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Rusted Rooster Farm
Sean O’Donnell was seventeen when he founded Rusted Rooster Farm in Parkman, ME. Sixteen years later, his love of crops, carbon farming and tinkering with mechanical equipment has created a successful grain, hay and cattle operation. He grows much of the wheat, barley, oats, field peas and rye we carry. Sean, his wife Sandra, and their four children participate in the farm work—their 9 year old managed this year’s crop of Black Turtle beans. Family farms like this one are identified in our variety descriptions with a Supplier Code 1.
“Take care of the soil and it will take care of you,” Sean says. “I trade carbon to the soil in exchange for a crop. Anything you take out has to be repaid.”
This is the basis for how he farms. Starting with worn-out hay fields with 5% organic matter, he tills to incorporate amendments and plants grains. The first-year yield is a third of what his established fields produce, but by year three the yields are comparable. After growing grain in a field for five years, he seeds to diverse grasses and legumes to feed his 60 head of cattle. At this point, the organic matter has doubled. Even without irrigation, fields with 10% organic matter yielded the same during the 2020 drought as they had previous years. He uses minimal inputs so his plants work for their nutrients, building deeper root systems and microbial relationships. It is beautiful to see how this approach both delivers good yields and leaves soil healthier and more climate resilient.
When I visited the farm, a lush crop of red clover had volunteered in an old field. “Why buy fertilizer when there’s atmospheric nitrogen to be had for free?” Sean says.
In winter he turns to how to benefit his community and improve his infrastructure. Because agricultural machinery isn’t built for his relatively small 120 acres of grain, he has scaled down equipment to his level of production. With the help of a SARE grant he built a weatherproof grain bin and then made a video explaining how to do it. He shares the seed-cleaning equipment he designed with six other farmers, including Somali grain farmers who drive up from Lewiston.
His advice to young farmers: “Notice patterns and utilize them; you can’t control the wind, but you can turn the sail in another direction. There’s always something you can do to mitigate the situation at hand. Use creative problem-solving, and don’t underestimate yourself—keep working at it. Learn how to fix your own equipment!” He encourages all farmers to work together more, share resources and knowledge. “I love sharing knowledge with people because I always learn something from them, too,” Sean says.
– Renee Manly, Organic Growers Supply purchaser