A Country Wish Fulfilled
Sharon Larson had a simple wish. She longed to have a home where she could keep her horse nearby instead of boarding him. Her husband, Kevin, didn’t share her enthusiasm for riding, but he, too, was tired of their suburban life. The couple and their three children had relocated several times over the years for work, settling each time into suburban neighborhoods where large homes were surrounded by small lawns and lots of concrete.
When a 29-acre property near Long Grove, Iowa, went on the market in 2010, Kevin and Sharon jumped at the opportunity to purchase the land and to reconnect with their rural roots. Today you can find Sharon aboard her quarter horse, Aspen, riding along the woods bordering the property. Besides Aspen, the Larsons have two other horses and board a fourth.
Kevin may not enjoy riding, but he enjoys growing the horse feed. In fact, the property’s 17 tillable acres attracted Kevin to the place. “Having an acreage where all I could do was mow a big yard didn’t appeal to me,” Kevin says. “I wanted to do some farming.”
One of Kevin’s first agronomic tasks was to harvest a 9-acre cornfield planted by the previous owner. Since Kevin didn’t own harvesting equipment, he relied on a farmer friend who offered to bring out his John Deere 9870 combine. “It took him longer to drive over here than to harvest the field,” says Sharon.
The Larsons purchased a used 5403 JD tractor at a local implement dealer, and Kevin scoured Craig’s List for a three-bottom plow and other implements needed for tilling, planting, and harvesting hay, now the farm’s main crop.
Kevin grew up on a farm in Wisconsin but admits he had “quite a bit to learn” about growing hay. He worked with a representative of a local ag cooperative who took soil samples and made recommendations on when to fertilize fields and plant seeds, and on what forage varieties to grow for horse feed.
During the first year on the property, Kevin harvested 7 acres of hay in large round and small square bales. Oldest son Matt, 17, and his friends pitched in to help put up the hay, which is stored in a pole barn along with equipment. Kevin then seeded 10 acres to a mix of alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, and ryegrass.
The 17 acres are capable of producing more hay than four horses will consume on an annual basis. Kevin plans to sell hay to other horse owners or to plant some of the land to corn or soybeans. He’s also considering planting a specialty crop such as trees or fruits, “maybe when I retire or if one of the kids takes an interest,” he says.
Kevin and Sharon agree that one of the side benefits of farm life is giving their children the opportunity to learn responsibility and to develop a strong work ethic.
“Kids just like something to do, and there is always something to do here,” Kevin says. Matt has already rebuilt three ATV engines, and he enjoys moving snow and repairing fences and equipment. “On any given day, Matt and his friends are in our shop tearing apart engines, repairing ATVs, or just tinkering,” says Kevin.
Matt, along with younger brother Mitchel, 11, built an L-shape track with several jumps on the back of the property where they practice stunts and feel the thrill of spraying a trail of dust. Compared to town life, “the kids have space to spread out,” says Sharon.
Daughter Jenna, 15, who prefers more refined activities such as dance and reading, isn’t quite as fond of wide-open spaces as her brothers. She misses having her friends live within walking distance, but she says her friends love to visit the farm and see the animals. “They think it’s cool we have horses,” Jenna says.
A dog, two cats, and 18 Buff Orpington chickens round out the Larson menagerie. Sharon selected the laying chickens because they are good egg producers even in cold, harsh winters. The chickens are housed in a converted children’s playhouse that has a front porch with window boxes.
In addition to tending to the kids and animals, Sharon enjoys gardening and operating a life-coaching business. From her office in the back corner of the farmhouse, Sharon writes a blog, does one-on-one counseling, and conducts teleconferences aimed at helping women achieve their life’s dreams.
She says the farm offers the perfect backdrop for her coaching business. It is a steady reminder that one’s dreams – in her case, living in the country – are worth pursuing passionately.
Find some useful tips for seeding forages, including planter alternatives and recommendations.
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