Meet an Eco-Farmer: Maple Hill Garden

Maple Hill Garden Eco-Farmer

Colin King, Maple Hill Garden

Have you always been an eco-farmer, or did you make a change?

We have been operating our farm using strict organic methods since our farm’s inception three decades ago. Building soil organic matter has been very important to us, as well as sustainably improving our woodlot for wildlife habitat and maple sugaring. With the introduction of livestock in 2010, we’ve been using management intensive grazing with our sheep to improve our pastures. The results, in terms of biodiversity of all forms of life in our pastures, are awe-inspiring.

What was the biggest hurdle you have overcome?

Adding the livestock enterprises to our farm posed immense challenges both in terms of knowledge and infrastructure. Our family had plenty of knowledge about raising beautiful eggplant in our northern climate, but very little in the way of animal husbandry skills. In the first two years, I dealt with significant predation loss of our chickens and a case of nearly deadly fly strike with a lamb. We also had no fencing on the farm. Today we have 5.5 acres of pasture, fenced in half-acre to 1-acre paddocks and have also dramatically reduced predation.

Interview: Forging a Better Path — Texas Farmer Jonathan Cobb Embraces Shift from Conventional to Biological-Based Practices

Jonathan Cobb Interview

Jonathan Cobb

Jonathan Cobb interviewed by: Chris Walters

This month’s interview swings our focus away from storied veterans to a newcomer, a young farmer trying to forge his way in the middle of Texas. Like a lot of others who dedicate themselves to rational agriculture based in soil science, Jonathan Cobb left his family’s land for a while, getting an education outside the ag school monolith, getting married and trying out urban life before coming full circle back to the land in 2007. He encountered an event in recent Texas history that felt apocalyptic at the time and still strains belief — the summer of 2011. As the worst Texas drought in about a century kicked in with a vengeance, temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for nearly three months, the land turned into brick and reservoirs dropped like a second-term president’s approval rating. As he relates, it forced a fresh look at all sorts of things. Along the way, a business Cobb ran with his wife, Jennifer Brasher, had to be folded, and he began a momentous transition away from row crops and into livestock. It also bears remembering that despite the influence wielded by the liberal enclave of Austin a mere hour away, rural Texas is not known for its open embrace of progressive ideas. For Jonathan’s refreshingly candid account of how he meets his challenges, read on.

ACRES U.S.A. Tell us about your neck of the woods near Rogers, Texas.

JONATHAN COBB. It’s Blackland prairie; really good, really rich, deep soils with a long history of farming there. My great-grandfather was a sharecropper since around 1900. My grandfather farmed it and then my Dad stayed. He was the youngest, and he stayed on the family farm. We were all gone when I decided to come back about eight years ago. I had been in Fort Worth doing landscape design and then came back and started farming. (more…)