Farmer Feature: Medicine Creek Farm
Hannah Bernhardt – owner of Medicine Creek Farm, a beef, lamb, and pork operation in Finlayson, Minnesota – grew up on an industrial corn and soybean farm during the “Farm Crisis” of the 1980s. Up until 10 years ago Hannah never imagined returning to industrial agriculture – her experience with conventional agriculture showed bleak returns and a lackluster horizon. She instead found footing in politics and government in St. Paul, MN and Washington, DC.
But regenerative agriculture struck a chord. Experimenting with rooftop gardens in Brooklyn, NY, Hannah caught wind of soil health practices, and healthy soil’s ability to improve the environment. Better yet, she learned these solutions offered farmers a healthier, sustainable way to live off the land. So in 2015, Hannah returned to her roots in Minnesota and started a pastured pig operation, Belly Rub Bacon. She dove in headfirst – she milked sheep at Shepherd’s Way Farm, harvested garlic and ginger at Seven Songs Organic Farm, helped her dad plant and harvest crops, and sold cheesemaking kits at Roaring Brook Dairy. Business was booming, and hope was alive.
Hannah’s now partner, Jason Misik, grew up in Wisconsin where he helped the neighbors with chores on their dairy farm, worked part-time in a commercial egg operation, and spent two years at the mushroom farm River Valley Ranch. When Hannah and Jason met, they had one dream: run a farm of their own.
Starting Fresh with Regenerative Agriculture
The duo learned about regenerative farming and ranching from some of the best teachers: they traveled with the Practical Farmers of Iowa to Gabe Brown‘s no-till, rotationally grazed livestock farm in North Dakota, attended numerous field days and farm conferences through MOSES and the Sustainable Farming Association of MN, and completed the Land Stewardship Project‘s Farm Beginnings course. In 2016, Hannah and Jason purchased 160 acres of rolling hay fields and wildlife-filled wetlands in the St. Croix River Watershed, an hour south of the Great Lake Superior, on the edge of Minnesota’s north woods – today’s Medicine Creek Farm.
Medicine Creek raises 100% grass-fed and finished beef and lamb as well as pastured pork supplemented with organic grain from a local organic crop farm. They use management intensive, adaptive rotational grazing and move their animals to fresh grass daily. The farm coexists with Minnesota’s Timberwolf habitat, and as such Medicine Creek uses livestock guardian dogs to protect their sheep and young calves from predators. They also raise livestock guardian puppies to help other pasture-based farmers raise animals alongside healthy, thriving wildlife.
Studying with Soil Health Academy
Just recently, Hannah and Jason completed Soil Health Academy’s Regenerative Agriculture 101 online course through Kiss the Ground’s Farmland Transition Program. Since taking the course and receiving baseline soil testing through the program, they’ve been reassured that their regenerative practices are benefitting the land.
“It is such a relief to find a program that is supporting our vision, behind us 100%, and offering exactly the kind of consulting most needed by beginning regenerative farmers,” explains Hannah. “There is a great need for on-the-ground support; someone to walk the land with us, look at our soils closely, provide encouragement, and share wisdom to help us through the self-doubt. We’re thankful Kiss the Ground and its partners listened to our needs and believed in us.”
Returns on Regenerative Practices
Hannah and Jason experienced some difficulty acquiring land with the intention of farming it regeneratively; it took them five months to convince a landowner to sell to them on a contract for deed because their credit union wouldn’t give them a mortgage, even though they had substantial farming experience and a business plan. Their practices were considered “strange and risky” by both lenders and landowners. Conventional dairies in the area that are skeptical of Medicine Creek’s practices and seem uninterested in soil health often end up going out of business. But they’ve since been proven wrong.
At first, they worried raising pastured pigs would root the soil (sometimes pigs dig up the soil and scrounging for bugs and other food), but soil tests from the Farmland Program showed them that the pigs’ impact on the soil has been positive. Quantitative results encouraged them to keep up the pig rotation and perhaps even expand it to areas bale grazed by the sheep and cattle to help spread organic matter and manure for fertility.
Since implementation, they’ve noticed increased biodiversity on the land too; the farm is alive with wildlife and pollinators, and every year they notice something new. Medicine Creek is host to June breeding grounds for Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, and other ground nesting birds, is the permanent home to an overwintering breeding pair of ring-necked pheasants, sees increasing Sandhill Crane populations, migrating ducks, swans, and herons, as well as Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Red-Tailed Hawks, Kestrals, and Great Horned Owls, and even had a visit from a Snowy Owl last winter.
Making an Broader Impact
After their perseverance and proven wins, Hannah and Jason have become an influential name in their community. A few new regenerative farms popped up near Medicine Creek, and Hannah and Jason have joined a community of like minded farmers as members of the Minnesota Farmers Union, Sustainable Farming Association, Land Stewardship Project, Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition, and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
During the pandemic, Jason made time to restore a rare 1880’s barn that he found on Craigslist; the barn is a mortice and tenon timber frame held together with wooden pegs. The reconstructed barn is now the centerpiece of Hannah and Jason’s growing agritourism project; guests can stay in the first floor apartment, which they hope to turn into a visitor’s center and farm store where they could sell their own product as well as nearby friends’ produce and eggs. They also offer a trailer on HipCamp for accommodations, hoping more and more people will visit the farm and learn about their regenerative practices.
Learn more about Hannah and Jason’s story, and visit Medicine Creek Farm on their website.