Bell Farm: Where Good Food Grows

My name is Ellen Bell and I am a wife, mother, and farmer. Two years ago, I moved my family from our suburban home to a 10 acre farm just outside of Des Moines, and I started Bell Farm. I’m following a dream of mine, and I haven’t looked back.

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Bell Farm began with a large garden and a small flock of laying chickens. We sold a little bit of produce through our Facebook page ​and a few dozen eggs a week to friends and family. As word of mouth grew, we slowly expanded and branched out, trying new things.

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For example, we brought home a few dozen chicks from the state fair one year, and lo and behold, our meat chicken business was born! Now we raise 100+ meat chickens a year. They are free­range and pastured on our property, and we humanely butcher and process them ourselves here at the farm. We’ve also found markets for some of the other by­-products of the meat chickens, such as hearts, livers, gizzards, and necks/backbones for making homemade chicken broth and stock.

Our laying flock of hens has grown, as well. We currently have 28 laying chickens with plans to increase to 50 this year. We sell approximately 10 dozen eggs each week. Our customers seem to appreciate the fact that our hens live happy, healthy lives outdoors, and that they can come visit their egg producers anytime they want!

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Our first summer at the farm, we planted a medium sized garden, primarily for our family. Like other things, that expanded quickly as well. Last summer we cultivated roughly a half acre and sold 40+ varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs through a CSA. For those who are unfamiliar with this farm model, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and refers to a program where customers (also called members) can pre­pay for a portion of the farm’s harvest (also called a share). Shares are typically distributed to the farm’s members on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Last year, Bell Farm’s CSA ran for 5 months and included 10 member families. This summer, we will continue our CSA program and expand it to 12 full shares, which we will sell in either full or half share increments. We’ll be cultivating over an acre this year, and we have plans to sell our excess produce at area farmer’s markets, through our Facebook page, and to other outlets like grocery stores and restaurants.

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An interesting side­shoot of our farming business is teaching classes. In the last decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in homesteading topics like gardening, food preservation, raising backyard chickens, etc. For several years, friends would casually inquire if I had ever thought about teaching classes on any of these topics. I always dismissed the idea, but once we moved to the farm, I decided to give it a try. The first class I taught was a Garden Planning Workshop. The two hour course, taught here at the farm, instructs beginners and seasoned gardeners alike in how to plan out and execute a low maintenance, productive vegetable garden. This class continues to be one of our most popular courses. Since then, we have added almost a dozen other class offerings such as Pressure Canning, Raising Chickens 101, and Making Homemade Yogurt.

This spring we will embark on yet another new farming adventure: pastured pork. We are currently in the process of prepping about 2 acres of heavily wooded land on our property for 4 piglets that will be coming to the farm in April. We will be raising a heritage hog breed that is well adapted to forest life and foraging. The pigs will be rotated through the woods in paddocks. This means that they can root up one area of the woods, eating lots of plants, shrubs, nuts, and roots. When that area is showing signs of wear, we will move them to a fresh patch of land, which will allow the previous area to re­grow and repair itself. This is unique method of sustainable grazing in a wooded area is also known as Silvopasture. We are excited to dive into this new project and learn more as we go.

For more information about our farm, please feel free to contact me through our Facebook farm page here! ​We also welcome visits to the farm, and we gladly accept offers of help during planting season. We love to show others how they can get up close and personal with their food!

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Written by Ellen Bell

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