Humans have shaped and used this land for millennia; our farm is simply the latest chapter in its history. Prior to European settlement, much of our regional landscape was likely a prairie/savannah mix, a natural ecosystem maintained in part by Native American influences such as burning, with thicker woodlands along watercourses. The abundant presence of chert (known as flint when it’s been worked) for which we named the farm was clearly a resource for Native Americans as well, as we regularly find points, tools, and other evidence of worked materials in our fields and stream. In more recent history the farm was heavily grazed and cropped before being progressively abandoned over the last 70 years, leading to significant soil degradation and erosion on the hillsides, from which most of the topsoil is gone. An earlier homestead site is still observable in the woods, including a house foundation (below left), collapsed root cellar (below center), stone-lined deep cistern, and family cemetery (below right), along with occasional traces of old field trees and pasture fences.
The current house was built in the late 1970s, after which the land was used primarily for recreation and hunting, not farming. Much of the farm is currently in mixed timber, mostly 40-year-old regrowth from abandoned pastures, either thick stands of semi-invasive cedars or young hardwoods competing for space. We are now working to clear many of these overgrown areas, intending to improve them into a modern version of savannah. We envision a functioning mix of native prairie, pasture, and healthy shade trees that can support grazing animals (goats instead of bison), while also hoping to thin and improve the quality of the remaining woodlands. Our goal is to integrate a working, productive farm with the natural landscape and ecosystem in a mutually beneficial manner. For example, we expect many of our managed pasture/savannah areas to offer more habitat choices and biodiversity than the “natural” monocultures of cedar they are replacing.
The aerial photos below, sourced from the Boone County Assessor’s internet mapping viewers, show some of the work we’ve put into transforming this landscape into a working farm. The first image was taken in early 2007, shortly after we settled here. You can see the beginnings of a small garden at lower right, but otherwise the landscape is as we found it. Areas of dense green are thick cedar groves grown up in abandoned pastures.
The image below was taken in early 2011, after four years of farm management. You can see the development of vegetable fields and the ongoing clearing of cedar thickets and other areas for pastures and more. At center right, above the house, you can see the development of our orchard, which is still ongoing. This image is already out of date, as of early 2012 we’d cleared many more cedars from the orchard and other areas, and built a chicken shed near the orchard. We’ve also been making various other land-use changes and improvements, including burning pastures to set back fescue and encourage native plant growth, and thinning hardwood timber stands to improve forest health.Over the long term, we intend to continue improving the quality of both pasture and forest areas, to develop a farm that maximizes natural habitat quality and diversity while using its landscape efficiently to produce food and income.