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Digiovannis didn't intend to farm

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:18 PM

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ST. JOSEPH, Minn. — Jim and Mary Digiovanni didn't intend to farm, but one thing led to another after they purchased their 40-acre property near St. Joseph nine years ago.

The result is Dancing Bears Company.

When they started, they merely wanted a quiet place in the country. Jim, originally from Rosemount, was a lawyer at a St. Cloud firm for 20 years. He left the practice to work for a client when he and Mary found the rural property.

The land is near St. John's University.

The property was originally a 240-acre farm that the seller divided into 40-acre tracts. The Digiovannis were the first purchasers and chose a tract with the farm's original buildings.

But they didn't know what to do with the land, which was a mix of grass and trees.

They started by planting a garden. Then someone from the St. Joseph's Farmers Market called saying the market was adding more vendors and would like the Digiovannis to join. When they committed, they sold homemade bread that Jim baked in their outdoor oven.

He started the bread's prefermentation on Wednesday evening, finished the mixing Thursday morning and baked it that night after work. He had a good working relationship with his client and arranged to take Friday afternoons off to sell his 32 loaves and other breads at the market.

The couple decided to quit bread baking and focused on vegetables and berries. They transitioned to certified organic.

Then a friend dropped off three Bandy hens. Jim said the hens were mostly pets, but it prompted the couple to consider chicken production. They purchased Cornish crosses and sold processed birds at the market. Last year they had four to five batches of 75 chickens each. The birds are raised on pasture. They added laying hens and now raise birds for meat and egg sales.

Their operation expanded again when they were asked to house a few Icelandic sheep.

With the sheep in their barn, the couple purchased ewes. Their friend bought a ram and the Digiovannis started their own flock. The Icelandic breed is known for its meat, fiber and milk, he said. They sell meat to farmers markets and a local restaurant. Mary spins the wool to make yarn.

Seven years ago, a friend noted the number of sugar bush maples on their property and showed them how to tap trees and process syrup.

They attend University of Minnesota Extension seminars and conferences. They've also learned through trial and error.

Managing the farm's diverse production is a full-time job. Several years ago, Jim left his job to focus on the farm. Mary works for the City of Sartell and enjoys her time on the farm.

"It's hard to keep up when you are doing it on evenings and weekends," Jim said.

Today they have 50 laying hens, raise some vegetables in a 30-by-70 foot high tunnel, have a 40-ewe flock and raise broilers and produce syrup.