everyone who has supported us to this point: our customers, employees, landowners, suppliers, friends and neighbors."

Below is a gallery of images from the event on January 1, 2017. Hovering your cursor or finger over images displays captions.

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Hay baling on Wood Farms

It was the last harvest of organic hay at Wood Farms in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in middle September. Some fields had produced four harvests during the calendar year. Farm employee Jon Knapke first traced the cut fields with a circular tined hay rake on the back of the tractor, lining the recently cut grasses in neat rows. Then Dennis Wood worked the baler behind another tractor to pick up, bale, and package the hay.

Scroll down for a gallery of images from the process.

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Dr Naya Brangeberg and Jeremy WilhemLongbush Free Range Pork Farm • Longbush, Wairarapa, New Zealand

scroll down for story and gallery of images (hovering cursor or finger over images displays captions)

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Dennis Wood  •  Wood Farms

Wood Farms in Fort Wayne, Indiana, offered a tour of its operations in cooperation with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). The Association works to promote sustainable, local, and organic agriculture that builds strong rural communities, safe and healthy food systems, and preserves Ohio’s natural environment.

Wood Farms, owned and operated by Dennis and Kristen Wood and their children and staff, is a certified organic 500 acre hay and pasture farm in Northeast Indiana that supplies hay to regional dairies and beef to local restaurants. They also raise organic corn, organic wheat, and produce and keep bees. Visitors toured the farm’s rotational pastures, Angus herd, and haying equipment, and learned the techniques and systems the Wood family uses to manage each segment of the operation. They have partnered with other landowners in the area, including the Fort Wayne airport, to increase their base acreage. Food vendor and customer of Wood Farms beef, Bravas Specialty...

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Wood Farms Organic Hay

This list will grow to include numerous, diverse farms in each of the Heartlands: New Zealand and the USA. We will bring you their stories of successes and challenges through several years and through all seasons.

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Wood Farms Angus  •  Fort Wayne, Indiana

We are grateful to have the following offering guidance and expertise as we document Stewards of the Heartlands:

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John Gevers  •  Fort Wayne, Indiana

John’s fondest boyhood memories are of weekend visits to his cousins’ farm in northern Indiana not far from his home in Fort Wayne. He had his first crush on Kodachrome film. And he came of age in New Zealand, taking a hottie* to bed with him after long days working on farms.

(*hot water bottle)

John began writing stories and making photographs as a boy, worked his way up to editor of the high school newspaper, and went on to hone his skills for the professional world at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Indiana University where he double-majored, adding psychology to his degree. While there, he learned the photojournalistic art of capturing the moment with emotion and beauty from the preeminent photographer, John Ahlhauser, and the art of accurate, story-enhancing editing from The Saturday Review’s Richard Tobin.

As a university junior at the age of 21, he was the youngest American chosen to serve as...

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“For most of its history, agriculture has been based on concepts of husbandry and sustainability, care, symbiosis and balance. The metaphor for the traditional animal agriculturalist is the shepherd of the 23rd Psalm, who assures agricultural success by putting his animals into optimal conditions to suit their nature (‘green pastures’) and who augments their natural ability to survive and thrive by providing food, shelter, medical care and protection from predation. Animal productivity was assured by animal health and welfare and vice versa under the rules of the‘ Ancient Contract’ in which man takes care of animals and, in return, animals take care of man.”

From Intuitive Immunology for Veterinarians, by Kent Deitemeyer & Bernard Rollin

Kent has agriculture, photography, and wildlife conservation coursing through his veins and in his daily life. He is a native-born Nebraskan, grew up in Colorado and is a dual citizen of the U.S.A. and New Zealand.

He put himself through university by working on a Northern Colorado purebred cattle ranch...

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Wood Farms

This photographic chronicle focuses on today’s farming families in two countries hemispheres apart, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. Over the years, both countries have depended on family farms to feed their people and grow commodities for export to support strong economies.

In more recent years, however, the agrarian culture in both countries has faced significant changes. Many family farms that traditionally produce a variety of crops or animals, or both, struggle to remain viable and are forced to increase the scale of their operations to compete with large-scale, single commodity farming operations or face going out of business. As smaller, diversified family farms that used to be spread throughout each country’s Heartland disappear, many rural communities suffer and residents, despite living close to fertile land, must import food from long distances.

In both New Zealand and the U.S.A., the growth of large-scale commodity farms is raising concerns. The sustainability of family farms and rural economies is threatened when agricultural practices are based primarily...

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