Mike & Clare's Farm is run by us, Clare Schaecher and Mike Birch. We began farming in 2008, curious about food and eager to learn how to grow without chemicals. Here we are, 13 years later in Harvard, IL with a little farm and a little family and an unending enthusiasm for bringing people good things to eat, grown in a way that’s good for the earth.
Clare does most of the farming these days with Mike pitching in when he has a free moment from his off-farm job. We also have a couple of kiddos under 5 running around. The pandemic threw us for a loop in 2020 and made farming a little more challenging (no babysitter + a farmer who is also the primary caretaker = part time farming). Thankfully, it was a good growing year weather-wise and we had a plentiful harvest, despite 2 -3 hour work days. We’re excited about growing in 2021 — our farm has changed a lot in the past couple of years and we’ve learned so much — we can’t wait to see what the new year has in store!
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. We farm one acre of our ten, partially because of the hills, and partially because we like to keep things on a small, manageable-by-one-person scale. For the time being, we’ve scaled back even further and grow on a half acre. 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 on half of our beds. We’ll use them again in 2021 and then reevaluate their further use. 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 2021 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 a biologically active and OMRI approved potting mix made by West Star Organics.
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 through our Farm Share and at area farmers markets.