September 8, 2011 by wcobserver
By Terry Ropp
Many people in Northwest Arkansas own land and raise a few cows. Not many make farming their sole source of income and the center of their lives. Mark Findahl and his daughter Laura, 17, and son Avery, 15, do just that. They live near the Hogeye Mall but off road so that their home is not visible from the highway. In fact, the long lane back to their homestead takes several minutes to navigate. The twisting, rugged trek may seem an obvious obstacle but in reality is a beautiful path with every ten feet or so providing a new and interesting perspective of the land. The lane forces the traveler to slow down and perhaps appreciate both the time and views, rather like an enforced and therapeutic smelling of roses. Laura says, “I guess living this far out of town is maybe a disadvantage, but my friends, mostly town girls, love to walk on the land just as I do.”
The main source of income for the family is selling beef. An important part of that process is selecting what Mark believes to be the most productive beef cow, a cross between an Angus and a Charolais. Though he acknowledges some prefer purebreds, especially Angus, he thinks careful feeding and general care of a crossbred cow can produce good quality and economical beef for the consumer while providing the profit he needs to survive as a small but fulltime farmer. One way Mark increases his profits is by converting what was originally a horse barn into a haven for calves needing extra care. Currently two calves are housed in the barn and readily approach Mark when he enters the stalls. Mark keeps approximately a hundred cows and two bulls as a base herd with two young bulls being raised to take their place when needed.
Another part of the Findahl income comes from produce. In a normal year, that is one not plagued by drought, they have tree fruit, melons, tomatoes, squash, okra, cucumbers, and corn that they then sell at the West Fork Farmer’s Market. This year corn did poorly because the first crop got washed out and the second was burnt up by the heat causing their market produce to be limited to mostly tomatoes and okra, a result of necessary water rationing. As Mark and Avery pick tomatoes in the midday heat, Mark warns Avery to watch for bees explaining bees were starved for the moisture and sugar in the tomatoes because no one is watering flowers during the extreme weather.
An important and cherished aspect of the Findahl farming lifestyle is eating what they produce. Laura says, “One of the reasons I love our life is because we know how to provide for ourselves. Most people don’t.” Besides consuming some of the beef they raise, they usually have home grown pork as well, but not this year. Mark laughingly quips, “We are currently pigless.”
Canning and preserving foods, usually a continuous growing season activity, is limited this year due to the drought. Nonetheless, they have processed pickles as well as some fruits and vegetables. Mark says when his dad farmed the land, they had a substantial orchard, but conditions have changed. At one time the farm had many apple trees, but bores destroyed them and they were never replaced. As a result, they still have some peach, pear, and plum trees whose fruit they preserve and usually market.
Avery raises chickens each year as part of his Future Farmers of America project thereby providing eggs for the family. Each April he selects a new batch of chicks and then sells the chickens after competing in the Washington County Fair while keeping some to provide for themselves year round.
A final though sporadic source of food is honey from a few hives they reserve for personal use as indicated by a half full jar of honey on the kitchen window sill. The drought has had an impact here as well. Mark explains, “We have supported the hives with sugar water at times in the past, but sometimes you just have to let things go because you can’t have welfare on the farm all of the time. This year the bees are on their own.”
The family enjoys the annual fair as part of their yearly routine but entry is for fun and learning rather than for winning or advertising. Consequently both Avery and Mark enter the fair horticulture divisions while Laura opts for the craft sections where she explores her creative side with drawing, photography, and jewelry making.
Farming is clearly more than an income source to this close-knit family. Mark says, “I don’t want to work for anyone else. Dad was my example. Dad farmed, so I farmed.” Mark believes college was helpful, especially in the nutrition, commodity, accounting, and business law classes, but he feels he learned farming best from experience and trade journals like Progressive Farmer. Marks adds, “I remember other boys lined up for job interviews sweating bullets. I knew where I was going.”
Mark’s children clearly love their agriculturally centered life. Both are taking Agricultural Science and Technologies at West Fork High School. Laura plans on attending college and going into hybrid development combing a love of science with her creative passion. She says, “I can’t ever see me leaving this part of Arkansas.” Avery has different plans, looking to follow in his father’s footsteps by being an independent farmer. Like his father, the idea of working for someone else has little appeal for him. He also echoes his sister when he says, “I want to stay around Hogeye.”
The media often sites the dwindling numbers of small, independent farms. Learning more about families like the Findahls shows the high cost of that loss. How much better off our country would be with more families like them to help remind us of the values that make us strong.