Because the Ihms were never hardcore conventional when it came to pesticide and herbicide use, one thing you’d notice about Ihm Organic View Farms, even before they transitioned to organic, was the worm count. Driving down the southwest Wisconsin ridge road where the farm is located, you notice it especially after a good, soaking rain: the road is covered with earthworms that have crawled out of the rain-soaked soil. Like magic, their numbers almost disappear when you pass the boundary of the farm to the next door acreage.
“If you dig up a handful of soil in our fields, you’ll come up with plenty of fat, healthy worms,” says John. “And that’s an excellent indicator of healthy soil.”
John’s dad, Raymond Ihm, had thought about transitioning their farm to organic a few years before it happened, but was put off by the large amount of paperwork involved. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when a local young farmer working with Raymond stepped up to help with the transition, that Ihm Organic View Farms became certified organic in 2005.
“We didn’t have a tragic experience with chemicals that caused us to transition like some people have had,” John says, “but my mom was always into homeopathic remedies, so we understood the value of working with nature instead of against it. But when it came to the farm itself, once we had a firsthand introduction to organic and realized it wasn’t so different, we went for it. Since we never used a lot of pesticides and herbicides to begin with, we knew how to deal with weeds without chemical crutches.”
By 2009, John was able to buy in and form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) with his dad on the farm.
“If we hadn’t gone organic, I’m not sure I would have had an option to begin farming."
John and Deb live just down the road from the home place where Raymond and Sheri live, and John’s brother, Joe, and his family live close by on their own organic acreage. Thank goodness, since keeping up with this operation takes a whole family.
John and his dad handle the 80-cow dairy. The cows rotationally graze roughly 80 acres of pasture throughout the grazing season.
“As much as possible, we minimize the amount of grain we feed in favor of pasture and dried forages. Because we manage the pastures better, we see a wider variety of grasses and legumes, and we get a lot more feed off of that acreage.”
The three oldest of John and Deb’s five children do their share of night chores by helping bottle-feed calves, milking and feeding cows, and cleaning.
The Ihms do more than produce high-quality, organic milk for Organic Valley. The farm is also home to Hy-line brown laying hens that produce Organic Valley eggs. The birds are fed and spend evenings in a big, airy facility. As long as the weather’s suitable, the hens are outdoors from late morning til dark, scratching and picking through a paddock of winter wheat.
Raymond and Sheri do the morning egg collection, John handles the feeding, and brother Joe and his wife collect eggs in the evening from the late-laying hens. John’s been experimenting with different kinds of perches in the barn to figure out which type works best for the birds.
As if all that weren’t enough, the Ihms have worked closely with Organic Valley’s Sustainability Team to develop alternative energy on the farm, which makes good sense on their ridgetop acreage. In 2011, they installed a 21.5kW solar electric system in the hen paddock. Not only has it produced all the power needed to power the chicken barn, but it produces excess to sell back to the local utility. By the one-year anniversary date of the installation, the Ihms received utility refunds totaling approximately $1,500. The hens were pretty happy, too, since the panels were sited in the hen paddock to provide more shade for the birds on the hottest summer days.
In December of 2012, the Ihms completed an energy audit on the dairy side of the farm to help identify more energy savings opportunities.
The Ihms family will continue to steward their organic acres on a southwest Wisconsin ridgetop for decades to come.