John Hellerman was out clipping his fields, conditioning the grass so his crops would thrive in the coming growing season. His mom was caring for his two young sons, when his oldest, 3-year-old David, noticed his dad was leaving the grass clippings lying around. That didn’t seem right to the young farmer in the making.
“He asked why we weren’t using the tractor to pick up all the grass,” Hellerman said.
David had seen the great big hay bales on the farm and decided those things weren’t going to make themselves. He went into the field behind his dad and started piling up the grass, preparing it for what he hoped would soon be big, beautiful bales.
Granted, Goodwin Creek Farm & Bakery doesn’t bale its own hay—Hellerman contracts that service out to a neighboring farm. But the farmer was still proud of his son’s instincts. He figures they were hard won. When David was a baby, before his now-18-month-old brother Joseph came along, he would sit in a baby carrier on a parent’s chest, working around the farm for hour upon hour.
“He’s all about it. We put him up on a stool and he helps roll out loaves of bread,” Hellerman said. “Joseph has never shown any interest.”
Even so, Joseph seems to enjoy some of the perks of living on a farm, Hellerman said: “He loves the birds, of course. He asks to go see the geese.”
Hellerman bought Goodwin Creek with his wife Nancy, brother, and mother in 2005, before kids were even in the plans. Hellerman had worked only sparingly on farms in the past, and his wife was a complete newcomer to the business. In the first half-decade they owned the farm, they dealt with fencing problems, wayward cattle, a herd of hungry deer, and over-zealous tomato plants. And that was before they had two boys in the span of a year and a half.
“When we had our 3-year-old, we had to pare activities down,” Hellerman said. “This is the first year we’ll get everything back.”
“Everything” is vegetables, fruit, artisan bread and muffins, and farm fresh eggs. It’s the egg production that’s taken a backseat while the family has been bringing up the boys, according to Hellerman. But with his mom now living nearby and taking care of the kids during the day, he and his wife are back to working full-time, and Goodwin Creek has reacquired the hens it sold when it was forced to cut back.
It’s the latest step in nearly a decade of ups and downs for the farm newcomers. Hellerman said money was tight when the family first started out, after Nancy left behind her job as an architect and interior designer. The way Hellerman tells it, Nancy, “a city girl,” wasn’t necessarily in love with their new lifestyle for the first year or two.
Fortunately, even during the leanest times, the family never wanted for food, thanks to the farm providing everything they needed.
“I don’t think we bought groceries for three years,” Hellerman said. “That helped us make it over the hump financially.”
The struggles have never been due to a lack of commitment, that’s certain. Hellerman said when his wife was in labor with their first son, he took the opportunity of a visit to town to deliver a few baguettes to a customer. Business done, they made their way to Martha Jefferson hospital and produced little David. Talk about good business sense.