An Interview with Bryan Burgess of Copper Goose Farm
Please tell us about yourself
Copper Goose Farm started in 2007 growing brewing hops to supplement Bryan's hobby of home brewing beer. Recently retired from Ford Motor Co., Jim Pechaitis, Bryan's father-in-law, continued to expand the hop field and added other perennial crops including black berries, rhubarb, asparagus, and others. With the hops in good hands, Bryan's focus turned towards annual market crops and he opened a booth at the Oberlin Farmer's Market in 2009. Inspired by the need for more variety at the Market and a book entitled Small Grain Raising by Gene Logsden, Bryan purchased all the mechanized equipment necessary and began offering local fresh-milled flour in 2010. More purchased equipment greatly expanded potato production in 2011. Although predominantly a two-man operation, Copper Goose Farm continues to grow each year and provide unique specialty crops to complement the traditional market farm.
What do you sell at the market? What are you main crops/products?
Copper Goose Farm grows over a dozen different varieties of brewing hops on 20 ft. tall trellises over approximately two acres. Additionally, at least an acre is dedicated to berry arbors including five varieties of thornless blackberries which mature at different times allowing us to stretch out the harvest over 8-10 weeks during the summer. Other berries include red and black raspberries, multiple varieties of elderberries, and strawberries. Because we follow organic methods, most of the work building soil fertility and managing weeds occurs throughout the year. Our garden crops are typically vegetables that require very little attention beyond watering and harvest. Our typical selection of vegetables is grown on ½ an acre and includes 2-3 varieties of peppers (Jupiter Sweet Bell, Cayenne, Hungarian Yellow), tomatoes (Rutgers, Amish Paste, Brandywine), cucumbers (Homemade Pickle), squash (Black & Golden Zucchini, Early Prolific, Acorn), beans (Blue Lake Bush, Tenderette, Strike), peas (Sugar Snap), melons (Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Watermelon), and cabbage (red and green). Field crops are grown on approximately 4 acres and include potatoes (Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Pontiac), sweet corn (usually eaten by the deer and raccoons), soft red winter wheat, buckwheat, edamame (soybeans), and pumpkins. We add new crops every year, some of which work out – but not all. It's a constant process of experimentation and learning from our successes and failures.
How do you see your farm/business developing in the future?
Copper Goose Farm is trending towards perennial farming for small niche markets. We continue to expand our commercial brewing hops production and market Ohio-grown hops to an expanding number of local breweries. Last year we sold our first crop of elderberries to a local winery which led us to greatly expand our elderberry production this year. One of our experiments this spring is planting over one hundred hazelnut trees which should begin bearing in a few years. Of course this type of farming is very different from planting annual vegetables. However, production of high-value cash crops is vital to the success of a small farming operation like ours and is a welcome complement to traditional market vegetables.
What’s the most interesting or entertaining thing that has happened to you while farming/making your product?
It seems that farming consists of one part agronomy and two parts mechanics. If machines were built to make our lives easier then why do we spend so much time cussing at them? Seriously, nothing is more frustrating than a dry field, rain expected tomorrow, and the darn tractor won't start. Or, harvesting a field, rain expected tomorrow, and the combine conveyor jambs. Or, planting hundreds of trees in hard dry ground and the tractor's auger drive shaft snaps in two. The sad truth is that small-scale farming fell out of fashion fifty years ago and most of the equipment we use today is from that bygone era. The purest might scoff at the notion of farming with anything other than a hoe and the sweat of your brow. But the reality is that machines both increase productivity and give us something to busy ourselves with in the off-season.
Besides farming/product making, what other things do you do in your spare time?
As the semi-retired partner in Copper Goose Farm, Jim spends the warm months farming and the cold months restoring antique furniture. Since retiring a few years ago, his occupation may best be described as a full-time hobbyist. Jim and his wife Diane enjoy traveling – most recently a trip touring the country of Thailand. Bryan is only a very part-time farmer and divides the rest of his professional time between Burgess Electric, Oberlin City Council, and maintaining rental properties. Bryan and his wife Amy have two sons, Owen 5 years and Porter 5 months, which leaves precious little time for hobbies, but ensures that there is never a dull moment.