Members in Focus: Hannah Bernhardt & Jason Misik/Medicine Creek Farm, Pine County
Farming is a career often passed on from generation to generation. And each generation has the opportunity to farm their own way.
Hannah Bernhardt and Jason Misik, farmers at Medicine Creek Farm in Finlayson, are living examples of the evolution of agriculture. Hannah grew up on a corn and soybean farm in southern Minnesota, while Jason grew up in Wisconsin helping on a dairy farm and working in a commercial egg operation. Now, they raise grass-fed sheep, cattle and pigs on 160 acres in northeast Minnesota, living in a house Jason built along with a friend, with their young son Harvey.
Hannah, who is Vice President of the Pine County Farmers Union chapter, led a tour of Medicine Creek Farm earlier this summer, opening the farm to MFU members and the public to tell their story and demonstrate their practices in soil health and rotational grazing systems.
Roads lead to the farm
Hannah didn’t realize right away that she wanted to be a farmer in Minnesota. She went to college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, then worked in politics in Washington, D.C. But the nudge toward farming came through bit by bit, as she went to work for the National Young Farmers Coalition in D.C. She also spent time working at a grass-based livestock farm in upstate New York called Kinderhook Farm. Before long, she realized it was a lifestyle she desired for herself.
“It’s worth fighting for as a viable option for anyone who wants to farm,” she said.
She returned to Minnesota and worked on a few other farms (including MFU member sheep farm Shepherd’s Way in Rice County). The Medicine Creek Farm business started before Hannah and Jason purchased their current land and was known as Belly Rub Bacon from 2015-16. They bought land just outside the Pine County town of Finlayson in spring 2016. It’s marked by rolling hills and tall grass that sheep, cattle and pigs enjoy, while dogs guard livestock from wolves and coyotes.
The most recent accomplishment for these young farmers was the completion of their house. Jason and a friend of his built it themselves. He’s working on the barn, too.
One way that Hannah and Jason have made Medicine Creek Farm truly their own is their fencing method. Solar-powered temporary electronet fencing allows them to keep the sheep in one area for one to two days, then move them to a fresh paddock by moving the fence as well. The sheep, a cross of Dorset and Ile de France, eagerly run from one spot to the next, while the dogs dart between them.
Hannah demonstrated how she rolls up the fencing during the farm tour, which isn’t a totally simple task but works well. This rotational grazing method, she said, keeps the soil nutrients from getting too depleted in one area and helps the animals get more nutrients.
The cattle herd is the newest part of Medicine Creek’s operation, a Hereford-Red Angus crossed bunch, also rotationally grazed. They keep their pigs, a cross of Gloucester Old Spot and Berkshire, in a pen on top of a hill, with feed grown by Minnesota farmers in addition to grass. To ease stress when pigs are going to the butcher, Hannah and Jason keep a trailer in the pen so they get used to it being around.
A strong network
The couple turned to several resources for beginning farmers while starting out, which helped them build their network and their vision for what they want their farm to be.
“It’s been really important for us to have farming mentors as well as make connections with other beginning farmers so that we can both ask lots of questions before making decisions and also commiserate over mistakes,” Hannah said.
They’ve consulted people like North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown, who runs a well-known rotationally grazed livestock operation, as well as Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services and the Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings program.
“When you have a clear vision, it’s much easier to make difficult decisions and remember why we’re farming when it’s (inevitably) hard,” Hannah said.
Their journey is a good reminder that farmers have many resources to turn to for ideas or help, and that it’s worthwhile to do so.
Why Farmers Union?
Hannah and Jason became members of MFU when they bought their current farm land. She recalled that her dad’s family was involved with our organization and had been well-engaged with policy.
“My family demonstrated the importance of civic engagement from a young age, and I ended up working in politics for a while because of my upbringing,” she said. “Of course, I also ended up farming because of my upbringing!”
It makes a lot of sense, then, that the Medicine Creek farmers are active in MFU, an organization that brings farming and civic engagement together.
“Government only works for us when we are actively involved,” Hannah said, “and especially now with the immense power of corporate agribusiness, it’s more important than ever for farmers to be organized and work together to ensure we can make a living on the farm rather than seeing each other as competition.”