Sheepy Hollow Farms: Farming wellness for the land and community

Story by Kenzie Sain

Photo by Liz Chrisman

Swaying trees frame the rolling, grassy pastures as Kim Van Scoy, David Cooper and I perch ourselves on their beautifully kept deck. Eager autumn leaves poke through the season’s dying green in patches of copper and gold. Fresh cut hay resting on the ground gives the grass a soft shimmer. A few small, brown, moving specks dot the pond bank, while the rest of the sheep flock under the shade, evading the sun’s rays slicing through crisp, early October air.

Kim and David were well travelled before they brought themselves and their small slew of animals to nestle in the hills and valleys of the Ozarks. Kim was born in New York state, but when she was young, her family moved to Florida. From there she left for California to attend the University of California Santa Cruz. After earning a double-major bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry, she moved back to Florida for graduate school at the University of Miami where she and David met. He is from Norwich, England, graduating from Brunel University with a master’s degree in industrial chemistry. At the time, both were studying oceanography and lived together throughout graduate school. They married with a ceremony in the Everglades. 

Miami is where the couple first started gardening. They lived in a small house with just enough yard space to plant a sustainable garden, and the climate allowed them to grow tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, bananas, and pineapples. Traditional summer plants, like tomatoes, did particularly well in the dead of the Florida “winter” months. “It was easier to grow tomatoes there than it is here,” Kim says.

After graduate school, the couple moved to Cape Cod to work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the country’s largest independent oceanographic research facility. They spent two years doing research there before their work took them across the Atlantic to England. There, they lived in a country home rented from a retired veterinarian. “And I think that’s when we decided that when we finally had our own place, we would have animals,” Kim says.

After about three years in England, they moved across the ocean one more time to work at the University of Wisconsin. David was conducting research and Kim was a professor of oceanography. The couple bought a house with six acres and wanted to start raising livestock, but with that small acreage options were limited — sheep or goats.

“We decided to get sheep because we didn’t want to have animals that were smarter than we were,” Kim laughs. “Also, David loves lamb.”  The two quickly learned the ropes with sheep. “We always say to work the sheep you have to think like a sheep,” Kim says, “understand how they act and how they react to things.” 

David and Kim resided in Wisconsin for three years before rounding up their herd and moving to a small farm in Newton County, Arkansas. At the time, David was doing research cruises for various universities that could last up to three months while Kim taught math at Jasper High School. And all of their off-time was spent tending the farm.

After seven years in Newton County, Kim accepted an offer from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville as a professor of environmental science. For the next three years she would stay in Clarksville during the week and drive back to Newton County on the weekends. Inevitably, it became exhausting. So, once again, they packed up their things and animals and headed to a much bigger farm in Clarksville. With more land and more time to work it, their farm grew every year seemingly on its own. Now 100 sheep, 15 cows, six pigs, and dozens of chickens and ducks roam the property at Sheepy Hollow Farm.

“I don’t think either of us wanted as many animals as we have right now,” Kim laughs.

David and Kim didn’t start farming and gardening with an interest in marketing their products. It started with the intent of self-sufficiency — they didn’t want to feed themselves or their children processed food. Their farming and gardening had the single goal of raising healthy, clean food for their family. Over the years, though, the lifestyle extended beyond their property lines. Providing the community with whole foods quickly became a passion for the couple. 

“I think it’s kind of a normal progression,” Kim says. “If we want to have good healthy food, then we want our neighbors and our friends to have good, healthy food as well.”

Since then, Sheepy Hollow Farm has become a popular vendor at both the Russellville Community Market and the Foothill’s Market in Clarksville.

“The sheep have sort of become our specialty at the farmer’s market,” says David. “It’s what people know us for.” But they also sell beef from their Dexter cattle, a leaner, smaller breed, as well as pork. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in-person markets have moved online and the pandemic has also affected how they can sell meat.  “All we can do right now is sell whole animals,” Kim says. With the closest USDA-certified butcher taking appointments two years out right now, the couple must take a purchased animal to a local custom butcher where the customer must pick it up.

Two lush gardens provide David and Kim with other food options to sell. They grow dozens of vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, and habanero peppers. The second garden is a new addition. After the space had been unused for 15 years. “The strategy is to use this kind of mulch to build the soil and control the weeds. It’s a way of no-till gardening,”David says. “It’s been pretty productive for a first year garden.” To conserve water,  a drip irrigation system is installed under the soil, keeping the area around the plants hydrated with minimal water. 

The Foothill’s Market is still thriving through these difficult times. Customers pick up their orders safely from their car at the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce. The farmers markets also foster a sense of community. It’s been one of the few ways people can mingle responsibly. “It’s a fairly socially distant way of seeing friends,” David says. The sharing of food and cooking and gardening tips strengthens community relationships. “I always felt like providing people with good, healthy food is such an honorable job,” Kim says.

Kim and David’s primary motivation for sustainability is environmental awareness. In Kim’s class, students learn the three tenets of sustainable agriculture: it must be good for the environment, it must be economically viable, and it must be socially just for the people. It’s the same foundation on which Sheepy Hollow Farms was built. Kim also created a sustainable agriculture minor degree, the only one of its kind in the state, at the University of the Ozarks.

Sustainable agriculture is a great medium for people to learn about food and where it comes from. Over the past 60 years, prices of whole foods have gone up 40 percent while the price of processed foods have gone down 40 percent. Predictably, processed foods have become the staple for most American families. As a consequence, people no longer think about where the food comes from. During Kim’s brief time teaching biology at Jasper, she realized just how little the students knew about their food.

“They had never done a dissection before,” Kim says. “So I bought some chicken thighs and legs because you can do a neat little dissection with chicken thighs and legs. I was teaching them how to identify the tendons, ligaments, and muscles. I’ll never forget one little boy said to me, ‘That’s not muscle, that’s the meat.’ They just had no idea that when we’re eating meat, we’re eating muscle.”

The sustainable agriculture students at U of O donate produce from their campus garden to the Backpack Program at the Clarksville School District. They’ve even persuaded kids who think they don’t like vegetables that they’re not so bad while also providing them and their families with healthy, whole foods.

David and Kim have spent the last 10 years in Clarksville and plan to stay. “I think this is where we made our stand,” Kim says.

They’ve made their stand in this community by contributing to its wellness, both the land and the people.