The hills of Franklin County are dotted with farms large and small, but one farm on the outskirts of Oldenburg has a unique history and mission that continues to this day.

The Sisters of St. Francis was formed in Oldenburg in 1851 by Sister Theresa Hacklemeier and Father Francis Joseph Rudolph. By 1854, Rudolph saw the need to open a boarding school to care for the local orphans, many of which had lost their parents from a cholera epidemic. 

In order to provide support to the ophans, Rudolph purchased 40 acres of land near the convent and for the sisters. The farm was later named after Sister Michaela Lindemann, who served as the first farm manager.

The farm has continued to provide for the sisters over the next 166 years, as it continues to grow and evolve. 

The property expanded to more than 250 acres when it provided sustenance to a population of approximately 500 sisters and students. At one point the sisters produced beef, pork, poultry, dairy, fruits and vegetables. 

The sisters sought to set a new focus for the farm and enlisted the aid of an agronomist in 2004. A renovation of their 1909 brick barn began that year and a professional farmer was hired as farm manager in 2008. The sisters decided to discontinue cattle operations on the farm in 2018 and have since leased the hay fields and pastures to a local cattle farmer. 

Recently, the focus has been on the vegetable garden and egg production. The farm still produces food for the sisters, but also supplies a year-round farm store, a community supported agriculture program (CSA) and local restaurants. Despite the change, the sisters continue to operate their farm around the Franciscan idea of “just relationship with all Creation.”

Even during the cold days of February, Michaela Farm is working on producing good, healthy food. The farm store offers fresh eggs, dried herbs and microgreens grown on the farm as well as honey, maple syrup and herb infused olive oil from local producers. The store is open seven days a week, from dusk until dawn.

A lot of the work happening this time of year occurs in the greenhouse. Located on the south side of one of the barns and plumbed into a wood-fired boiler, it is home to numerous flats of seed starts and a handful of tomato plants. Lead gardener Victor Sarringhaus explained they were planted last summer and overwintered in a cold greenhouse as an experiment. Dozens of tomatoes, with two nearly ripe, indicate some success.

Michaela Farm starts all of their vegetable crops from seed; many are planted in flats in the greenhouse, although most root crops are direct sown into beds. Rosemary and thyme were developing well. Beets, cold season lettuces, broccoli, kale and scallions are quite young, but on schedule to be planted out near the end of next month. 

Starting in the spring and continuing through the rest of the year, salad greens are popular at the farm. Romaine is one of the most sought after greens, due to consistent problems in the commercial supply chain. Michaela carefully manages fertilizer application to avoid contamination.

Some tomatoes have been started, with many more to be seeded in the next couple weeks. Five different varieties are grown on the farm, but a broader selection will be available as transplants in the spring for home gardeners. A selection of peppers will be started soon, both for farm production and garden transplants.

Spring preparations revolve around a binder assembled by Sister Marie Nett, based on 18 years of experience at the farm. A schedule is set for when each seed is sewn, transplanted and harvested. Organization is paramount when dealing with thousands of plants distributed over dozens of beds.

While the dreary winter continues, fresh produce from Michaela Farm is on the horizon. Nett is particularly fond of the tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Sarringhaus likes the salad mix, which contains nasturtium blooms for a splash of color and mild, peppery taste. 

Michaela Farm is located at 3127 S.R. 229 on the edge of picturesque Oldenburg. In addition to the year round farm store and CSA, it offer tours, a retreat cottage and volunteer opportunities. For more information the farm can be reached at 812-933-0661.