Lainey and Andy Johnson were sitting in church when a line from a hymn inspired the name of their farm.
The two were staying with her dad, Dave Martelle, while transitioning between houses in Colorado and Nebraska. At church one Sunday, they sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” with the line “bright hope for tomorrow.”
“That is when I whispered to my husband, ‘What do you think about Bright Hope for the name of our farm?’” Lainey Johnson said. “He liked it and it stuck.”
Bright Hope Family Farm has been faithfully tended to by the Johnsons for about three years now. It all began in the garden of Lainey’s mom, Michelle, who has since passed away. The love for growing plants has continued to live on in her heart.
Growing up in York, Nebraska, her family had a small greenhouse and garden. Lainey reluctantly helped her mom at first, but then she got interested in gardening and started tending her own. Working outdoors suited her.
“I like working with my hands, and watching things grow and seeing the changes in the plants and making improvements in the soil,” she said.
The Johnsons were living in Colorado when they decided to move back to Nebraska to be closer to family and start the farm. Lainey went to college at Northwest Missouri State and earned degrees in psychology and sociology. In Colorado, she added a degree in nutrition. Most recently, she started an online course called Market Farming Master Class put on by Jean-Martin Fortier.
Andy earned his horticulture major from Northwest Missouri State, as well. The couple owned a landscaping business in Colorado and started another in Nebraska called Prairie Landcraft. Andy primarily works this part of their venture that specializes in masonry and stonework. He is also adding fresh cut flowers and bouquets to the Bright Hope Family Farm offerings this season.
Access to farmers markets was part of the consideration when they made the move to Nebraska. They wanted to be able to serve both York and Lincoln with their farm products, as well as their landscaping business. That’s when they came across a home a half mile outside the village of Firth.
The Johnsons have two children — Sam, 7, and Joanna, 5 — who both like helping their mom grow food for the family and the farmers market. Joanna loves looking for bugs with her nature kits and keeping them as pets, her mom said. Now that Sam is older, he can push the wheelbarrow and help with farm chores, which his mom said is very helpful.
Bright Hope Family Farm’s biggest crops are lettuce, greens and garlic. They also grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, turnips, green onions and some perennials. They offer a salad subscription weekly vegetable pick-up. Customers pick up food at three locations – at the farm, Morgan Chiropractic in Lincoln or The Little Red Farm near Palmyra.
While Lainey would like to have a heated greenhouse, for now they start their plants under lights in the basement. Making do is part of her plan to grow slowly, steady and debt-free.
They have one hoop house and would like to add more. The entire farm uses no-till and organic practices and is about one acre outdoors with a permanent bed system in that field. Each bed is raised 4-6 inches and is 30 inches wide and 100 feet long with 18-inch aisles in-between. Having a uniform size makes it easy to calculate how much a certain bed produces with a certain crop, Lainey said. All the drip line and frost cloth are the same length, too.
They plant their produce as close together as possible, and each bed produces two to four crops as they’re replanted throughout the season.
“With our system, half an acre seems very small compared to most farms in the area,” she said.
The family does all the work themselves with the help of volunteers.
“The landscaping business has allowed us to start the farm and keep it afloat without going into debt. This year, we will be making a profit,” Lainey said.
For those interested in starting a farm venture like Bright Hope, she urges them to learn from others, volunteer, intern and visit different farms to see how they do things.
She also learned a lot from online courses and conferences, particularly Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) in Wisconsin, which features everything from perennial farming to row crops.
The Johnsons are looking forward to many years being faithful to their farm and its hopeful mission of offering nutritious, fresh food options for their neighbors and local area.
“The produce we sell has been harvested a day or two prior to our customers receiving it,” Lainey said. “The longer something is on a truck or in the store, it loses its nutrients. We strive to ensure ours is extremely fresh.”
The Johnsons welcome all who are interested to check out what their farm has to offer and to learn more at: https://brighthopefamilyfarm.locallinesites.com and https://www.facebook.com/brighthopefamilyfarmllc/ or Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/brighthopefamilyfarmllc/.
Kerry Hoffschneider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.