When I first sat down with Dave Skornia of Lakeside Farm, he was incredibly moved and excited to share his story with us for the 2018 Guide to Local Food. He cares deeply about his farm and homestead and I knew right away we wouldn’t be able to do it complete justice in the yearly publication. This is Dave’s personal story about the history of his homestead, his love for farming, and what he raises and sells on his farm today. His inspiring story expresses his deep passion and dedication to the land, and motivation to help beginning farmers. So I thought, who else to tell the story better than Dave himself?
If you haven’t already, read about the relationship of Lakeside Farm and Spirit of Walloon Market Garden in the 2018 Guide to Local Food. The story expresses Dave’s dedication to helping others within the local food community and helping beginning farmers get established by sharing his land and resources!
Dave Skornia’s Story:
I believe agriculture has a long history of people working together to accomplish a particular goal, whether it is a barn raising, harvesting, or forming local cooperatives. Since before I can remember, I have been fascinated with anything related to agriculture. Growing up on a very small farm, we raised our own food. This allowed us to be self sufficient, spend time outdoors and always learn something new, all of which are valuable experiences and helped me develop a love for hard work.
After all these years, it is still hard for me to imagine how in 1881 my great-grandfather and many of his neighbors from Northern Europe chose to settle in such a beautiful area, now known as Bay Township.
While it may not be prime farmland, this area has provided unique opportunities for several generations of our family. In 1914, my grandfather purchased the farm just across the road from the original homestead and built the house where my family lives today. In 1985, I started building my farming operation on a portion of that original land.
After moving into my grandparent’s farmhouse in 2000 with my wife Lynn and young daughter Katelyn, we started to raise beef for our own consumption. We wanted meat that was not raised with hormones or antibiotics, and I knew I could control the type and quality of ingredients fed to the animal. With this in mind, I started to grow and grind my own feed.
While farming has certainly been a challenging way to earn a living, it does have many rewards. As a lifestyle choice, much of your life and identity revolves around the farm. My favorite part has been raising cattle, working with and improving the soil, and having interactions with the people. It is always enjoyable to meet new, happy customers and exchange ideas with other farmers.
In 2002, we started to sell directly to friends and family. Since then, we have increased to raising a total of 20 Holstein Steers a year. I take great pride in having a quality product, and to ensure this quality is maintained, many years have been spent improving the soil biology, crop health, and livestock comfort with a focus on conservation and sustainability.
I have worked to support local agriculture and improve my conservation practices by hosting farm tours, giving public presentations about the farm and land preservation, participating in Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), the Conservation Stewardship Program, working with the Local Food Alliance, and serving on the fair board. For several years now, I have served as the chair of Bay Township Planning Commission. This has been a time consuming but worthwhile effort. Many ordinances were outdated with language making farming, agritourism, and farmland preservation difficult in our area. With an abundance of community support, we have been able to amend the language to better represent and encourage viable agriculture as it exists in our Northwest Region today.
With deep roots here, I am passionate about preserving the land for future generations. As a fourth generation caretaker of this land, it is not an obligation that I take lightly. For generations of our family, it has always been a huge part of who we are. When working together as a family to forever protect this land through multiple conservation easements, we were often reminded of the Native American adage “Take care of the land and it will take care of you”.
The farming practices we utilize employ environmentally responsible techniques to improve soil, manage the woodlands, and respecting the farm’s sensitive location to area watersheds.
This also helps ensure financial sustainability. The years of cover cropping and soil testing have provided us with crops that I never dreamed of being possible on our challenging soil. I’ve recently started a project to convert a portion of the improved cropland to a permanent rotational grazing system and hope to include a livestock incubator operation someday.
The sole premise of agriculture is continual growth. As farmers, we must continually grow our knowledge, experiences, interactions within our community, and our commitment to protecting the very land that provides for our existence. As a farmer, I always remind myself of this particular saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know”. As someone with a deep passion for agriculture and love of hard work, farming has provided a very rewarding life. For someone just starting to follow that passion, I would guide them to find their special niche, focus on quality over size, operate on a financially sustainable scale, and continue to share knowledge and experiences with the next generation of farmers.
Lakeside Farm Products:
Our natural, dry-aged, hormone, and antibiotic-free beef comes from happy Holstein steers. The animals are purchased as calves, then raised on the farm for the next 12-16 months.
The beef is dry-aged for 21 days prior to cutting, as this adds to the flavor and tenderness of the beef. All cuts, except ground, are vacuum packed. Prices and contact information can be found at http://www.lakesidefarmboyne.com/
Bailey Samp is the Local Food Coordinator for NW Michigan and co-owns Lakeview Hill Farm with her partner John in Leelanau County. If you haven’t already, read about Dave’s relationship with Spirit of Walloon Market Garden in the 2018 Guide to Local Food. Bailey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.