Arlo Hark and Josephine Trople have both been surrounded by agriculture their entire lives. Both grew up on their respective family’s farms. Trople in Washington, running cattle and making hay, and Hark was raised on his family’s small farm near Lonsdale.
The two met when they attended College of the Atlantic and eventually moved back to Minnesota where they decided to rent some land and start their own company, Cannon Valley Graziers.
Hark describes Cannon Valley Graziers as a sheep-powered vegetation management company. Essentially, they rent out their sheep to local projects so the sheep can clear away invasive species, excess growth all while improving the soil of the area.
“If people need vegetation management services we are absolutely for hire,” Hark said. “Kind of how it works is we’ll come out to the site and think about what the needs of the site are and how best and most effectively we can implement the sheep and manage the vegetation.”
Their services are not applicable to the homeowner who may decide they do not want to mow their suburban front yard. Instead, they focus on larger ecosystems that may have been overtaken by buckwheat, goldenrod and other invasive plants.
“We’ve done a lot of work in forest ecosystems. We’ve done a lot of work in prairie ecosystems,” Hark said. “We had a client a couple of years ago near Lonsdale that had a prairie that hadn't been burnt in a while, and you know you gotta burn prairies every so often and we helped her.”
One of the benefits that comes from using sheep, instead of traditional machines, is free fertilizer. When the sheep graze they are naturally producing and spreading nutrients through their poop.
“When you have livestock on land you're adding nutrients, you’re adding nitrogen, you're adding fertility into the soil,” Hark said. “A lot of people pay a lot of money for manure spreaders to spread out on their fields or they pay for chemicals. It's sort of the same concept, except originally; how it's supposed to be.”
The duo does not just rent their sheep, but they also provide meat and fleece products. Every year when lambs are born they raise them as a flock and then separate the boys and send them to a local butcher. Most of their customers buy directly from Hark and Trople.
“We really pride ourselves. We do it all natural, so there's no antibiotics,” Hark said. “We use non-GMO grain, and we don’t really feed them grain, they’re 99 percent grass fed.”
They are also working on some product development from their fleece. Hark said they hope to have yarn made up and then some hats and sweaters. Currently, they are workshopping the idea, so nothing is set in stone with providers or timeline yet.
Cannon Valley Graziers is starting to branch outside of their traditional customer base, and are partnering with companies bringing green energy to Minnesota, specifically solar energy. Instead of mowing down the area that will be used as a solar farm, Cannon Valley Graziers are coming in and letting the sheep do the work. Ultimately, meaning the preprocess of bringing solar panels to the area is greener.
“Part of what we’re excited about with that is a lot of the land that is going into solar is historically agricultural,” Hark said. “This is one way we can keep our land in agriculture and support the farmers while simultaneously getting some green energy in our area.”
Hark said it still feels special to be able to come back to the area he was raised in and figure out how to run a company while also following his passion for creating a positive impact on the ecology and soil of the Cannon River Valley. Something, he said, he could not do without his partner and the community.
“I feel very very blessed to be a part of the community I'm in,” Hark said. “There's a lot of support in our area. The network of people in my area that have supported us and helped us get started has been huge and I just feel first and foremost really grateful to be able to do this.”