(* Cover image courtesy of Nellie Smith Photography, Lincoln NE)
Rj & Nicole Zurcher began Zurcher Farms with little more than a dream and the run-down farm they bought five years before that.
In 2009 they started their own landscape company, Once Upon a Lawn LLC, which became quite successful, but fate would have it that small time farm life would remain their passion. Taking a huge leap of faith in 2017, the put their faith in God, knowing that He knows what’s best, and decided to dissolve their landscape company. Nicole quit her day job, and they forged ahead into the (metaphorical) wilderness without looking back! Two weeks later they were called to be foster parents to four amazing siblings, bringing their household to 8, and making life a little bit more interesting. In November of 2018, 3 of the 4 siblings became permanent members of the Zurcher family, and the 4th is still very close and visits often.
Starting a farm is hard, especially when you’re young and just starting out. Towards the end of 2018, Nicole and Rj have both taken side jobs, Nicole as a substitute teacher and Rj a postman, to help support their farm dreams. Meanwhile, their dream for a fully sustainable farm, that can educate others and provide healthy, fresh food to the local population, continues.
Rj & Nicole met while attending Wilber-Clatonia High School, when Rj and his family moved to Wilber in 2003. Their first date was prom in 2007 (Rj’s Senior Prom & Nicole’s Junior) and were married in 2010 while both finishing their last semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Since then they have been blessed with 2 beautiful rainbow babies and are licensed foster parents to a sibling strip of 3 (soon to be permanent) children.
In 2011 a family friend’s farm came up for auction, one mile from the original homestead of Nicole’s Great-Great Grandfather, Frantisek Krivohlavek. The farm was owned by Rudy and Delma (Esteraich) Freeouf, who were very good friends with Nicole’s grandparents’, Ray and Maxine (Richtarik) Krivohlavek. The farm wasn’t in the best of shape after 60 years of livestock living in the outbuildings, the house needed some work and was pretty dated, and they were later told by another bidder that he intended to push the whole 10 acres, house, and 9 odd outbuildings in, to farm the entire thing!
Well, the Lord definitely had a better plan…
Renovations on the farmhouse started immediately with the help of a lot of family. The kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room were gutted and redone. Including ripping the lovely 1/2 inch orange shag carpeting off the kitchen walls and back of the island. Almost all of the beautiful original thick wooden trim had been removed in the main level of the house and replaced with flimsy plastic 70’s trim, and the one bathroom in the house was so small that the sink was out in the hallway.
I thank God every day for that hideous orange shag carpeting on the kitchen walls! If more people could have looked past it, and seen the potential of the place, we would never have gotten our farm at the amazing price we did! – Nicole
There were a lot of setbacks throughout the process. It became apparent that while renovating, there were people still taking stuff off the property, long after all items from the auction were to be removed. So that March, the first member of the farm family arrived: a guard dog. (Which would turn out to be the least intimidating guard dog in the history of guard dogs.) She was half Springer Spaniel, and part Black Lab/Golden Retriever.
My aunt brought over my two younger cousins one day while we were working, knowing that we had just gotten a new puppy, Boo. She thought that the puppy and the boys would keep each other out of the way. Within 5 minutes they came back in, “Your dog is lame.” they said. “She just lays there, she won’t do anything.” Since then she has been the most laid-back dog ever. She loves everyone and anything (except rabbits). She couldn’t intimidate a fly. – Nicole
Renovations have not quite come to an end, over five years later. Once the kitchen and bathroom were finished, a year later they moved on to the upstairs level, gutting all the cracked plaster and super-sketchy wiring, to finish everything before their first daughter was born in 2013. June of 2014 brought a massive storm, which destroyed the newly constructed greenhouse (built 2 months prior), and left the house siding and roof hail damaged (along with everyone else’s house and cars in Saline County). The next year was spent re-siding, re-roofing, and re-grouping from that disaster, along with multiple health issues for both Rj and Nicole. At the end of 2015 they demolished the original dining room (which had been turned into a bedroom/junk abyss) with a water stained dropped ceiling and green shag carpet, and reopened the wall shared with the living room with the original colonnades which were found in the basement, before their second daughter was born in 2016.
The out-buildings were fixed as necessary to keep everything structurally together, while Rj and Nicole played a constant game of catch-up to clean up 60+ years of farm life from the previous tenants. Over 50 overgrown cedar and mangled silver maple trees were pushed out, and several goats were bought to eat the 8+ acres of ditch weed that had overwhelmed the nonexistent pasture, long overgrazed by cattle.
They are still playing catch-up, and expect to continue on this way for many more years as they focus on updating the rest of the farm, re-tinning the buildings, building the pumpkin patch, and focusing on family.
Keep checking back for regular updates and some back-dated posts on our previous renovations on the Life on the Farm tab.
The day the farm was purchased, Nicole’s father, Chris, asked, “So when do I get to bulldoze that old granary down?” Everyone laughed, but he was serious, the thing was a monumental eyesore, and he had recently acquired an old bulldozer that he was itching to use. Old grain left in the bottom had drawn rats, there was hardly any tin left on the sides, and what tin that was on the roof was rusted. It’s future didn’t look bright. It was constructed of wood, with large bins on either side of the alley way raised 2 feet off of the ground floor, as tall as the roof. The second story section held bins in the center, with holes at the bottom for dumping into grain carts, and a ladder up to the third story which had a cupola with two large windows, and ledges for standing above the bins. These types of granary’s were made to hold several different types of grain at once, back during a time before farms became so large and used metal bins. There were metal rods that went through the bins, holding the building together from the pressure of being full with grain, and various shoots were attached to the walls.
Everyone wanted that granary burned down, even Rj some days. At three stories tall, it was huge, and it was an eyesore! I scoured the internet for anything relating to granary conversions, anything we could do to make the thing useful again, but I found nothing. It was infested with rats and had a family of non-hospitable raccoons living in it, yet Rj dragged me up that rickety ladder to look out the windows of the off-centered cupola. The view took my breath away, you could see nothing but beautiful Nebraska countryside for miles and miles. I knew then that it had to stay. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. But it wasn’t going anywhere. Just as everyone had given up hope on our farm before we bought it, I wasn’t about to give up hope on this. I had faith that I could make this into something of value and preserve it’s integrity. – Nicole
In Spring of 2017, they poured concrete and put up their 30×50 greenhouse to the south of the granary and added a lean-to. They have the entire boiler system set up in the granary along with a walk-in cooler to store vegetables now.
Their original plan was to remove the second story small bins, add a better staircase, and use the granary for storage. The third story loft would probably become a hang-out space for their children to play while they worked in the greenhouse. However, once they made the decision to proceed with mainly livestock, they realized they needed to store a heck of a lot of feed on the farm, so they may refurbish the bins and continue to use them the way they were intended.
It’s a lot to get done, and it’s not going to happen all at once, but stay tuned and keep checking back for regular updates as we continue to renovate this beautiful old building at the Life on the Farm tab.