National Ag Day — Retirees Finding Success as Four Country Gals


Today’s Ag Day Post is by “The Four Country Gals” began farming their 9.6 acre property in 2007. In six short years, they have developed a sustainable farm on the SW Utah high desert. All four are retired from very stressful careers and find the business of both produce farming and small animal wrangling to be both fun and exciting. They earned their “shepherd’s” mantle last year, having had it bestowed upon them by a neighboring sheep herder, who had been mentoring them for five years. Now the Four Country Gals are mentoring two other new farmers in the area.

Four Country GalsWhat’s windy, dusty, abused, short on water, and fairly isolated?  It’s where you’ll find us, the Four Country Gals, tending our little flock of sheep, tiny herd of goats, and a couple thousand square feet of garden.

Yeah, we’re small, but we’re awesome.

Over the past eight years, we’ve taken our little piece of “paradise” from a waste land to a beautiful little garden and peaceful site. Not for us, but to help with the mission of beating back a “food desert” in  SW Utah, specifically, Iron County.

We’re all retired from stressful careers. Mom was a business owner for years. Bev and Cindy were both law enforcement officers, and additionally, Cindy worked as a pilot for a small inter-island air service. Shari owned her own business for 20 years.

We find this new life exhilarating rather than stressful. Here we celebrate the good things, the birth of new babies, from lambs, to kids, to bunnies, to chicks. We appreciate the hard work of raising vegetables on sodic soil, and highly alkaline soil.

HPIM0773Most importantly, we really get a kick out of sharing our story with folks at the two farmer’s markets we support in Cedar City.

You can’t imagine the look on people’s faces when we tell them the story of “Mom’s Hen House”. How Mom (who’s about to turn 84) had always wanted a chicken coop. Short story is we designed it, built it, bought the chicks, raised them, feed them, clean their coop, gather the eggs, pay for everything, sell the eggs… and Mom gets all the money.

Or, when we talk about how we raise our lambs. You see, out here, we have more coyotes than neighbors, numerous Bald and Golden eagles, and even an occasional “big kitty”. So, we raise all our animals in large pens. Because our land doesn’t yet support a pasture, we raise all our animals on locally grown alfalfa. Yes, it’s expensive, but it sets us apart from all our competitors at the markets.

This past year, we’ve stepped up a bit, having received an EQIP grant to build two hoop houses over our main garden. Just as soon as the weather stabilizes, and the wind dies for a few hours, we’ll have them done, and be ready to plant… nearly three months earlier than in past years. We also expect to extend our growing season from the end of August to maybe as late as December.

Remember, we’re small, maybe even tiny by most standards. But we’re big enough to be major sponsors of one of the Cedar City Farmer’s Markets, the one that goes year round. We do that because there’s a major need for fresh produce. Our produce is Certified Organic, a bonus, as we’re the only Certified Organic produce operation in SW Utah.

We tend to the needs of our customers in  the same manner as we tend to our farm. We do what’s best for both.

100_1413This year, we’re creating a new twist on  the CSA model.  We’re calling it a “Market Subscription”. You purchase a set number of visits to our market booth up front. When you visit our booth (and you may come 15 minutes before the market opens), you select the produce that YOU WANT. We ensure you get 20% more produce than the value of your subscription. We’re hoping this will create farmer loyalty as well as encourage customers to enjoy good, fresh, organic veggies at the end of the month, instead  of resorting to processed junk food. We also accept SNAP benefits, helping to ensure those benefits are spent wisely.

What’s in the future? Well, we have goats, Nubian and Alpine. We have explored cheese, but have found the cost is too high to justify. It would cost us nearly $30K  just to build a small cheese making room, and dairy. We’ve settled on a value-added product made with goat milk. We can  create our custom commercial kitchen for half the price of the cheese plan, and make  a profit several years sooner.

We’re also working on a “top secret” aquaponics project, with the goal of providing a very popular fruit that is not commonly grown in Utah. You’ll have to read our blog for updates on that, and on the value-added item.

Because word is spreading about the incredible quality of our lamb, we sell out every year. Raised on 100% alfalfa that is fertilized, but never sprayed with pesticides, and because we butcher at 100 lbs, rather than at the larger American Lamb standard, we promote our lamb as “lamb for folks who don’t know if they like lamb”, thus opening new markets.

Are we “ag proud”? You bet. Everywhere we go in SW Utah (St George, Cedar City, etc) people see our magnetic door signs and ask for cards, or tell us they’ve heard about us. We continually spread the word about how you don’t have to be big to be awesome and of value to our neighbors and customers.

You can find Four Country girls online at:

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3 Comments

  1. A quick follow up. Awesome way to celebrate National Ag Day. Our new hoop houses passed inspection and have been approved for payment by the NRCS EQIP grant. This marks a whole new world for us. Can’t wait to start planting.

    Also, one goat has kidded. It was an extremely difficult delivery, and we’re lucky to save the doe. One twin survived… a darling buckling

    Like

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