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Bayse family continues tradition of homesteading

September 20, 2012
Alissa Klenk - Reporter , Dysart Reporter

The Basye Misty Valley Farm, which received its name from the layer of fog that develops over a nearby creek when the dew is just right, is a unique 13-acre homestead surrounded by vast corn fields.

The Basyes are a family of three, including Ryan, who works for the Dysart Post Office, Susan, who works for Rod Library at UNI, and their daughter Geneva. Their way of living and farming is much different than most local farmers. The homestead, which is as organic as they can manage, is a self declared island amongst standard industrial farm practices.

Ryan and Susan met at the University of Northern Iowa as students. They lived in the Cedar Falls area for eight years after they were married before deciding to move to an acreage just south of Dysart, which was an idea inspired by the tragic event of Ryan's father passing away due to cancer in 2003. After researching various ideas of what causes cancer and other degenerative diseases, the Basyes decided to change their lifestyle completely. But they were also following their dreams.

Article Photos

At top, the Bayse family are: Geneva, Ryan, and Susan. Above, the chicken coop on the family’s farm. At left, Geneva sits on an empty barrel in the cellar, which is made out of recycled tires.

"I've always wanted to see the sunrise and sunset. We couldn't get that in Cedar Falls. Ryan took on my dream to see the sunrise and sunset," said Susan. From their farm, they can see for miles and their dream of seeing the sunrise and sunset is realized each day.

"I always think, 'how did my great-great grandparents live?' and 'how did they garden and raise their animals without the pesticides and herbicides?' We even try not to use machines as much. We just got an ice cream maker with a hand crank," said Susan. They also use a broad fork instead of a tiller and use a scythe to cut grass.

The Basyes recently added Little Jersey cows, Charlotte, Grace, and Emma, to their farm. "My grandpa was here in Dysart years ago and there was a place on the edge of town where he kept a cow. I thought that was kind of neat because we'll be following in his footsteps a little bit," added Ryan.

"You don't see it much in Iowa, but there are areas in the country where that's the main goal," said Ryan. The philosophy also promotes buying food that's raised within 100 miles of where you live.

Ryan has familiarized himself with various ideas and followed the practices of other homesteaders. These ideas include Hugelkultur, Permaculture, and Polyculture, to name a few.

Hugelkultur is a gardening and farming technique which uses deteriorated woody debris to enrich the soil. When planting their windbreak, Ryan dug 2' holes, put logs at the bottom, and planted the trees on top.

Permaculture is short for permanent agriculture and is a branch of ecological design/engineering promoting sustainable living and a self-maintained agricultural system modeled after nature.

"People try to create a 'food forest' by putting together a community of companion plants," explained Ryan, "A basic example would be an apple tree with daffodils around the trunk, bee attracting kitchen herbs circling them and a circle of comfrey on the outside and maybe some annual garden plants like onions or carrots and peas mixed in." The idea is that each species benefits the others, and the soil, in some way.

This concept is referred to as Polyculture, which is raising more than one species of plants or animals simultaneously. "Everyone with a yard around their house can do this with great success. Whole communities have been planned this way," said Ryan. This is a very important concept for homesteaders like the Basyes.

"I studied a lot and I know a lot of theory but it is a challenge and it's intimidating getting started on your own and to try to make progress and not just tread water. A lot of things I've done are just because I've read about them," said Ryan. After research, they learned to use comfrey tea and charcoal as fertilizer.

"We were pretty much green horns when we moved out here. When we sheered our first sheep, I held the book," said Susan. The Basyes have many memorable moments as they have translated their book knowledge into hands on experience. They say that they are always learning.

The animals are fed mostly grasses instead of grains. Even Geneva can identify the names of various grasses on their farm that are used to feed the animals. Because of the drought this year, they have had less grass to cut. Typically, they are able to cut and ensilage the grass to feed the animals during the winter. This year, they will have to purchase food for the animals.

The farm now consists of Rhode Island Red chickens, Guinea hogs, and their Little Jersey cow, which is a popular breed amongst homesteaders and is mostly used for milk. They previously raised Navajo Churro sheep, geese, guinea hens, and ducks.

"Getting as many species of animals working in conjunction, that is what makes the land healthy," said Ryan.

Part of this philosophy incorporates mob grazing, where a group of animals graze on a confined area for a short period of time. Ryan built his own chicken tractor to accomplish this. A chicken tractor is a movable chicken coop that does not have a floor. No more than 100 chickens are put into the chicken tractor and the tractor is moved once a day so that the chickens can graze. The family has also used a pig tractor in the past. They plan on rotating the chickens with cows and pigs within a track.

"The people that do the mob grazing don't consider themselves farmers of animals, they consider themselves grass farmers. They use the animals to build the grass," said Ryan, stressing the importance of worms and living things in the soil.

The chicken tractor isn't the only unique structure that Ryan has built for the farm. He also built a two room cellar made out of about 550 recycled tires, a little over 100 of them from Dysart Tire and Service. This kept the tires out of the landfill and played an integral part in the building of their storage area for their canned goods, carrots, squash, potatoes, apples and also houses a room to hang carcasses in at butchering time.

Every permanent structure that Ryan builds will have a living roof, which is a roof covered with vegetation. The Basye family talks about sitting on the roof and feeling like they are just sitting on a hill overlooking the valley.

"Chicago is doing a lot of living roofs, which really cuts down on the city effect for weather, because a city temperature will be 3 to 5 degrees higher because of all of the cement and asphalt. The grass absorbs all of that plus a lot of the carbon dioxide. Plus, it's cheaper," said Ryan.

The next project will be to rebuild what used to be the granary so that half of it will be a garage and the other half will be a butchering room. Ryan plans to make the building out of cob, which is a mixture of clay, hay, and sand.

The Basye family sees farming as one of the most important aspects of society. "Farming is the basis of society. As farming goes, so the society goes," said Ryan.

They are homesteaders who support a more natural way of living that's sustainable where humans can live in harmony with the environment. And while they are living within their own island of sorts, they are living their dream, adding an element of uniqueness to the Dysart farming community.

 
 

 

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