Conservation Innovation Grant Case Studies: Conservation is key for Ruth

Cora Fox contributed to this blog.

This case study was supported by Conservation Innovation Grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Center's work through this grant features beginning, women, and veteran producers who use conservation in their farming operations. Stay tuned for information regarding upcoming webinars for beginning, women, and veteran farmers and ranchers. Check out the two-page case study here.

For more than two decades, Ruth Chantry has been gaining farming experience, and she’s not planning to stop any time soon.

Common Good Farm, located outside Raymond, Nebraska, is run by Ruth and her husband, Evrett Lunquist. Their farm is certified organic and certified biodynamic, which means they meet organic agriculture standards, and also look at the farm as a whole organism.

“Much of what we do on the farm is focused on soil health and increasing organic matter through compost amendments,” said Ruth. “Our work toward conservation includes the whole farm, not just one field.”

When Ruth and her husband were trying to purchase land, more than 20 years ago, they found it to be a difficult process to find land they could afford. To make it work, they worked with a private individual and made use of Ag Nebraska Investment Financial Authority (NIFA) which offered a reduced interest opportunity to Ruth and her husband while allowing tax benefits to the private lender.

Since then, the couple has put their hearts, souls, and energy into keeping Common Good Farm running in a conservation-friendly manner.

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Ruth grew up gardening and canning. Her husband, who grew up in Minnesota, has a degree in sustainable food and agricultural systems, and had some experience working on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and market farms.

Together, they developed an interest in growing food for people. The couple started out on a community farm in Wisconsin where a steep learning curve equipped them with the tools and knowledge needed to start their own farm. To spread the word about CSA and biodynamics, Ruth and her husband decided to move to Ruth’s home—Nebraska—to give it a try.

Twenty-two growing seasons later, Ruth and her husband have a highly diversified farming operation. At Common Good Farm, they own 20 acres of land where they grow 45 kinds of vegetables and herbs, as well as raise a few hogs, 900 laying hens, and have a small herd of cattle to produce grass fed beef.

For the couple, it all comes back to conservation.

“Soil health and conservation are important for the health of the plants and animals we grow and raise, as well as the taste and quality of the products we sell,” said Ruth. “We almost have a closed-loop system on our farm, meaning that we attempt to recycle all nutrients and organic matter back to the soil in a sustainable manner.”

Ruth and her husband believe that livestock is important on a sustainable, biodynamic farm, and every intricate part of the farm works to support another – the introduction of hogs to their farm addressed a growing bindweed problem; manure from livestock enriches the soil; and field scraps feed the animals they raise.

On Common Good Farm, they also incorporate the use of rotational grazing for cattle and hogs, cover crops, buffer strips, tree planting, wildlife habitat, and managing soil erosion.

In addition, the couple has used USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) conservation programs including the high tunnel cost share and a separate organic EQIP program focusing on rotational grazing, cover crop, nutrient, pest management, and EQIP Drought Assistance Funding in 2012 for reseeding pastures.

Ruth stays current on conservation practices and farming methods by staying connected to her agricultural peers, including producers through the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS). She was a founding member of SlowFood Nebraska and of Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska. Today, Ruth and her husband present classes and host farm tours for beginning farmers to help those who were once in their shoes.

Ruth says learning how to apply all these practices takes time and hard work, and sometimes you need to ask for help.

“Starting out, if you can go work somewhere to gain some experience – do so,” she said. “Learning how other farmers do things is important. Farming can be demanding – day and night, but it is worth it.”

This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, under number 69-3A75-17-46. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USDA. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.