BY BARB BERGGOETZ
In January, Larry and Tina Howard, owners of Maple Valley Farm, created what they call a revolutionary food distribution model. Strong believers in sustainability and environmental stewardship, the Howards’ poultry and pigs roam pastures and woods. Cattle, goats, and sheep graze organic pastures. Herds and flocks are typically moved each day to tall, fully rested pasture. This practice, they say, develops healthy animals, better soil fertility, and nutrient-dense food. And the members of Maple Valley Farm’s Harvest Partners reap the benefits.
Unlike members of a CSA (community supported agriculture) who are an ever-changing group of customers, Harvest Partners are full-fledged owners of livestock raised and butchered specifically for them. “It’s like having your own farm, without the work,” says Larry.
Members commit to annual contracts, agreeing to pay $350 per month throughout the year. The money is used to purchase livestock, pay for butchering, and to administer the partnership. Meat is cut to partners’ specifications and distributed seasonally from the farm, located at 3330 W. Maple Grove Road northwest of Bloomington. Over the course of a year, partners receive one-quarter of a cow, half of a hog, 50 meat chickens, one turkey, and eggs from six laying hens. Lamb and goat are divided among partners as they are available.
Animals are never treated with antibiotics, vaccines, hormones, or other drugs. “We wanted to raise them naturally and try a different approach. We don’t want all these drugs and medicine in our bodies,” Larry says.
The couple says the farm partnership is unique. “We have never found anyone else doing exactly this,” Larry states. “Our goal is not to get big, but to serve 50 partners the best we can. We hope it’s a model that others can replicate.”
To make the partnership work financially, the Howards need 30 more partners by 2017. Larry recognizes they’re taking a financial risk, but he feels strongly enough about the partnership’s viability that he left his engineering job in the spring. The couple’s children — Ethan, 15; Elena, 13; and Grant, 11 — are part owners in the business and have daily responsibilities.
“We wanted something that takes care of the land and takes care of the farm and that will be there for our children,” Tina says.
For more information, visit maplevalley.howardfamilyenterprises.com.