Little Sprouts Farm is a small sustainable family farm owned and operated by Dave and Brenda Salch. The farm provides hundreds of Ashlanders with weekly farm deliveries of fresh traditional foods, organic non-gmo chicken and other feeds and raw milk products. The farm is unique for its focus on raising heritage animals and heirloom plants. Product is geared towards high quality nutrient dense foods and with an overall focus on supporting health and nutrition. The entire Salch family can be seen weekly making deliveries around Ashland. I spoke with Dave Salch about their approach to farming and services they provide our community.
Dave, thanks for speaking with us today. Please introduce us to Little Sprouts Farm.
Little Sprouts Farm (the name refers to our children as the “sprouts”) is a small farm located in Sam’s Valley that specializes in producing high quality traditional nutrient dense foods, providing a humane and respectful life for our animals while healing the land and bringing back the traditional American farmer skills.
Before now you had never farmed. How has it been taking on this new challenge?
I have spent the bulk of my career in the high-tech and startup world, but creating and operating a small farm has been by far the most challenging and most rewarding project of my life. Unlike other jobs, farming knows no discipline; it requires them all at once. You have to be everything from biologist to veterinarian to chemist to advertising rep to publisher to bookkeeper to retail manager to mechanic to electrical engineer to botanist to chef to marketer, and the list goes on. Every day is a new experience and a new blend of these requirements.
On top of that extreme breadth of skills, there are precious few resources to turn to for help and advice. Modern agriculture has degraded to following the direction of big ag business and suppliers. It is difficult to find resources that lead you to the wisdom of running a small sustainable farm profitably. So, much of if not most of this is trial and error; an expensive and difficult, yet rewarding path.
Much of the evolution of the Little Sprouts Farm has been based around the necessity of supporting your family with healing and nourishing foods. Can you please tell us more?
One of the motivators for our farm’s existence was in fact the realization for our own family that good nutrient dense food, raised and produced properly, is a medicine far more powerful than anything offered by medical science. We ran into a variety of health problems in our own children, including ASD, ADHD, unexplained pain, recurring infections, severe tooth problems, etc. and could find no support for from the mainstream. We forged out on our own and learned about nutrient-dense food, ending up with healing or lessening our children’s health problems almost completely. But in doing so we realized that you can’t buy this type of food in the stores. We were blessed with the ability to make our own, but it is a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts, no conveniences. It is a lot of hard work and dedication. In the end, it is all well worth it.
As the farm continued to grow, I understand that you began to see that what you were growing could also meet the needs of many others in our community.
Exactly, we realized that there are many people struggling with the same health issues that we faced, but not all of them have the skills, resources, or time to do all this themselves. So, we tailored the farm products to be the same foods we used to support our own health quests. These foods are produced in small batches, and are truly “home-made.” But we offer them to our customers in as much convenience as possible. Our goal is to help other families realize the same benefits with much less pain than we experienced.
Part of your direct delivery service means that your products are not available in stores or at the farmers market. Can you please say more?
There are several reasons we turned to the home delivery model instead of farmers markets or farm pickup. Farmers markets, good as they are seasonal. To maintain profitability, we need a way to distribute foods year round, food that families depend on like days of old when the milkman came to your house once a week. We also wanted to form a close relationship with our customers. This is not a business working primarily for profit, Little Sprouts is a business with a mission to spread health while healing the land. We see ourselves as partners with our customers, not just a label on a package. Home delivery allows us that one on one time on a regular basis. Plus, home delivery is much more efficient and convenient for customers. Placing an order every other week and putting a cooler out is much more convenient than driving out to the farm every other week. Our delivery truck can make one trip through town instead of 40 to 60 people driving out each week to the farm.
And besides all that, home deliveries allows our next generation, the Little Sprouts themselves, to take part in actually delivering product to real people, making a connection in their hearts between the farm chores and the people that order our foods.
I know that you have had to go to great lengths to keep everything within the proper mandated guidelines.
Government regulations around farming and food are long and heavy, geared for big ag and big producers. There are few exceptions for the little guys, the neighborhood farms. That is the basis for a lot of the expense of creating and operating a farm. We have spent 2 years wading through the regulations to be legal and still provide the foods that our customers ask for.
Will you please explain how you have gone about organizing your farm and its services?
What we have done is create a business model that might look confusing, but allows legality and as much freedom as possible under government regulations. We have 2 levels of farm membership, a free membership for one set of products, and a paid membership (a private member association) that allows purchase of other products. We do not sell products to the public. Everyone must be in one of the two groups before purchasing. Then, we offer a herd-share for dairy. It’s a lot of paperwork, but that’s the business climate we live in today.
Dave, how in the world have you learned how to do everything, let alone keep up with all the work?
