Shawn and Beth Dougherty are proof that you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and a sustainable one at that. In 1996, the Doughertys paid $11,000 for 24 acres of land in the upper Ohio Valley that was designated by the state as “not suitable for agriculture,” yet with equal parts passion and determination, the farm they named The Sow’s Ear was born.
By using intensive grazing as the primary source of food energy, the Doughertys raise dairy and beef cows, sheep, farm-fed hogs, and a variety of poultry, which produce most of the food and feed on the farm and support a family of 10.
They are firm believers that diversity of animal and plant life on the farm is the key to both the well-being of the land and being self-sufficient. Their goal, and the theme of their session at the conference, is to dispel some of the more prevalent myths about farming by proving to others that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on prime farmland, nor do you require a lot of off-farm inputs if you practise the appropriate methods of stewarding the land and rotational grazing rather than following principals of commercial farming that deplete soil of nutrients and fertility.
While the Doughertys aren’t shy to admit that their operation has required a fair bit of experimentation and that there have been mistakes along the way, their hope is that by developing methods of how to transform neglected land into a fertile and diverse farmstead, they can share their experiences with others who seek to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle.
These topics would all be relevant for the current generation of farmers, many of whom are interested in owning a diversified small-scale farm, but face obstacles related to farmland access and affordability.
Shawn and Beth Dougherty will be leading two sessions at the EFAO conference:
1) Intensive Pasture Management for Farmland Regeneration at 2 pm on Wednesday, November 29, and
2) Innovative Watering Systems for Grass-Based Farms at 8:30 am on Thursday, November 30