Mike & Clare's Farm

pictures of the farm


Hi! It's me - Clare Schaecher - your farmer. Mike Birch and I started Mike & Clare's Farm in 2008 on 2 rented acres of land in Ottawa, IL. So much has changed since then! We moved a bunch, bought a farm in Harvard, IL, got married and had a couple of kiddos. We've gone from a 55 member CSA and working 10 - 12 hour days, to taking the year off when my second baby was born, to a 15 member farm share and 3 hour (or sometimes no hour!) work days. I do most of the farming these days, with Mike pitching in when he has a free moment from his off-farm job. For the past 5 years, I've been farming part time so I can spend more time with our kids while they're little - and so far, so good! I've been able to grow a good amount of food and still go to the beach with my family! Some things that haven't changed since we started: we are still hyper focused on growing beautiful vegetables in harmony with our diverse environment and we're still hyper focused on sharing this food with our community — we're just a lot better at it now! Each year brings new challenges and new adventures and we're so happy that we get to share it with all of you!

If you're familiar with our farm, you might have noticed that information about our Farm Share is missing from the website. In 2024, we decided to discontinue our Farm Share program and focus on distributing our vegetables through farmers markets and on farm sales. The Farm Share has been an integral part of our farm from the very start - it is not an exaggeration to say that the support of our Farm Share members kept the farm running for many years. In 2019, we made a significant change to the program and stopped offering pick up locations in Chicago. We did it to accommodate our growing family and new constraints on our time - and the reality that doing farmers markets and Farm Share boxes on the same day is not fun. While ending our Share offerings in Chicago was a good logistical (and mental!) decision, it greatly decreased our Share numbers. We've been working and waiting for the Share to take off more locally, but it's become clear that we've hit the number of Shares we can reasonably expect to have in McHenry County, and unfortunately, it's not enough to justify the time and labor that goes in to running the program. While our income generated from the Share has decreased, our farmers market income has only increased - which is exciting and heartening. Change is always hard, but we're excited to see the new ways our farm will grow in the coming seasons. And local customers! Keep an eye on our website and Instagram for news about our online farm store, where you can get Mike & Clare's Farm vegetables for pick up on the farm.

About our farm

Our farm is on a hilly ten acre plot of land tucked into trees, flanked by vernal pools and crossed by an ephemeral stream. It's very pretty and very mosquito-y. For the time being we grow on a half acre, which is enough room to grow plenty of food and still manageable for one (parttime!) farmer. It's our goal to grow as many high quality vegetables as possible on a small piece of land while caring for our soil and promoting biodiversity.

How we grow

We use 50 foot beds that are 30 inches wide with one foot aisles - it's definitely a squeeze! Over the years, we've learned which plants can tolerate being super close to their neighbors and which cannot (kale does not want to be squished; peppers don't mind at all). We carefully map out what, when and where we plant, following tight rotations and succession schedules.

To prepare the land for farming, we use compost from Midwest Organic Recycling, rock phosphate and cover crops for fertility. We use minimal tillage methods, which usually means that we make one pass with the rotary tiller in the spring and then use a wheel hoe to prepare beds throughout the season. In 2020, we began experimenting with temporarily tarping beds to kill weeds and further reduce our tillage. While we're not big fans of bringing more plastic on to the farm, the tarps did help us control the quack grass that was really becoming a problem and allowed us to go completely no-till for the first time in 2022.

During the growing season, we use compost teas to help maintain plant health. We rely on biodiversity to control pests, but when a crop is threatened, we handpick pests. We've never used any kind of fungicide, pesticide, or herbicide — organically approved or otherwise. We grow a diverse crop of vegetables — in 2024 we will grow more than 25 types of vegetables and 50 varieties. We only buy seeds from companies that have made the safe seed pledge — which means no GMO seeds and we buy organic seeds whenever possible. When growing transplants, we use biologically active and OMRI approved potting mix.

We completed ten years of growing on our Harvard farm in 2022. I'm happy to report that our soil structure and fertility keep getting better. We're now able to grow better kale and brussels sprouts than we could when we first started growing here, and our carrots grow nice and straight even in our silty clay soil (seriously…silty. clay.). We have, unfortunately, introduced a few diseases into the soil - damping off makes growing spinach a challenge, and we have a papaya mosaic virus, of all things, that affects our summer squash. But, overall, we're happy with our growing techniques. We have loads of bees, butterflies, spiders and beetles. The birds visit often and tree frogs sing in our pond. Are we “regenerating” the soil? That's hard for anyone to say without a lot of data, but I think we're decent neighbors - and we're happy with the results.

How we harvest

All of our harvest is done by hand. We make every attempt to harvest vegetables at their peak ripeness — which means greens are harvested early in the morning and tomatoes are picked when they begin to soften. We do our best to taste-test vegetables to make sure they have their best flavor (but the radicchio is always going to be bitter!). We hydrocool our greens and roots and store vegetables in temperature appropriate buildings. We take special care to work with clean, maintained equipment.

How we sell

You can buy Mike & Clare's Farm vegetables at the Glenwood Sunday Market in Rogers Park, Chicago and on our online store for on-farm pick up during the growing season.