Are you looking to join the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in 2015? Well, you’re in luck. On March 7 and March 8, 2015, there are two free farmer open houses in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., where the public can get up close and personal with Wisconsin farmers and sign up for CSA subscriptions.
Besides getting to know the farmers, their growing practices, and what they have for sale, the event also consists of two workshops throughout the day. Jamie Ferschinger, the Urban Ecology Center’s Riverside Park branch manager, will give an “Introduction to CSAs” (11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.), and Annie Wegner LeFort of the Mindful Palate, cooking instructor and master food preserver, will share ideas on “Eating Healthy All Year.” (12 p.m. and 12:45 p.m.) Learn how to use the contents of a weekly CSA box to prepare quick, healthy meals, shopping farmers markets, preserving, and more.
This year 36 CSA farmers who deliver to the Madison area and beyond will be on hand. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with CSA growers and attend two workshops, including “Making the Most of Your CSA Share, presented by Pat Mulvey of Local Thyme CSA Menu Planning Service (1 p.m. and 3 p.m.), and “What’s in the Box? CSA for Newbies,” (2-2:30 p.m.) a panel discussion where the public can ask questions of experienced CSA members and farmers.
Talk about making a splash on the farm-to-table scene.
In November 2013, Rushing Waters Fisheries, Wisconsin’s largest rainbow trout farm located in Palmyra, sent ripples of excitement across the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine State Forest with the opening of its on-the-farm restaurant, The Trout House.
The new, all-encompassing farm dining experience not only celebrates ingredients sourced on-site from Rushing Waters’ 80-acre sustainable fishery, but also sources ingredients from local farms for its rotating seasonal menu.
So far business has flourished and the response has been overwhelmingly positive says Jeremy Colberg, front of the house manager at The Trout House. In fact, people are flocking from all over the state for the farm’s popular Friday night fish fry.
Colberg recalls a busy Friday night in January where over 300 people came for the fish fry.
“We didn’t have enough trout,” he says. “I had to send three guys down to the farm to harvest more. What other place can you do that? Other places if you run out of trout it just comes off the menu. Here I just send the guys out and say get me another 60 pounds.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Harvesting on the farm happens year-round, even in the winter months.
With the addition of The Trout House, the farm now offers visitors the option of fishing in the farm’s public fishing pond and enjoying their fresh catch for lunch as part of the “Hook & Cook” package (no fishing license required).
“This is something that you can only do at our restaurant,” says Colberg. “We’re the only restaurant in the United States that is offering this. You can go fishing in our public pond from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, and whatever fish you catch, we’ll take it in the processing room, filet it for you and then cook the exact fish you caught in our restaurant.”
Wisconsin’s Largest Rainbow Trout Farm
Rushing Waters has been Wisconsin’s leader for farm-raised rainbow trout since the 1940s.
The fishery, carved during the glacial movement, is the ideal environment for raising this species of fish. Artesian springs feed crystal-clear, 49-degree water, to the farm’s 56 ponds and hatcheries.
Although the trout is labeled farm-raised, the environment they are raised in mimics their native environment. Each pond has grass borders and earthen bottoms and contains a diverse ecosystem of aquatic life that provides the trout with access to wild food sources. Watercress grows along the ponds and is harvested for use in The Trout House.
“Our trout are flourishing in this water. This is their natural setting,” says Colberg. “The great thing about our ponds is we don’t use any chemicals. The fish are swimming in their own ecosystem. We never change that. We never clean the water. Not once. Everything takes care of itself.”
Aerators constantly move the water and spread oxygen throughout the ponds. As a result, even in the coldest of winter, the ponds never freeze over.
Rushing Waters prides itself on raising all-natural rainbow trout without the use of antibiotics, pesticides or preservatives. Because trout are carnivores, the farm’s fish feed is a 90 percent protein and 10 percent schooling fish mix that has been specifically developed for them. Farm workers feed all of the fish by hand several times a day by tossing pellets into the water.
“We experimented with feeders on timers, but we feel we can better monitor our fish by doing it by hand,” says Colberg.
From Egg to Harvest
Rushing Waters only raises rainbow trout.
