By Rachael Reynolds-Soucie
Thirty-two acres would be a lot for any livestock farmer to maintain with good help. But Kim Snyder does it all by herself, seven days a week, 352 days a year.
The single mom is a second generation farmer, raising critically endangered and heritage livestock, which she sells to some of the finest restaurants in Chicago like The Publican, to shoppers at farmers’ markets and to a handful of private customers, all of whom seek her out because her farm is run by the laws of nature, as it should be, she says.
“It really just morphed and evolved over the last 14 years,” she said.
Her aunt had a ranch in Phoenix when she was growing up, and it was her favorite place to go. She always wanted to be a farmer, but her parents said, “We don’t do that.” So instead she went into the corporate world.
But when her daughter Abigail Faith was born 14 years ago, the then 36-year-old decided to follow her dreams and opened Faith’s Farm in Dwight.
Today, she dutifully and lovingly looks after 18 heads of cattle, 30 hogs, two sheep, three donkeys and flocks of turkeys, ducks and chickens.
They all live outdoors, are free range and eat organic feed and grass she grows that provide a good, balanced diet. They are also treated with lots of love.
Because of this, the animals are healthier and stronger, which in turn breed healthy and strong babies that continue to get stronger with every generation. She refuses to overbreed her animals, letting things happen naturally as opposed to artificial insemination. That may mean lower yields — typically six to eight calves and 30-40 hogs are born each year — but her prime cuts are tastier and diners know they’ve come from humane practices.
Her meat is so sought after, she estimates that more than 200 Chicago and suburban chefs have found their way to her farm to learn more about what they serve.
“Everything has to have good balance and energy,” she said about the animals and her farm.
She recently raised and harvested 20 rare and expensive Swedish black hens, which are prized in Chinese medicine. The chickens are completely black, even their meat and skin, and the bone broth is coveted for kidney patients. A friend will use the bones for broth, and the meat will be served at a special five-course meal this week at Twain restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
Being a boutique farmer isn’t easy. “It’s hard work and it doesn’t pay the bills,” she said. “Quite honestly it’s just getting harder and harder.”
Take this year. The hot, dry weather affected the hay harvest and she worries how she will feed her cows this winter.
“I love the land. I love my animals. I love what I do.” — Kim Snyder
The USDA and the National Agricultural Statistics predicts the 2018 national hay crop could be the second-lowest hay acreage harvest since 1906. She will likely have to resort to hay barn auctions, where bales can run as much as $150 each. Her cows eat one bale a day.
That’s why in the past few years she’s begun opening up her farm to visitors to share her knowledge of humane farming, of the heritage breeds she raises and the misconceptions about how the industry labels their products, such as what “cage-free” chicken means (hens may not be squeezed into small wire cages, but they may also never go outside).
She holds chef retreats and an annual kids camp where children, mostly from Chicago, spend a week at the farm. “I get to touch these children’s lives and teach them things they won’t learn anywhere else,” Snyder said.
She has also held a Farm Fall Fest for the past nine years. It’s an opportunity for people to throw down a blanket, relax and learn more about Faith’s Farm. This year’s event will be held from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. October 14. There will be music, hay rides, a vendor farmers market and a chef from Chicago’s Antique Taco, named one of the 50 best tacos in America, serving up delicious snacks for purchase. There is no admission charge.
She also hopes her new Farm Store will be open for visitors that day. The store will have regular hours and also be open by appointment. She’ll be selling her natural handmade products such as laundry soap and stain remover, lotion bars and lip balm. (Snyder’s bacon lip balm is the bomb — take it from this reporter). She will also sell natural products made by locals such as honey, maple syrup, tea blends and ice cream made from local milk and berries.
It’s tough work but she does it all for the love of her daughter, the land and the animals that are so precious to her.
“I love the life. It’s my daughter’s home,” she said. “I love the land. I love my animals. I love what I do.”