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CERESCO -- It's hard not to romanticize about the agrarian life Crystal and William Powers are trying to build on their 40 acres of land three miles east of town.

They call their place Darby Springs Farm, an Irish-sounding name that conjures up images of animals grazing in lush, green pastures.

Then there's the two blond boys: Aiden, 3, and Liam, almost 1.

Neither of their parents have any Irish heritage, but Crystal likes Celtic stuff and William grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio that had a stream called Darby Creek.

Their 40 acres in southern Saunders County has several natural springs.

In 2007, the couple lived in Ithaca, New York, where Crystal was finishing up her master's degree in biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University. They moved back to Nebraska and searched for a year and a half before they found the place of their dreams.

"William has always loved dairy cows and we both love Nebraska and so we decided to come back to Nebraska and try to farm," Crystal said while trying to comfort a fidgety toddler at the kitchen table.

She grew up on a farm near Edgar in Clay County and William on a farm near Plain City, Ohio, and has family on his father's side near Silver Creek in Merrick County. But they still consider themselves beginning young farmers.

"Although we grew up on farms, it's still a steep learning curve," Crystal said.

They have five Guernsey cows and 50 laying chickens, and they sell unpasteurized milk and eggs. This past summer they raised 200 broiler chickens and sold the meat to about 100 customers -- mostly family, friends and neighbors.

But they want to grow.

Crystal and William Powers, both 32, have launched a social media campaign to raise seed money to build a barn that will include milking stalls for an expanded dairy herd and an ice cream parlor and creamery.

So far, they've raised about $4,000 through Barnraiser, a crowd-funding website where people can donate to support sustainable agrarian projects.

Their goal is to raise $10,000 to pay for the design work on the barn. If all goes well, they'd like to start construction next year and open the ice cream parlor and creamery in 2016.

Total cost of the post-and-beam barn with lots of wood and heavy timbers is estimated at $125,000. The couple plan to get most of the money from a mortgage loan and groups like Slow Money, which finds investors and donors for small food enterprises, organic farms and local food systems.

People who invest $1,000 will receive a catered ice cream social for themselves and 10 of their friends after the barn is finished as well as credits that can be used to buy Darby Springs Farm products, Crystal said.

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For now, Crystal works part time as a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator, and she envisions a day when families can bring their children out to buy and enjoy their agricultural products and learn about a farm that aspires to be in balance with the natural world.

Darby Springs Farm has 15 acres of wetlands, including some rare saline wetlands that are ideal habitat for the endangered Salt Creek tiger beetle. So far they haven't found any of the insects but they cherish the diverse ecosystem.

Crystal said she and her husband aren't trying to reproduce a romanticized version of a farm where things were done mostly by hand and without modern technology.

"We don't want to be a tourist farm. We want to be a working farm," she said. "We want people to understand how challenging it is to bring food to the table."

William Powers is executive director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, which has a mission to promote ag and food systems that build healthy land, people, communities and quality of life.

He sees their barn project as a way to enhance the good life they already enjoy. It's a great place to raise their children and teach them about where their food comes from, he said. Aiden already helps feed the chickens and collect eggs. He's also a great milk salesman when customers come calling.

The couple do not consider themselves modern-day pioneers in the return-to-the-land movement. People in the area who started similar operations years ago are the true pioneers, and they're helping the Powers family build a better future.

"We plan to grow from here," Crystal said. "We don't plan to stay tiny, tiny. This is our way of managing risk -- start small."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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