“Rainbow trout are the highest quality,” says Colberg. “We were looking into introducing another species, but we got a good thing going here. Pick the one thing and master that.”
The farm gets its rainbow trout delivered to them as eggs. Because they only raise female trout they don’t have any spawning on the farm. This helps in controlling the population in the ponds, says Colberg.
The trout start off as fry in the farm’s two hatcheries. They then are moved into large tanks inside the hatchery which are also fed with artesian spring water, and when they grow to a fingerling size after about two months, they get transported to the outdoor ponds. Once in the outdoor ponds they move in two stages throughout the property before being harvested at the ideal weight of one pound.
The lifespan from hatchery to harvest is 18 months.
“That is actually longer than other operations,” Colberg explains. “Everyone else is at 11 or 12 months but we spend an extra couple of months just making sure the quality is there.”
Rushing Waters harvests an estimated 250,000 pounds of rainbow trout each year. Each fish is harvested by hand. Yes, by hand.
“We have four or five guys out here and they harvest all the fish,” says Colberg. “They use harvesting boxes that are measured to a specific size that we want the fish at. They are out here everyday moving the boxes and crating the fish.”
Harvesting is a two-man operation. They stand in the water and they drop the box down into the water and they’ll scoop the fish in a net and then grate them by hand. The grates are built to specific dimensions so if the fish doesn’t match the size to be harvested they get thrown back into the pond to grow larger.
The harvesting process at Rushing Waters is also based on order.
“You’ll never see us harvesting a ton of fish,” says Colberg. “Our guarantee to our customers is you will get your fish at the maximum of 48 hours. You will receive your fish no more than 48 hours of them swimming.”
In Stores/At the Market/ On the Menu
If you aren’t able to make it out to Rushing Waters, the farm’s line of products can be purchased from their online store, at Whole Foods, Outpost, and other select grocery stores.
The farm also has a booth at several farmers markets throughout the state. See the farm’s calendar of events for where they’ll be each week.
In addition to grocery stores, the farm’s trout is on the menu in several Milwaukee area restaurants including Odd Duck, La Merenda, and Braise.
What if you were told that you could get a box of fresh, organic produce, delivered to your doorstep every Thursday from June to mid-October from a local farmer? Nearly 70 households in southeastern Wisconsin already do, thanks to farmers Kelly Kiefer and Jeff Schreiber, owners of Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wis.
While home delivery isn’t new, it’s rare nowadays to find farmers like Kelly and Jeff who do the fieldwork, harvest crops, pack the CSA boxes and drive to customers’ houses to drop off bushels of organic vegetables on their front stoops.
Unlike the traditional CSA model of having drop sites where customers go to pick up their produce, Three Sisters, behind a push from the marketplace, the proliferation of middle-man “box schemes,” and their own “think outside the box” mentality, decided to tinker with the way they conduct business. They’ve found their home delivery CSA model to be successful.
“We found that it actually isn’t that much more time than going to centralized drop sites, and it fits with our philosophy of having a direct connection with the people that we serve,” Jeff says. “There is this sort of connection, dropping off the box at somebody’s house.”
In addition to offering home delivery, Three Sisters also gives their customers what is referred to as a choice option, or “U-pick,” with their weekly CSA share. Some CSAs have centralized drop sites and allow their members to take produce that they want and leave behind what they won’t use. Kelly and Jeff offer this option, but instead allow customers to customize what is in their share on a weekly basis via their online e-commerce store.
“One of the biggest things that people want who do CSAs is more choice in what they get in their box,” says Jeff. “But that has to be balanced with what we’re doing too because it’s challenging to offer a lot of options each week. So we have a balance where we have four or five core items that we’re deciding and we’ve learned over the years of doing this, that people generally want carrots and fruits and things like that. Those are high-value items to most people. Not everybody wants kale every week. So, something like that might be in the choice item and somebody may get five boxes of kale if they were really keen about kale. We’re trying to offer a little more choice to people. So we’re tweaking with the original model of CSA a little bit to try and meet people’s needs nowadays.”
