Tour: Milk and Honey Farm

Last weekend, on a Mother's Day make-up, we had the opportunity to spend some time at Mary Lou and Tom Shaw's Milk and Honey Farm.  They generously showed us around their property, which includes 13 acres that they use for growing plants and raising animals, and 39 acres of wetlands.  It is truly a special place, and we're happy to share our experience with you.

The Location:  Milk and Honey Farm is located between Mount Sterling and Washington Courthouse.

The Goods:  Milk and Honey Farm isn't currently producing products for public consumption - so the bulk of this post is in "The Story" and slideshow below.  They do what they do for themselves, family, friends, and neighbors.

The Story:  My mom has known Mary Lou for many years, and I met her once quite a while ago at Dragonfly in Columbus.  So, when my mom gave us a quick snippet on the farm - they have dairy cows, 39 acres of wetlands, chickens, and more - we jumped at the chance to go check it out.  We were in for a treat.

These are clearly the kind of people who like to get things done.  While they're technically retired, I walked around all afternoon thinking to myself how this would be way too much work for me!  And from the way they described what they're working on, their are plenty of new projects in the pipeline to keep them busy.

Without going into too much detail, the Shaw's moved into their current property after Mary Lou's mother passed away - she had been living there previously.  Before that, they had lived in a gorgeous house they built about 30 years ago across the road.  Since moving into their current home, they've learned just about everything they need to know about running a farm, mostly because they've figured it out from scratch - talking to friends and neighbors, looking at books and websites, you name it.  Tom told me about one of his upcoming undertakings - building a chicken plucker!  He got plans for the Whizbang Chicken Plucker (and here are other Whizbang books and tutorials, like how to butcher a chicken), and intends to put one together soon.

It's as though they started asking the question "Where does X come from?" and then went about answering that question with a hands on experience.  Where does milk come from?  Dairy cows.  And they're proud of themselves for advancing from hand-milking to an electric bucket milker this year!  Where does butter come from?  Churning the cream from the milk of course.  Could they buy it at the store, sure.  But why not churn it?!  I'm in the picture on the right doing my share of the labor - and after about 15 minutes of churning, we had the best butter I can ever recall tasting.  They also make cheese, yogurt, and kefir from the milk they get from their cows.

If they can do it themselves, Mary Lou and Tom probably have.  At Milk and Honey Farm they've got chickens and bees and a huge garden with everything from hops (for the beer they make) to lettuce (which they were kind enough to share) and much more.  They built a big sun room/greenhouse on the side of their barn that was growing the largest chard any of us could remember seeing.  They have horses and donkeys too.  And at the top I mentioned the 39 acres of reclaimed wetlands - unfortunately over 90% of Ohio's wetlands have been destroyed, so that our aquifers don't properly refill with water and wildlife don't have habitats to prosper. 

Their place is special in large part because of all the smart projects and processes that they've undertaken to get connected with their land and what they put into their bodies.  But, what really brings it all together is Mary Lou and Tom's infectious energy and thoughtfulness.  They answered every question we asked, regardless of how stupid they may have seemed as the asker ("How do you make cheese?" or "What's the purpose of a donkey if it's not going to carry anything?"), and they are quite simply doing the best they can to be good stewards of the Earth.  That is something they have to teach all of us, and something I have been happy to spend more time thinking about since our visit.

A big thank you to Mary Lou and Tom for their generosity!  They're not available to do tours in general (you can tell, they have a lot going on!), so if you want to reach out to them for any reason, please email us and we'll pass the communication along.  Check out some more photos from the trip below...


intuitive eggplant said...

Interesting and inspiring post. Thanks for sharing, especially since your say the Milk & Honey farm is not open to the public. Are you familiar with the Cincy Slow Food chapter? If not, am guessing it would be up your alley. They recently organized a tour to Grand Vista bison farm near New Richmond and have some other intriguing events lined up. I was happy to discover this group, and posted about my trip to Grand Vista in case you're interested: http://eggplanttogo.blogspot.com/2010/05/buffalo-and-chickpeas.html

Keep up the great work on your blog. I always enjoy reading.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

intuitive eggplant - thanks for the comment! I'm glad you're enjoying our blog!

I am familiar with the Slow Food group, but its just happened that the dates they've had things going on that seemed interesting to me I have not been able to make it.

Thanks for sharing on your visit to Grand Vista - great post! I'm now subscribed to your blog via my Reader.

intuitive eggplant said...

Cool, Gavin, and welcome!

I'll have to try lunch at Deli Seven20. Thanks for the rec. There's a terrific explosion of new lunch options downtown, but it's always nice to have another on the "rotation," as you say.

Nice people and reliable call-in order timing are worth a lot too, in my book. One of my new faves, Wicked-wich, didn't have my call-in order ready today (generally a good way to short-cut their lengthy line without unfairly annoying other customers). I heard a bit of grumbling from a couple of staff members that others didn't have their act together, but they made good on it by offering me a soda, which I declined, then voluntarily comping me a cookie. I also recently had the opportunity to have W-W bring in a catering order to my office. Favorably received by the eaters, and I appreciated W-W's promptness and professionalism.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

intuitive eggplant - yeah, I've been happy with W-W so far. They're still new too. Let me know what you think of Deli Seven20 when you go...