On summer Sunday afternoons, Roger Nelson and Susan Waughtal welcome visitors to their rural 10 acres of permaculture paradise—an enterprise that’s a sustainable ecosystem. The couple shares their land with tail-wagging dogs, a few cattle, 60 to 70 chickens of different breeds, honeybees and a pond of fish. Moreover, they share fresh food, local music and creative art with the local community.
Learning as They Grow
The couple moved to the property in 2008, despite having no farming background. With shared dreams and expertise—as an architect and artist—the sustainable farmstead known as Squash Blossom Farm began growing, repurposing and flourishing in a variety of ways, opening to the public in 2010.
Roger and Susan didn’t know exactly what to expect and admittedly were a little naive. Their kids encouraged them to raise animals, such as chickens, pigs, cows and honeybees. They planted gardens and renovated the 1910 barn, granary and chicken coop—recycling, reusing and finding materials online and at the local restoration outlet store. They learned as they went and soon produced fresh milk and homegrown and home-baked goods, which became popular items at the local farmers’ market. “We learned how to milk a cow on YouTube, and neighbors were generous with advice,” says Waughtal.
Growing Food and Business
In 2013, the couple began transforming the old barn into a modern commercial kitchen. As of this summer, it is equipped with a wood-fired oven, which can make 30 loaves of bread at one time, as well as a baking and pastry mixing area, coolers, dishwasher and prep station. “Roger designed the kitchen. As an architect, he knows the rules, and as the bread baker, he knows what he wants to work in,” says Waughtal.
“Our kitchen is primarily a bakery, featuring our wood-fired sourdough breads and delectable pastries, but we also plan to host dinners on the farm with guest chefs using locally grown ingredients, occasional wood-fired pizza nights and classes, such as cheese making, sourdough breads or fermented foods,” adds Nelson. “We will make the certified kitchen available for use by other small food entrepreneurs on a limited basis.”
Sharing With Community
Waughtal provides members of a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program a regular supply of fresh produce from the farm. Healthful options include vegetables, herbs, edible flowers and berries that are produced using organic and permaculture methods—no chemicals—in addition to chicken and eggs.
The old silo has been repurposed into a relaxing gazebo for community members to enjoy, with a pond of tilapia, koi and goldfish. An aquaponics system combines fish and plant production using aquaculture and hydroponics; blooming plants keep the water clean and live off fish waste.
The farm’s permaculture structure provides plenty of nutritious food. Along with annual plants, the couple grows several perennial crops with a goal toward low labor intensity. A nearby pollination garden provides beauty and is a natural environment for the bees that provide wax and honey.
On Sunday, September 27 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the farm will host the 5th Annual Farm Fair & Cow Puja. “Artisans will sell handcrafted wares, from stained glass, clothing and jewelry to repurposed furniture and yard art. There will be live music all afternoon at this family friendly event,” says Waughtal. “At 2 p.m., representatives from the Hindu temple will perform a traditional Cow Puja ceremony, thanking the cows for blessing us. The cows are painted and decorated and really seem to revel in the attention.”
During the event and other Sundays, Nelson and Waughtal offer products from the blessings of their land at Squash Blossom Farm Store, including honey, jams, bread and produce. Art, antiques and vintage items also are available.
At Squash Blossom Farm, there is a feeling of wholeness and a passion for local food, art and music, as much as living off the land itself. “We love the history and natural beauty of this farmstead and feel a responsibility to protect it, restore it and share it with others,” say the couple. “It is hard work, but it is the kind of work that feels like play and will keep us healthy as we grow older.”
Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer and local farm girl.