Fresh On the CSA Scene
While Kelly and Jeff have over 10 years of farming experience, Three Sisters is still relatively a fresh face on the CSA scene. After gaining valuable experience working for Wellspring in West Bend, Wis., for several years, the couple decided to pursue their dreams of owning their own farm. In 2011, they formed Three Sisters Community Farm on Kelly’s family’s land in Campbellsport, where she was raised with her two sisters, Angie and Michele. The name is also synonymous for a Native American planting of corn, beans and squash.
Although Kelly and Jeff had big dreams, they knew they had to start small. With no money saved up to buy their own property to farm, the couple moved into Kelly’s family’s house and used the available land on the property to jumpstart their CSA, providing produce to six shareholders.
The couple quickly gained notoriety for themselves during their first season. Undeniably, their biggest fan was their neighbor, Dorothy, a woman in her 80s, who no longer could maintain her property that she was using to raise sheep.
“Dorothy would talk to me over the fence and she was really into what we were doing,” says Kelly. “And by the end of the year she made it clear that she was selling her place because she couldn’t take care of it by herself anymore. She was pretty forceful about getting us to buy it.”
Jeff and Kelly spent their entire first year drawing up their business plan. While Jeff had a much more grandiose plan for the farm, Kelly convinced him that starting small was in their best interests. And then everything just came together and felt right. Kelly and Jeff purchased Dorothy’s property in April 2012 with help from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and transformed it into the home base for Three Sisters.
Between their new land purchase and continuing to use the family’s land next door, Three Sisters now has close to five acres of land to grow on. This season they’re also renting an additional three acres of land in West Bend at Suave Terre Farm.
While Kelly and Jeff are still settling into their new home, things are shaping up for Three Sisters’ future. Besides focusing on the day-to-day activities surrounding the CSA, they’ve been busy constructing a massive 34 feet wide by 312 feet long hoophouse, a new greenhouse, and planting of a variety of fruit trees that will allow them to increase their customer reach, expand their growing season (they are offering a winter share for the first time this year), and ensure success for many more years to come.
“We’re planting a lot of fruit trees this year because in three to five years we’d like to start offering fruit to our members because we feel that’s a huge need,” says Kelly. “I always hear people say they don’t know how to cook or don’t know what to do with vegetables. With fruit you just eat it. Especially with fruit, the varieties that we can grow, because we’re not shipping them across the country, we can grow varieties that are just out of this world. We can pick varieties for flavor, not for how well they can ship. So we’re really excited about that.”
One of the visions on the farm is to have full rows of blackberries and grapes. However, that means eliminating the space they currently use for vegetable growing. Kelly says that it is intentional.
“When you’re planting plants that take three to seven years to bear fruit you want to have them on your land, whereas the vegetables we can rent land,” she says.
Fruits of Their Labor
For Kelly and Jeff, farming is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s a 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. job most days and it involves a lot of manual labor. But this year, they’re not ashamed to ask for some help. They’re offering worker shares for people who agree to work four hours a week on the farm in exchange for a share of produce. They’ve also offered discounts this season for those members who agree to work two four-hour shifts on the farm.
Although they are a small-scale farm, they also rely on an appropriate scale of mechanization to ease the strain on their bodies. So, they have a tractor to plow the fields and a motorized machine for tasks like weeding and transplanting.
“We are able to do most of what we do by hand,” says Jeff. “We aren’t beyond the human scale. We might need a few extra hands some days but we’re trying to strike a balance of making a living doing this and having it be human scaled and small.”
Kelly and Jeff have their own designated tasks on the farm. Kelly is in charge of the greenhouse work, field work, transplanting, weeding, watching the plants, putting on reemay row cover, administrative tasks such as accounting, responding to emails, and getting information out to their members.
While Kelly is really detailed, Jeff is in charge of getting the larger systems in place on the farm. He prepares all of the growing beds, does all of the tractor work, manages their compost, constructs new structures, and is designated as the “perennials guy” on the farm. This spring he planted apple trees, pear trees, raspberries, and has grafted 100 plum rootstocks.
They each have their own fields that they maintain, but they coordinate each morning to make sure they are making the best use of their time.
Besides working as full-time farmers, Jeff teaches two English classes a semester at Marian University and Kelly works part-time at a coffee shop in Port Washington. But, as they get more established with Three Sisters, they hope to soon only focus on farming full time.
