(Old) Cole McGowen had a farm

In the age of modern day farming, Instagram and environmental biology driving factors in student's farm

After 2020, Cole McGowen realized food security could become a big concern and wanted to be able to provide for himself, his family and eventually, his community. 

Cole McGowen feeds a calf on his neighbor’s farm, where he often gets advice for his own farm. Photo courtesy of Cole McGowen

McGowen, a Ferris environmental biology senior, also wanted to take care of the environment and thus, Flinton Creek Farm was born. For the most part, it’s a one-man show in White Cloud.

“My parents really held back, they are not farmers in any matter,” McGowen said. “Since I’m at their house, I have to respect their rules and wishes… but I conned them into getting these things and then every year since then, it’s kind of just grown a bit and it really took the next step in 2020.”

A modern aspect that has been influential in McGowen’s knowledge of farming is Instagram. Along with learning from different accounts, it allows him to connect with different people that are willing to help new farmers. McGowen’s neighbors, who are first-generation farmers, also helped him where they could. As far as being environmentally conscious, McGowen’s environmental biology degree has taught him how to take care of his land and partake in regenerative agriculture. 

“In a way, I would say that they play off each other,” McGowen said. “I take a lot of the information that I learned with my major and apply it to my farm, mostly in the way of the method in which I farm. It’s called regenerative agriculture and the whole aspect of the regenerative agriculture is building a healthier soil, as well as just the connection between what’s made on it, like growing your food and grazing your animals, it’s all interconnected, and you’re trying to build a healthier ecosystem. Things that I learned here at Ferris, in my classes, and with the major and stuff like that can definitely, definitely be applied in that manner of regenerative agriculture.”

McGowen is constantly reading and learning more about topics like the climate crisis and global warming. Not only because it is his major but because he wants to apply it to his everyday life to make better choices so that his farm is environmentally friendly.

“As an environmental biologist, I really take pride in my small scale little farm of knowing that it has a smaller carbon footprint, because of the way in which I am farming, and a sustainable method and regenerative method my sources for my lumber and my materials that I need for a lot of things I do source,” McGowen said. “I upcycle–just the other week, I drove to South Haven to get lumber from the beach, because it just washes up because of docks disappearing.”

While it wasn’t until this past year that he got his farm up and running, McGowen said he’s been interested in farming and animals since he was 10.

“I’ve always been, I don’t want to say obsessed, but I’ve always been interested in nature and animals, and my grandparents had a farm,” McGowen said. “I vaguely remember it because they got old and it kind of just dwindled away. But then when I became a little bit older I could take care of things myself, I wanted to have that responsibility. So I started out with chickens, and I started out with six. I remember getting them and I was so excited.”

Coming into 2020 McGowen only had chickens and rabbits along with a huge garden to take care of. But on the livestock front, McGowen purchased goats and sheep, and expanded more of his flock of chickens and ducks and began his life as a hobby farmer. Flinton Creek Farm homes two dogs, one house cat, a couple of barn cats, between 50-60 chickens, 10 ducks, 10 quail, three goats and four sheep. Even though there are a lot of animals, McGowen has names for most of them and it can be hard when something happens to them.

McGowen poses for a selfie with one of his goats. Photo courtesy of Cole McGowen

“You never really expect things to die in the livestock world,” McGowen said. “I shouldn’t say that you don’t expect it to happen, you hear about it all the time of you know, goats dying, just out of the blue or things attacking your animals and the pests with the garden. You don’t expect those things to happen to you, but they definitely will. So you just gotta learn and adapt to be prepared for anything, absolutely anything.” 

With the bad comes good. Even though McGowen has lost some animals along the way, he is starting to breed and will have lambs in about a month and goat kids in late April.

McGowen finds it grounding to be able to know where most of his food comes from. He also said it is rewarding to be able to raise and grow his own food as well as other people’s. To him it feels like being able to cook a really nice dinner of quality that people enjoy.

Farming has also taught McGowen responsibilities along the way. While it has taken away some of his free time he would use to be social, he still likes having the drive to do something he is passionate about. Along with owning and running his own farm McGowen will have semesters where he is taking up to 17 credits and working two or three jobs at the same time.

“There’s definitely been some ups and downs, absolutely,” McGowen said. “But it’s also a stress reliever for me, you know, everybody has their way of relieving stress and dealing with things. I would say going out in the morning and talking to all the animals and checking up on them, it’s my stress relief. Same in the summer, waking up early, going out, picking weeds watching the sunrise, it’s absolutely a really good experience.”

While farming wasn’t something McGowen was necessarily used to while growing up, gardening is second nature for him. From basics, like pumpkins and tomatoes, to trying his thumb with carrots, McGowen and his family tend to their garden every year. He gets his seeds from Baker Creek heirloom seeds, and he enjoys focusing on raising heirloom inherited breeds of both plants and livestock, even though he’s a small scale farmer.

“All the varieties of vegetables that we do grow are heirloom varieties,” McGowen said. “They’re not like the tomatoes that you’re going to find at Walmart and stuff like that. Those are your more modern, in a way tasteless. They’re very different. And so a lot of the seeds that I do buy are heirloom varieties, but then I think I do save a lot of my own seeds too and that helps out financially. It’s fun, it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to save your own seeds. And you can trade them with other people and get other really cool seeds.”

McGowen advises potential gardeners to know what zone you are in because the climate you live in can affect how your garden turns out. McGowen also likes going the route of natural pest control rather than pesticide. 

Now McGowen wants to expand his farm in a way that makes it more of a business rather than a hobby. McGowen currently just raises animals and grows food to supply himself and family but his goal is to be able to expand more into the production of meat, like lamb and cows.

“But after the whole 2020 year, and food security became a–I want to say an issue–but a concern to some people and a lot of people got more interested in raising their own animals and growing their own food,” McGowen said. “I would love to expand my operation or what I have going on. So then meet the needs of my community and the local people around and who knows, it could get huge, it could just stay small but I’d like it to be able to pay for itself. So I’d like it to be able to go towards a more of a business rather than a hobby.”

McGowen at this time isn’t entirely sure what his end goal career is. While he originally planned to continue school into a masters or PhD program, he no longer has an interest in that. A move to the West Coast could be in his future, but for now, he’s sticking with his farm.

To see more about McGowen’s farm and watch its growth follow his farming Instagram @flintoncreekfarm.