Lorie Arnold and Shannon Meagher own and operate Heron Pond Farms, located on twenty acres immediately south of Spokane, Washington at the base of Tower Mountain. Lorie and Shannon are in a time of transition on their farm, as they have recently moved away from raising goats and making cheese toward placing primary focus on pork production. They graciously took time out of their busy schedules to answer my questions about their farm.
You started farming in 2005 with no background or experience, and have built a successful business through hard work and a willingness to learn as you go. Why did you decide to try farming in the first place?
We inherited family land that had always been in production. In addition to wanting to keep the agricultural property tax exemption, we were ready to try some new things. We may have also underestimated how difficult farming is.
You mention on your website that your farm is striving for small-scale, sustainable synergism. Part of this is feeding your pigs with the whey produced through making cheese. What other methods do you practice on your farm that contributes toward sustainable synergism?
We have a manure spreader (potentially the coolest farm implement EVER!) which we use to spread the goat manure on our fields, returning goodness to the land. These fields produce our grass hay, which is used as feed/bedding for the pigs through the winter. We should note that we closed the dairy at the beginning of 2018. The pigs are going to miss the whey, but not as much as we are going to miss the fresh milk and cheese. We have experimented with having the chickens roam through the goat and pig paddocks eating fly larvae, and while that worked with respect to keeping flies down, the coyotes won. We are still a work in progress on that score. We have also identified that the pig paddocks are in a low point of snowmelt and so we are putting in swales on contour to sequester the excess water. We are in the process of planning the swales as a fodder/food belt for humans, goats and swine. We have also raised vegetables to feed the pigs through the winter.
You raise a breed called “Large Black Hogs”. What are the best features about this particular breed, and have you encountered any challenges with them?
They are friendly and easy to manage, they do superbly well in a pasture setting, are good in family units and adapt well to both heat and cold – Large Black Hogs totally rock. Oh yeah – and they taste … unbelievable! The only real challenges have been dealing with castrating the males (would be true of any breed) and that they are BIG when full grown – over 700 pounds as a boar or sow. The size alone can be a bit intimidating, but our pigs are generally very sweet and LOVE belly rubs.
What would you consider to be your most popular products?
In the past, it would have to have been our garlic and sea salt chevre (aka crack cheese), but now it’s pork (sampler pack, anyone?). In the future … well, keep an eye on us. We may have some surprises up our sleeves!
We should also mention, we have some wonderful Nubian dairy goats for sale – if you buy some of our girls for your home use or to start a dairy, you will say they are our most popular!
How do you market your products? Where can people purchase them?
On our website, on the farm and the Liberty lake Farmers market starting in May – we have a website (in need of updating), a Facebook page and an Instagram account – make sure you look for Heron Pond Farms – with an “s.”
What recommendations do you have for someone who might be thinking about starting a farm?
Be incredibly honest with yourself about your skills and abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Take the Cultivating Success course from Ag Extension. Intern on a farm and find what you love and don’t forget to take courses or bone up on business stuff – taxes, accounting, record-keeping and marketing.
What trends are you seeing in our society that support a bright future for small scale farmers?
Many consumers are interested in knowing how their food was raised and who raised it – it doesn’t hurt when it tastes fantastic! The biggest trick is educating consumers on the true cost of raising that food without the big ag subsidies – whether it’s pork or beef or poultry or tomatoes and corn. Small scale, intentional production costs more, but when it comes to proteins, it’s worth the price. As a meat producer, we actually advocate for eating less meat – buy good meat and make it sing on your plate, but use less of it!
For more info visit: heronpondfarms.com
Interview by Juliana Anderson.