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Have Sheep, Will Farm: One Family’s Search For A Farm Of Their Own

Lauren McAllister, Brett Volpp and young son Jasper in front of old red tractor with house and dogs in the background.

The house on the land the Lauren and Brett purchased needs some work. Luckily, Brett worked for years as a carpenter, and can do some of the work himself. (Kayte Youn/WFIU)

This week on our show, we give a second listen to our story Have Sheep, Will Farm. We’ll hear parts one and three in our series about a young farming family with a flock of sheep, on a quest for farmland of their own. We’ll learn about their dreams for Three Flock Farm and the opportunities and obstacles along the way.

And we hear the final installment in Harvest Public Media’s series on food insecurity in the pandemic--a story on  the federal government’s free school lunch program for all students.

Brett Volp holding black and white lamb, with sheep grazing on pasture in the background.
Brett holds Finder, the lamb he's been bottle feeding since her mama rejected her. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

Earth Eats is a show about Food and Farming. When we talk about farming, there’s so much to explore, behind the scenes.

In our series, Have Sheep, Will Farm, we’re taking a look at what it takes to start a farm from scratch.

Farms are often handed down through families. But not always. And this is a story about one couple, without an inheritance, and their path to farming their own land, in Southern Indiana.

In the first episode of Have Sheep, Will Farm, we met Lauren McCalister and Brett Volpp.

They’re beginning farmers, with two kids-Ramona and Jasper. They started their farming practice before they had land of their own. It started with a wedding gift. They asked for plants and farm animals, half joking, and one friend took them up on it, and gave them three Jacob sheep. 

Jacob Sheep are a smaller breed with at least two sets of horns, and unusual colors of wool. Lauren and Brett are raising them for wool and for meat.

They were living and farming on rented land outside of Unionville, Indiana, and had grown the flock to over twenty sheep. When the landowner sold the property, it threw them into a crisis.

Their friend Bobbi Boos, an experienced farmer, suggested they were ready to start seeing themselves as beginning farmers, and recommended they seek out an FSA loan, to purchase some land of their own.

In part two of our series, I spoke with Lauren and Brett’s Loan officer, Kathleen Walters.

Kathleen works with the Farm Services Agency that serves Monroe County.

She walked us through the ins-and-outs of FSA loans, and it looked like Lauren and Brett were well-positioned for this type of loan. They already had a few years of farming experience under their belts, enough to know what they were getting into.

The FSA loan requires a farm business plan. Their business is called Three Flock Farm, and their plan includes 6 elements for their farm: Sheep, geese and chickens (those are the three flocks) plus ginger, mushrooms and herbs. The sheep will provide meat and wool, the geese and the chickens will be for eggs, the herbs will be medicinal.

The mushrooms, in a sense, are medicinal too. Lauren and Brett are particularly interested in cultivating Lion’s Mane mushrooms. This type of mushroom is currently being explored for its potential in improving neuronal health. Early studies look promising for those experiencing signs of dementia, and the mushroom’s wellness potential is what excites Brett and Lauren.

Business planning isn’t entirely new territory for them. Lauren has an undergraduate degree in Business and found this plan easy to formulate because it incorporated her business training with her own personal passions and dreams.

But finding land and securing a loan takes time. Where would they live, and where would they keep the animals in the meantime. They found a house to rent in town for their family and the two dogs, but what about the sheep. And the horse?

Hear all about it, on Earth Eats this week.

Music on this Episode from Daniel Birch, from the Free Music Archive

Additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music.

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Stories On This Episode

In An Autumn Of Uncertainties, More Kids Can Rely On Free School Lunches

A girl in a bright pink shirt with a black face mask unpacks a sack lunch at a desk in a classroom. Other students are in the background

Over During the summer, schools and other community sites that offer children free meals saw soaring demand. Now school’s in session, and this term, at least, meals remain free for all kids. the summer, schools and other community sites that offer children free meals saw soaring demand. Now school’s in session, and this term, at least, meals remain free for all kids.

Outbreak Tracker Reveals Infections In Meatpacking Sector Continue To Soar

Workers in white coats, blue gloves, yellow and blue hard hats work at a large stainless steel machine with a hopper, a pipe and a chute, in a large room with white walls.

Several interactive maps and charts using Covid-19 outbreak data in the food system show the devastating effect of high infection rates at meatpacking plants compared to other sectors.

Farmers in South Paid More From Market Facilitation Program

A field of green corn.

Farmers in the South received the highest amount of federal aid from the trade war with China according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

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