Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Lillian Browne of Spruce Hollow Farm in Walton.
How long have you lived in the area?
Since some time between 2006 and 2007 when we purchased the farm.
Tell me about your business:
Spruce Hollow Farm is an equine facility that provides horse boarding services, trail riding, horseback riding lessons as well as massage, aromatherapy and reiki healing horse therapies. The farm also sells USDA meats, and animals for sale.
Describe a typical day in your business:
There is no typical day on a farm and every day is an adventure. There are so many variables when working with animals. Establishing a routine that the animals rely on is very important . We feed twice per day both morning and evening. Chores and feedings include making certain that all livestock has readily available clean water. We also check each animal on the farm, every single one, during feeding for injuries, cuts, scrapes or anything out of the ordinary. We have a riding program in the warmer months and on lesson or trail ride days we devote much more time to the horses. Our horses are minimally groomed once per day.
How did you get started in this line of work?
It is hard to imagine what my life was like years ago in a court room career. We are first generation farmers and that means a lot of learn by doing and asking advice from others. We build more stalls than we could use and it evolved into offering boarding facilities for other horses to help offset our own equine expenses.
Where do you see this business in five years?
Continuing to do what I love! I make myself available to adjust to the market and see where trends are heading. I think that expanding the farm to include sheep might be a future project in order to sell fleece, wool and maybe our own yarns.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:
There are many but one in particular was giving riding lessons to three young ladies who were able to successfully compete in the show ring at the county fair one month after they started riding. I was so proud of them for working hard and having the courage to compete with riders who have had lessons for years.
What have you learned from your work?
Self reliance and that there are better ways to communicate than the human language. The livestock have taught me a lot about weather and moods by their body language. This has really proved invaluable when dealing with people also as I have learned to listen to what is NOT being said with words, but being said nonetheless. My priorities have changed since becoming a farmer. Things that were once important now seem silly, like high heels! I've become self sufficient in growing my own food and taking more interest in what goes into my food. In practicality my husband and I have learned many things that we never dreamed of like giving our animals injections, how to castrate a pig and that baling twine works just fine as a ponytail holder!
What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Farmers are at the mercy of fluctating markets, fuel, corn and even the stock market, we can never predict with certainty where markets will be trending in meat or egg consumption in six months or one year. We gamble that our high quality meats will sell. I've not seen farming as a whole, to be challenging. In terms of our equine facility, when the economy is poor, people are not boarding the horses out or taking horseback riding lesson or trail rides. It is a juggling act to make our products and services available to the public and trying to make a small profit.
The most enjoyable?
Everyday we learn and enjoy something new, not just about our farm but ourselves and the beauty of the area in which we live. I love what I do so there is enjoyment everywhere.
How do you define success for your business?
I would define successes in increments. For instance, when a baby lamb survives the winter, that's a success! When I've sold USDA meats and not lost money, that's a success. But my definition of success comes in other small ways such as being able to produce our own food, seeing the triumph on the face of a child who just learned to trot a horse, these are all examples. Success is not just about finances. It is about setting goals and accomplishing them everyday.
What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?
The weather of Delaware County and this region is a drawback. The harsh, long winters can be daunting but mother nature makes up for it in the other seasons. You can not beat the views or air quality, especially at that time of the year.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
I don't have competitors, only friends in similar businesses but my business really focuses on holistic horse care and the training I have makes it a unique situation.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Have a mentor, someone who can answer questions for you. Kowing what resources are available for a business owner and a farmer are invaluable.
It helps to be willing and able to do your own marketing. Being flexible and creative are excellent traits for any business person, but especially farmers.
Know that there is more than one way to perform a task and the quickest way is not always the best way! Also, knowing when to cut your losses and reallocate your energies and money is invaluable.
Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.