It is not easy. We have long days, every day; especially since I still work part time in the high-tech world to supplement our income. This year we do have one full time employee, but the key to this is low intervention and automation. We use nature all that we can, and combine with technology where practical. For instance, we developed self-moving chicken coops. These are 10` x 20` self contained coops, with a solar powered winch, that are capable of pulling themselves around the pasture year round. Every hour during the daytime the coops move a foot or two, providing fresh ground and grass to the birds. The waterers hold enough for 2 to 3 days, so all we have to do is collect eggs and drop in some feed every day. Likewise our hogs are out on pasture with an automated feeder and waterer so there is no cleaning, no support. They live on their own. Our fodder systems and bug growing systems are also automated for minimal maintenance. This eliminates a lot of the daily work of farming and yet provides the animals with an even better environment than conventional farms.
Please talk a little bit about your philosophy of raising animals.
Simply put, we are nature on an organized scale. We are “no intervention” meaning we do no vaccinations, no antibiotics, no heroic methods, no tail docking, no beak cutting, no castration, no horn removal, no artificial insemination, nothing beyond what the animal would experience in nature. In addition we only raise heritage breed animals, the animals not bred for high production and profit. Our animals are the ones you would see on a farm 100 years ago.
They are hardier, self sufficient, healthier, breed normally, and provide the highest quality products in the end, but do require more time and feed to reach that point. In addition to all this, we are creating our own genetics. Many farms will purchase animals from breeders to raise up each year. Our model is to use our own breeding, on our farm. We hatch eggs, and give live birth year round. Each generation then is stronger genetically, geared for our farm and our practices. There is no doubt about the conditions around the start of life. Our animals are created and raised with respect for nature and the individual.
Even though your farm is based in White City, the majority of your customers are here in Ashland. How did you make all the community connections to grow such a large Ashland base of business?
In the beginning (two years ago) we had only a handful of customers, maybe a dozen or so. We did a few local shows and events, but mostly our customers come to us by word of mouth, or seeing our delivery truck in the neighborhood. We even had one case where a fellow took a picture of the side of our trailer on the road with traffic, sent it to his wife, and asked her to call us for info. A lot of friends and neighbors become customers through word of mouth. We take this as a great compliment.
Dave, can you give us a current overview of all the services you provide?
Here’s a quick list, but it changes monthly:
Farm and yard: certified organic and non-GMO animal feed for chicken, turkey, hogs, and goats both wholesale and retail, rare earth minerals, natural support herbs, heirloom seeds, and soon natural animal fertilizers
Beverages: kombucha, water kefir, beet kvass
Meats: pastured heritage turkey, chicken, pork, and duck, nitrate free bacon and ham, cooked chicken, sausage, livers, gizzards, necks
Raw Dairy: milk, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, buttermilk, whey
Sweets: honey, sugar-free chocolate, jams,
Cultured foods: sauerkraut, beets, eggs, vegetables
Eggs: pastured heritage fertilized chicken and duck eggs
Vegetables: a variety of fresh veggies in season
As we move forward into the future, what do you see as one of the biggest challenges facing farmers trying to do the same things you are doing?
There are many challenges, all worth overcoming: lack of information, investment, regulations, resources, etc. I think the biggest factor required to repeat what we are doing is motivation. Unless someone is really and truly motivated at a deep level, it seems impossible to make it through the trials to be faced. Fortunately there are more and more people interested. We get calls and email every month from people, mostly young people, wanting to do this or something similar.
The dream of the American farmer is returning, what we need is to provide support through patronage of customers, and sharing of experienced farmers.
I understand that learning everything you have needed to learn has been a huge aspect of what you are doing.
Yes, the learning curve was and is steep and difficult. Fortunately my dad, being a farmer at heart turned businessman, launched myself and my siblings well. He had a mission with us, that once we left home we would never need to return. He made himself a promise to teach each of use at least three life skills usable to make a living before we graduated high school. That list was long, and most of us far exceeded the three. By graduation I had personally learned gardening, electronic repair, computer programming, appliance repair, advertising, off-set printing, typesetting, diesel mechanics, retail store management, portrait photography, photo shop management, and customer service. Today I look back on that and know that the breadth of experience that afforded allowed me to tackle this venture into small scale farming.
How can someone go about becoming a member and receiving deliveries from you?
It’s easy; we operate primarily through our website, http://littlesproutsfarm.com . It is kept reasonably up to date with information about what we do and how. Under the products page is a link to the membership section and online store. Once someone signs up there they are assigned a delivery route. Then they will receive biweekly reminders that delivery day is approaching and they can go into the online store to place orders or change a “subscription” which is a standing order. They can pay online or at time of delivery, and the order just shows up the following Saturday. They don’t even need to be home, we will leave the order in a cooler or appropriate spot. We want the entire process of belonging to and purchasing direct from a farm as easy as possible.
Little Sprouts Farm