Don’t confuse the name of Tim Huth’s farm, LotFotl, for a text message abbreviation. There’s actually a meaning behind the tongue-tying, six-letter name. LotFotl, which rhymes with “tot bottle,” is an acronym that Huth, a former sociology major turned farmer, crafted based on the phrase “living off the fat of the land.”
When Huth enrolled at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis., in 1999, he knew he wanted to help people in some fashion. He just didn’t know that it would eventually lead him to farming. The seed to becoming an organic vegetable farmer was planted by a group of farmers who came to speak to his class on the importance of local food.
Inspired by the farmers, Huth started growing vegetables on his porch and rented small garden lots. He also began working at Good Harvest Market in Waukesha, a grocery store that sources from local farmers. Working on a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Whitewater was his next stop. It was in 2007, while working on the farm, that he was encouraged to attend classes and workshops at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy. Soon thereafter Huth was given a proposal he couldn’t refuse – he was asked to take part in Michael Fields’ business incubator program.
Through the incubator program, LotFotl Community Farm was born and Huth was molded into a farmer. During the four years of running a successful CSA on leased land at Michael Fields, Huth also learned business planning, financial analysis and feasibility, debt management, and received basic administrative mentoring on how to run a farm.
“You move there, you have a business plan to some degree and some level of competency. They allow you to establish business there using their equipment and their land, and your first year you get a pretty decent price,” Huth says. “Your rent price is slightly subsidized and your equipment use isn’t all that expensive. And then gradually over time, they want you to leave there so they raise the prices more to full and you’re encouraged to find another place.”
In April 2011 Huth left Michael Fields and moved LotFotl to historic Quinney Farm, a 144-year-old farm (1868) located at W7036 Quinney Rd., in Elkhorn. It’s here, where the farmer in his early 30s, alongside girlfriend April Yuds, is managing 20 acres of produce that sources 350 CSA households, as well as grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers’ markets across southeastern Wisconsin.
Moving On Up
2011 was the first year LotFotl wasn’t operating on land leased from Michael Fields. That meant the farm had to essentially start over with a clean slate. On top of moving, Huth had new land to learn, new loans for equipment purchases, and new elements to fight.
The location of Quinney Farm is notorious for high tail-end winds, so planting crops in the first year was a trial and error process. Because of the high winds, Huth says LotFotl isn’t able to start growing many of its crops in the fields. Instead, the farm does a lot of transplanting from its several greenhouses on the property or risks raising unharvestable crops.
“We used to just try and transplant on overcast days or early or late in the day because the sun can beat them up,” says Huth. “But now, we have to play against high wind. Last year we planted three-quarters of an acre of broccoli and we planted on the right day, it was cool, and the next day it wasn’t all that hot but it was seriously windy and the plants were wind stressed.”
A new location also meant getting the farm up to speed and ready for the first CSA delivery. That meant transforming the barn, which previously was set up for a dairy farm, into a workable area for washing and packing produce. It also involved installing a large walk-in cooler, which was ready just in the nick of time for the 2011 CSA season.
2012 is a new year and a new season, however, and with one year under his belt, Huth plans on improving the operations the best way he can through learned and shared knowledge.
A first generation farmer in his early 30s, Huth is learning what works and what doesn’t work with each passing day. Although he doesn’t have anyone to turn to for advice when something on the farm doesn’t go as planned, he says he has befriended other Wisconsin CSA farmers that he can exchange ideas with.
Because he understands that farming is a lot of work, Huth delegates his otherwise 15-hour a day workload in the fields appropriately to the farm’s six employees. He has made it a goal to train his employees on areas he has perfected, while freeing up time to focus on other areas he would like to improve.
“My work has really shifted. I used to like weeding. Now I delegate weeding out,” Huth says. “So now I took on harvesting. I can put together a bunch of radishes really fast. But now this year I’m not going to harvest anything. I’m going to delegate that out and I’m going to train it. Now I need to learn how to drive tractors better and cultivate better. That’s one thing that’s interesting about this line of work. Your role just constantly changes. There’s so much to learn and I don’t have anybody out here to teach me, so I have to fight my way through it and figure it out.”
LotFotl offers a 26-week CSA season. In 2012, the CSA season began on May 31 and goes up until the week of Thanksgiving. The farm supplies 80-plus varieties of produce to fulfill 350 shares, of which, 325 are paid families. The rest are worker shares, where community members work four hours a week for a full size share of produce.
LotFotl offers two different size shares: a smaller share (Small/Staple), which is a smaller box that has 26 weekly deliveries, and a larger share (Full/Gonzo) with 26 weekly deliveries. Customers also have the option of a large every other week share (Full E/O/ See Saw).
By providing different size shares, LotFotl is making it a goal to evolve its CSA so it’s accessible and fits just about any household.
“Our staple share, we’ll restrict the amount of produce that goes in it so it works for busy people that didn’t come from a family that cooked like mad and knows how to cook,” says Huth. “They just want onions, carrots, simple stuff in an amount that they can get through without having to throw it away or compost it.”
The farm currently offers 13 pickup sites in southeastern Wisconsin, as well as on the farm. The farm also has open hours on Sunday to purchase produce from its walk-in cooler.
CSA deliveries also can include more than just vegetables. LotFotl teams up with livestock farmer John Hall, who also rents land on Quinney Farm to sell free-range grass-fed beef and pork. Currently, customers can place beef orders for a half, a quarter or a 25 pound box. Pork will be available for sale in the fall. LotFotl also purchases broiler chickens and eggs from other local farmers and makes them available in shares as well. The farm also sells Bolzano Artisan Meats.
Fruit is sourced from Michigan and this year, the farm is hoping it is able to find certified organic growers. The fruit purchases are from farms that are having a hard time going to market. The farm also sells maple syrup from Wisconsin.
Honey Bee Sanctuary
Besides the 80-plus varieties of vegetables that are grown on the farm, a select product, honey, comes from the farm’s sustainable Honey Bee Sanctuary, managed by Yuds, who is in her fourth season keeping bees.
The bees are given biodynamic teas in the spring and the fall and are allowed to forage in locations on the farm that are free of commercial chemicals and pesticides. Yuds says the honey is not seen as a commodity on the farm, but rather a gift shared by our domestic bee friends. Currently, Yuds is managing nine different hives. On June 2, she hosted the farm’s second annual bee blessing and looks forward to educating the public on the importance of sustainable beekeeping.
“We’re hoping to make the blessing of the bees into an annual event,” says Yuds. “This year we really wanted to make people more aware of what we do out here, besides grow vegetables.”
Find LotFotl at These Markets, Grocers and Restaurants
Along with its 350 member CSA, LotFotl sells to Braise RSA, which supplies many Milwaukee-area restaurants, Beans and Barley on the east side in Milwaukee, Good Harvest Market in Waukesha, Sweet Water Organics in Milwaukee, and also sets up shop all season at the South Shore Farmers’ Market in Bay View. The farm also has plans to make a few appearances at farmers’ markets closer to their home base in Elkhorn and Delavan in 2012, but not for a full season.
“It is difficult to have our food run down Hwy 43 away from the community,” says Huth. “And we’re new here so it’s somewhat to be expected. But April is really pushing to try to set some better roots here. And a lot of the people out here are more receptive to what we’re doing.”