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Conservation Stories: Jen and Leslie Heron

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Are you wondering what it’s like to work with Whatcom CD? Read on to learn about Jen and Leslie Heron and their Farm Planning experience!

Q:How long have you lived here in Whatcom County?

A: We bought our property October 2017 and began driving up Friday nights, working on improvements each weekend, then driving back to be ready for work on Monday. We moved here full time August 2019.

Q: What brought you to this area? A: We were both born and raised in Washington. Even though we’ve lived for short times other places, Washington is home for us. When we were looking for property, we wanted to be away from the city, but still easily accessible for people to come stay. We were looking from Whatcom to Pierce County, and didn’t want to have to take a ferry or go over a mountain pass. We knew that we wanted a big garden, the ability to have some animals, and space to create a welcoming and healing ‘retreat’ feel for people who are addressing grief, loss and burnout from being caregivers. From the first time we came out to see the property, we fell in love with it and now here we are! Now that we are living here we are getting to know the area more, networking with small farmers, figuring out the richness of the history and natural resources in the area. We loving being close to both the water and the mountains, rural and urban resources, and the peace, quiet and wildlife on our property. It feels like home.

Q: What types of animals are you raising? A: We have rescued 5 adult female llama, 2 of which surprised us with crea (babies) this spring. Llamas are very gentle on the land, and we have them free ranging during the day. It’s pretty fun to look up and have a llama looking in your window! We are not what you’d call “horse people”, but we did buy a horse property. We have been able to provide self-care boarding for neighbors, and we currently have a renter who is using some of our fields for his oxen and a greenhouse. We also have cats and dogs - a farm requirement, I think! Our goal is to add a variety of poultry and a couple small goats in 2021. We have started on the garden and have managed to get quite a bit of produce this first year. We’ll expand that next year, and start thinking of how to optimize the fields we have. We also have some heavily forested acreage, and will be working on walking trails to be able to enjoy that area more. Q: How did you first learn about the Whatcom CD? ? A: A number of years ago, when we got this dream of moving out of the city to develop a healing space for caregivers, we knew we had A LOT to learn. We started with the Cultivating Success classes from WSU, which I am so grateful for! Our classes were held in Snohomish County, and one of our instructors worked for the Snohomish Conservation District. When we purchased our property in the Deming area, one of our first calls was to the Whatcom Conservation District office. We went to some of the Speaker Series classes, used the website and brochures to learn more, and then scheduled for an on-site farm visit and got our conservation plan.

Q: What was your initial impression of the prescribed farm plan or Best Management Practices? A: Our farm visit was May of 2019, and we learned SO MUCH! We learned tips about wetlands management and protection, repair and nutrient management of pastures, mud management, manure management, and more. We were given a variety of maps and information sheets about our property, the types of soil we have, the rivers and streams in our area, and what steps we could take to optimize our farm plan. I am SO GLAD we started with the Conservation District walk-through early in our property ownership. Having the Best Management Practices as a guide from the start saved us from making costly mistakes and really helped shape our farm plan.

Q: What aspects of the Farm Planning program were you most interested in? A: We have been able to take advantage of both cost share and rebate benefits from the WCD. We are currently building a 3-bin aerated manure management system to take advantage of all the manure created here and turn it into compost for the garden. We qualified for a grant to help us offset about 50% of that cost. We also qualified for a rebate for adding gutters on our barns, which will really help with water management and safety for both people and animals this fall. Other programs we participate in are CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) and we now have over 2 acres of baby trees protecting a salmon stream adjacent to our property and we had a wildfire assessment done and are working to reduce our fire risk. Next year we’ll be fixing some heavy-use areas, which may also quality for cost sharing.

Q: What changes have you noticed, now that you have installed Best Management Practices on your property? A: Every improvement we make is a step in the right direction. Improved footing (for people and animals), fire safety, keeping manure out of the waterway and putting those nutrients to work to grow food, reducing water runoff that was causing erosion under our barns, and so much more. Our place looks better and functions better.

Q: Were there aspects of Farm Plan that surprised you? A: Looking at the ways we can improve safety, save time, and reduce long-term costs all with pretty minimal cost outlay has been surprising. There are grants, cost sharing opportunities, programs and community resources for projects we had to do anyway. We still had to do the work, but we didn’t have to do it alone. Being PROACTIVE, fixing things before there is an accident or before a problem gets worse, being able to plan ahead (with guidance), and having access to the Contractor and Referrals list has really saved us time and unnecessary costs.

Q: Would you recommend working with Whatcom CD? A: We highly recommend connecting with the WCD. The site visit is free, confidential and you get a notebook of resources customized to your farm and property. Even if you only use the website and take some classes, you will find information that will help you day in and day out on your property. The biggest benefits for us have been being able to prioritize the work that needed to be done; to have recommendations and education about ways to approach projects; financial assistance to help offset costs; and the community connections we’ve gained. Some of the connections we’ve made: Sustainable Connections Horse boarders Contractors Farmers for plant starts, produce and meat Fruit and nut trees with Cloud Mountain and more.

Click here to learn more about the Whatcom CD Farm Planning program.

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