Feature Stories

Yellow Barn Farm

By Vanessa Herald | Photo By Rebecca Claypool 0

I really hope to give people a way to feel connected to the earth and connected to themselves through what they are eating. I want to help weave that thread.” – Rebecca Claypool, owner of Yellow Barn Farm

Rebecca Claypool grew up a city kid in West Philadelphia, a long distance from her new home at Yellow Barn Farm just west of Spring Green. Despite her urban roots, the seeds of the farming life were planted early for Rebecca during a Maine Coast Semester at the Chewonki Foundation during high school. In her time away from home, for the first time she dug potatoes, milked cows and collected eggs – all of which left a lasting impression.

Now in the third year of production at her own small, diverse vegetable farm, the agricultural pursuits sparked in high school are in full bloom. Rebecca, like many other young or beginning farmers, acquired her farming education through years of experience interning and working on other peoples’ farms. She was motivated by the fact that, personally, there is something important about being a part of a process that is so fundamental: eating. “It’s nourishing. It’s loving. It feels like farming has always been the way I can express my love or give back to the community,” she comments. While following her passion, she was also gaining sufficient skills to lay the foundation for her own farm.

In the interim years between the impactful semester on the farm and the start of Yellow Barn Farm, Rebecca didn’t stray too far from agriculture. After high school, she attended Bates College and earned a degree in biology. Immediately following, she leaped into an AmeriCorps term of service as an educator at a working Maine dairy farm. When it was finally time to step away from the east coast, she landed at Featherstone Farm in Minnesota for two seasons, Tait Farm in Pennsylvania, Vermont Valley Community Farm and Greenspirit Farm in Wisconsin. If Rebecca’s path to farm ownership suggests anything, it’s the value of gaining experience working at a variety of different farms before starting your own.

“Even though I love farming, I’m a cautious person,” Rebecca explained about her decision to attend the Agroecology Masters program at UW-Madison. “A graduate degree would allow me to have options: to work for Extension or grow into the field in a different way. I know life is long and I might not want to farm forever,” she elaborated.

Rebecca recalls the moment when the thoughts of her own farm became a reality. While working at Greenspirit Farm in Dodgeville, she saw the farm succeed while operating at a manageable scale and using practices requiring minimal financial investment. “I could do this!” she thought, as she imagined herself starting small and creatively crafting the systems to make it all work on a small budget. Rebecca’s long-standing trepidation of taking on a farm mortgage and starting a farm as a girl from City Center Philly melted away.

Two major factors contributed to Rebecca’s success in getting on to the land to start Yellow Barn Farm. The first was a flexible position with the Veggie Compass project at UW-Madison that would provide her with reliable off-farm income and work during the winter months. The second is a set of programs run through the Farm Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program and the Socially Disadvantaged Farmer program. These programs prioritize real estate and operating loans for new and disadvantaged farmers. “I was only able to start my farm because of these programs,” she said. “No one else would have given me those loans to start the farm.”  

Yellow Barn Farm saw immediate success in its first year as a three-quarter acre market garden selling at the Spring Green Farmers Market, Arcadia Books, Driftless Depot and local caterers. With one year under her belt, Rebecca launched a CSA, expanding to one and a quarter acres, while also continuing at the market. “I didn’t want to let down these members who all paid in advance,” Rebecca said in conveying her anxiety about the first CSA year. “The cucumbers were terrible. Crops failed. There was tons of disease. But the boxes were overflowing and people showed up and made the farm a fun place to be.” The season was again a success. Rebecca is entering the third year of the farm with high hopes, and meeting all the challenges of a new farmer with aplomb.

Learn more about Yellow Barn Farm at the website, and visit Rebecca and her delicious produce at the Spring Green Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

Q&A with Rebecca Claypool of Yellow Barn Farm

Biggest Success: “Clearly the people who have showed up and participated and supported and pitched in. They have made this be fun and wonderful.”

Biggest Challenge: “Decision fatigue is a serious problem. On a daily basis I have to make so many decisions: how many tomatoes do members receive, what goes to the farmer’s market, what to hold for next week’s CSA boxes. The little decisions build up. The second is pests and disease.”

Lesson Learned: “Attitude. Success has a lot to do with the way you react to the unexpected. If a crop gets eaten or works out poorly, not dwelling on it has so much more overall impact than any one other thing can.”

Favorite Farming Resource: “My good farmer friend Laura Mortimore at Orange Cat Community Farm. We’re at the same stage in our farms, she’s been a lifeline. We bounce ideas and resources off each other, and we vent sometimes too.”

Advice for New Farmers: “Get experience. Work on someone else’s farm before starting your own.”

Vanessa Herald is head chicken wrangler at Make Time Farm in Southern Wisconsin, where she hosts monthly Make Time creativity retreats. Telling stories about food and farmers feeds her curiosity, providing endless fodder for tasty adventures. Vanessa serves as Farm to School Outreach Specialist at the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, but you can also find her handwriting letters, making Icelandic skyr and crafting art with vintage typewriters.

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