Don Fromme uses local resources to revitalize Owen County farm
BY WHITNEY PRATHER DUVALL
Sweet Owen Contributor
If you ask Don Fromme how he ended up tending a farm, he’ll tell you that his father set the stage for his love of all things outdoors. He’ll also reference Kent M. Keith’s Paradoxical Commandments: Do Good Anyway, a set of 10 statements Don keeps within a thought’s reach throughout each of his endeavors.
“My father was a masonry contractor, as was his dad, and so I grew up assisting with that and spent summers working outside,” Don said. “But mostly, he was an outdoorsman, so he would professionally bass fish. We had bird dogs to quail hunt, we had chickens and cats and dogs and so on, but I didn’t grow up on a farm.”
Instead, the Jasper, Indiana, native would work on neighboring farms during his summers off. The youngest of five, Don received a degree in construction management from Purdue University. He went on to work for a construction company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a career that would take him across the U.S. and even to different countries.
“I’d sometimes have to relocate temporarily for a project, and mostly, it was living in an airplane, but what it did was give me a very broad sense and exposure to different communities, different cultures, having to go into a community that you’ve never been to before and build a significant construction project,” he said, adding that it takes the community’s knowledge, trust and respect to yield a successful result.
And so, why wouldn’t it be appropriate to apply that same method and thought process to farming?
Looking to land within a reasonable radius of home post-retirement, Don and his wife purchased acreage in Owen County in 2010. Since its purchase and Don’s subsequent retirement in 2014, he’s worked to clean up old fence and restore the land. He’s cleaned out and enlarged the ponds, and eventually built a home on the farm, moving there in 2017.
Called Whistler Ridge, the farm yields pickles, relish, salsa, and tomato juice—all canned from the garden—as well as garlic, honey, sausage, and Angus freezer beef. And if that weren’t enough, there’s also a portable log sawing mill and firewood on the Kentucky Proud-registered farm. Don also offers fishing and hunting experiences.
“I have, over time, spent a lot of time and energy into turning this place into something like a wildlife preserve, but I didn’t want it to be a preserve that you take photos of; I want it to be here for people to enjoy. Anything that I’ve acquired or developed, it’s here to share.
“We’ve taken 315 acres and turned it into a place where quail, deer and rabbits can be because I enjoy those things and others do, too. We fixed the ponds so that they’ll sustain fish. These grasses out here that you can mow for hay, I didn’t want them to be grasses that are just great for deer, so I put a lot of flowers and a lot of forbs in a mix that was designed in part with the (Kentucky) Fish and Wildlife recommendations at the time and in part by a group called (Roundstone Native Seed). They came and drilled the seed in. They came up with this mix that would be useful for all things.”
Throughout rehabilitating his farm, Don has taken advantage of several local programs, including those provided by the Owen County Extension Service. It’s all part of a common theme in Don’s life, one of continuous learning.
“In the years since Don began utilizing some of our programs, I’ve seen his farm really progress,” said Kendal Bowman, Owen County Extension Agent For Agriculture and Natural Resources. “His farming operation is very progressive, and he is eager to learn to improve his practices.
“Don takes a sustainable approach by considering the effects his improvements and farm practices will have on the environment and local ecosystem. He’s designed areas for quail, rabbits, and pollinators and incorporates native forages into his fields. He’s removed invasive species from his wooded areas and practiced efforts to improve the overall forest health.”
Relatively new to farming, Don acknowledges the help he’s received from members of the community.
“The people in and around Owen County—and I absolutely mean this—they are wonderful, they’re awesome,” he said. “They’ll do anything for you, and I have story after story.”
Referencing offices ranging from county government to the local U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension, Don maintains that programs to assist farmers of any skill and experience level exists if you’re willing to do the legwork to find them.
And while he’s received plenty of help with his endeavors in the development of his own farm, Don is paying it forward through many other efforts and programs, including lending his farm to the extension program for the hands-on demonstration portion of its fencing school.
Aside from participating in the activities of his parish and diocese, Don is active in the northern Kentucky chapter of Quail Forever (NKQF), a group committed to conserving the habitat for quail, pheasants, and other wildlife through improvements and education. He particularly enjoys using the program to introduce youth to outdoor activities.
“Almost everything we do is for improving the outdoors and introducing these kids to the outdoors, and we do some special activities for them. It’s part of volunteerism; it’s part of giving back; it’s how you educate and introduce a kid to the outdoors, whether it’s fishing, hiking, or hunting—this is our way of doing that,” Don said. “We do fundraisers, and 100% of that goes back to the community and the kids.”
If anything is certain, it’s that Don will keep learning and working to develop his farm in the interest of the native wildlife, as well as sharing all it offers.
“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right, and I need to learn how to do it right and with care. I might make a lot of mistakes along the way, but it’s how I learn.”
For more information on Whistler Ridge’s offerings, contact Don Fromme at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (612) 328-3260.