Ag & Eats: Chichester farm built on plan for permaculture, while weathering financial storms

  • ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Sam and Erin Schreier step out of their home at Inheritance Farm in Chichester, which they are turning into a farm that practices permaculture. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Sam and Erin Schreier step out of their home in Chichester, which they are turning into a permaculture farm. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • The Schreiers are building a "food forest," which, in addition to fruit trees and other crops, includes the pest-control and fertilizing powers of ducks. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Erin Schreier walks outside the shed where Inheritance Farm's ducks, geese, pigs and chickens all currently live. The pigs, which will be butchered in March, are in there to heat the space for the poultry. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • A pig pokes out its nose at Inheritance Farm. The pigs keep the other animals warm in a single shed. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • In their endeavor to partner with community members as a permaculture principle, the Schreiers receive leftover or past-date produce from Hannafords for their animals. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • One of Inheritance Farm's egg-laying hens hangs out on Monday. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • A signpost left over from the 3rd Annual New Hampshire Permaculture Day, which the Schreiers hosted this past summer. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Sam and Erin Schreier, who are currently leasing Inheritance Farm from Sam's parents and hope to buy it soon, are trying to practice and spread permaculture on their Chichester farm. The couple, seen posing here in this photo, are looking for financial help to keep moving forward with their project. (ELODIE REED / Monitor staff) ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

Saturday, January 23, 2016
When you ask a pair of permaculture farmers what they grow, the answer isn’t exactly straightforward.

“Community is our product,” Erin Schreier explained while sitting at her dining room table Monday.

Schreier, 44, is in the midst of opening Inheritance Farm with her 28-year-old husband, Sam, and their three children. The 200-acre property, nestled in the hills of Chichester on farm-lined Pleasant Road, was once a dairy farm. Sam’s parents bought the farm when he was 11 years old, and for the past three years, he and Erin have leased it from them.

They now have chickens, geese, ducks and are building a diversified garden called a “food forest.” Eventually, they may produce woodland products from their 180 or so acres of forested land.

All of it is a work in progress and relies on fellow farmers, grocery stores and neighbors. In return, the Schreiers are working with local food pantries, wannabe farmers and anyone else who wants to learn about permaculture.

“It’s not a linear thing,” Sam said. Everything they do, he said, is about being ethical, economic and efficient, much of which requires collaboration with those around them.

For example, the Schreiers are jointly raising their pigs with two other people who help with bedding and food, and they are also disposing of Hannafords’s past-date produce by feeding it to the hogs.

The couple’s financial goals, including eventually purchasing the property and putting the land under conservation easement, are just as carefully planned, and like crops, can fall victim to a bad season.

While they carefully (and tightly) budgeted for the future, this past fall, the Schreiers had a “perfect storm” of unexpected expenses: two cars dying within a week, a trip due to family illness, a hike in lease payments and a slower-than-anticipated refinancing process.

“Life happens,” Erin said. “We got so far behind that we were afraid we would have to leave.”

The Schreiers posted a GoFundMe fundraiser a month ago and have raised a little more than half their goal of $25,000.

“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” Erin said.

They are continuing to look for funding, but in the meantime, they keep busy building their permaculture plans. The Schreiers started using the method after Sam came across it one day on the internet.

“I was looking for a better way of life,” he said. “It just fascinated me as a solution to so many problems we have in the world. The ethics are Earth care, people care and the return of surplus. You’re creating ecosystems.”

Ecosystems – or various components working together to sustain each other – have already been begun in the Schreiers’s backyard.

The couple is building their food forest, which will include fruit trees, legumes and other crops that will keep the soil viable and produce the most food for the space. The Schreiers said it takes time to plan the plot on the front end, but saves time and money later on when they won’t have to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial inputs.

“It really works with nature,” Erin said. “It’s about having the cornness of the corn, the potatoness of the potato.”

And the pigness of pigs, who are let loose in the summer and fall to help turn over the soil. Ducks live in the food forest, too, since they provide natural fertilizer and pest control.

“They love slugs and Japanese beetles,” Erin said.

During the winter, the pigs and ducks, plus geese and chickens, all live in a shed together. The pigs provide the heat, the geese are the “watchdogs,” and the chickens – many of whom have been dropped off with the Schreiers over the years – lay the eggs.

“Everyone has a job,” Erin said.

Permaculture extends that idea not just around the farm, but throughout the community. The Schreiers’s garden has an open portion for interested people to learn more sustainable ways of planting and harvesting. The extra produce from the garden is intended for local food pantries. The Schreiers also share their property for educating the public about permaculture; they hosted the third annual New Hampshire Permaculture Day this past summer.

The couple plans to hold a fundraiser for Dunbarton Community Church next month, and is partnering with a Londonderry photographer, too, to use their farm for portraits in order to give both entities a little boost.

“We really want to be in multiple ways, community-based,” Erin said.

The Schreiers have a lot in the works, though they have to balance it all with their financial reality.

“It’s not a happy economy,” Erin said. Erin still works full time at Southern New Hampshire University as the assistant director of the academic resource center, while Sam continues with the farm and takes care of their kids.

Erin and Sam are not alone in their challenge of affording the land they need to achieve their goals.

“There’s a whole network,” she said. “If you want to use the land for what it’s intended for, it’s really difficult.”

Which is why their GoFundMe and other community partnerships seem to be the way to go. “It’s pretty much the only way to get into land again,” Erin said. She said of isolated farming, “There’s no economically viable way to do that.”

Sam added, “We need support.”

With it, the Schreiers hope to accomplish their goal of creating a better future for their kids – the inspiration being the “Inheritance Farm” name and its model of permaculture.

“We want to leave a world that’s better and we want to inspire people to leave a better world,” Sam said. “It’s a life with meaning.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Erin said. “We have a mission here and we really want to see it through.”

(Have questions or Ag & Eats news tips, events or recipes? Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)