“Our reputation is the most important thing so we didn’t want to sell more shares than we could handle,” says Kelly. “We could have sold 50 shares last year but we probably wouldn’t have had very good shares. And so it’s lets do what we can do and supplement our income with other jobs. But we’re getting to the point where we’re more confident in what we’re doing and things are starting to be in place a little more.”
While Three Sisters uses 100 percent organic practices, the farm is not certified organic. However, they have plans to get certified in the coming years.
“We’ve been on the fence because we grow organically and we want to stay at a size where we know all of our members and they can come out and visit and that they just trust us with what we’re doing,” says Kelly.
The farm actually maintains records as if they were certified organic growers.
Besides produce, Three Sisters also raises free range chickens and ducks on the farm, and Kelly’s sister Angie has three horses that are kept on her family’s land next door that they use their manure for making compost. They have plans to expand on their livestock options in the future.
“Right now we’re just dipping our toes in the water with some different livestock options,” says Kelly. ‘It’s really part of our long-term goal to have some land to graze some animals because with vegetables, one things that is overlooked is you need a lot of fertility, and if you don’t have animals to have manure, your system isn’t complete. We just haven’t felt comfortable purchasing conventional manure because of antibiotics.”
The farm also keeps honey bees. They are used mostly for pollinating the vegetables, and as an added incentive they get a little bit of honey that they keep for themselves. But, Kelly says she is learning more about beekeeping, and it eventually might be an enterprise where the farm could offer their own honey to their shareholders. Currently, they only offer honey to the farm’s members from Bernie’s Bees, Kelly’s beekeeping mentor.
Their big picture goal is to make the farm a center of activity.
“We’d like to get to that point where it’s a center of social activity as well as a farm,” says Kelly. “It’s really our goal to have a diverse farm.”
They’ve already started in small ways. Kelly’s sister Angie, who is a teacher in Chicago, is already planning activities for their member’s kids this year.
“That’s a huge need of our members,” says Kelly. “They always want to bring their kids out to the farm. It’s difficult to integrate the kids into the real work that needs to happen. The members will come out and work the four hours on the farm and they’ll bring their kids and my sister will work with the kids.”
Kelly and Jeff will admit they’ve still got a long way to go, but with the passion they exude for farming and providing fresh and healthy produce to families across southeastern Wisconsin, we’re confident this young farming couple has what it takes to rise to the top.
Three Sisters’ CSA Home Delivery
Three Sisters offers a unique “U-pick,” home-delivered CSA option where for every Thursday for 20 weeks from June until mid-October, the farm delivers a box of fresh produce to your doorstep. The farm delivers to select ZIP codes in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Brookfield, Elm Grove, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, West Bend, and Campbellsport.
The farm also offers bi-weekly shares (delivered every other week) to members with smaller households or for those who don’t want as much produce.
Starting in 2013, Three Sisters is allowing for both regular and bi-weekly members the option to customize the contents of their box via the farm’s online ecommerce store. Members also have the option to purchase additional items such as eggs and honey. However, if members don’t prefer to pick and choose the produce they will be receiving, the farm will pack a share based on what is the freshest produce that week.
Three Sisters also offers a shareholder discount to those members who agree to a farmwork agreement to get their hands dirty and help out on the farm. Members can receive a discount if they agree to work two four-hour farm shifts over the course of the season. Work times are Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and a limited number of Sunday mornings.
Three Sisters is a regular attendee of the Wauwatosa Farmer’s Market, which is held every Saturday from 8 a.m.-Noon from June to mid-October.
On Saturday, March 9, 2013, the Urban Ecology Center-Riverside Park in Milwaukee hosted the 11th Annual Local Farmer Open House. The public was able to get up close and personal with 17 local Wisconsin farmers, learn where their food comes from, take in a few free workshops, and sign up for a CSA.
The following is a list of 17 farms that were on hand:
If you’re looking to join a CSA this year, you’re in luck. On March 9 and March 10, there are two free open houses in Milwaukee and Madison where you can get up close and personal with local Wisconsin farmers.
The Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, is hosting the 11th Annual Local Farmer Open House on Saturday, March 9, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Over 15 farms will be on hand, including Backyard Bounty, Full Harvest Farm, HighCross Farm, JenEhr Family Farm, LotFotL Community Farm, Noel Farms, Old Plank Farm, Pinehold Gardens, Rare Earth Farm, Rhine Center Vegetable Club, Rubicon River Farm, Stems Cut Flowers, Stoney Meadow Farm, Three Sisters Community Farm, Tipi Produce, Turtle Creek Gardens, Wellspring, and Willoway Farm.
Besides getting to know the farmers, the event also consists of three workshops throughout the day. Jamie Ferschinger, the Urban Ecology Center’s Riverside Park branch manager, will explain how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) works; Annie Wegner LeFort, chef and master food preserver, will share ideas for more efficiently using the contents of a weekly CSA box to prepare quick, healthy meals; and Warren Porter, of UW-Madison, will share what research shows about how and why to avoid pesticides in your food.
If you live in the Madison area, FairShare CSA Coalition’s 21st annual CSA Open House is being held on Sunday, March 10 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Monona Terrace.
This year FairShare doubled the space of its event to create a more relaxing atmosphere. Meet with CSA growers serving the Madison area and attend several free workshops, including “CSA 101: Nuts & Bolts of Community Supported Agriculture” by Erika Janik, CSA Member & Dennis Fiser, CSA Farmer from Regenerative Roots; and “CSA 201: Making the Most of your Seasonal CSA Produce” by Laura Gilliam of Local Thyme, a CSA Menu Planning Service.
All of Steve Pinnow’s sheep at Pinn-Oak Ridge Farm in Delavan, Wis., are raised on pasture and are fed a vegetarian diet. Pinn-Oak Ridge is at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market every Saturday except the third Saturday of the month.
Live in the Milwaukee area and in search of fresh, local produce during the winter months? Well, you’re in luck. Every Saturday morning from November to April, local farmers and food producers set up shop indoors for the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market in the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center on the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds. (Note: In October 2013, the market moved to its new location at the Mitchell Park Domes, 524 South Layton Boulevard, Milwaukee, WI 53215) For the last four years, Milwaukee area residents have taken advantage of the easy access to locally-sourced food as if it were the summer months. From vegetables to fruit, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, artisan cheeses and bakery, the options are delicious and plentiful. Really, there’s no better place to do your grocery shopping on a chilly winter morning. “Our market’s mission is to promote local, sustainable agriculture; increase economic opportunities for small family farms and innovative food businesses; provide equitable access to wholesome food; and build a vibrant gathering place for metro Milwaukee residents and visitors,” says Deb Deacon, the market manager. Besides being an avenue for purchasing local, the market, in its fourth year, also thrives on supporting small family farms during the otherwise unreliable winter months.
In January 2009, that dream became a reality as the WAGA agreed to be the funding agency for development of the new urban winter market. The market’s first year drew 30 vendors, 21 of which still attend the market. Throughout the market’s first two years, it operated under the oversight of WAGA’s executive director, Anna Maenner. Maenner worked on the logistics for the market and managed a special Farmers Market Promotion Program grant from the Agricultural Marketing Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Because Maenner had experience running the Apple Growers’ booth at the annual Wisconsin State Fair, she was able to secure the market’s venue, the Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center, located in the northwest corner of Wisconsin State Fair Park. The Center continues to be home for the market today. Thanks in large part to Deacon, who has been a part of the market since the beginning, the market’s mission hasn’t changed. “Diverse, small-scale family-owned farms from southern Wisconsin have access to a more reliable and consistent annual income and realize they have a market that justifies extending their operational season,” says Deacon. “It also provides a low-cost experimental venue for new value added products.”
Aleka’s Kitchen sells traditional home-made gourmet Greek pastries every Saturday at the market.
Tasked with vendor recruitment and market promotion, Deacon has initiated the market’s website and Facebook pages, and also visits vendors’ businesses and farms. As the market continues to grow in size (50 producers this year whose attendance ranges from three to 22 weeks), Deacon says a future goal of the market would be to secure a larger space to accommodate all of the vendors.
The market hosts a market breakfast each year. Milwaukee area chefs that specialize in using local ingredients come in and create a menu that uses the products and ingredients from the market’s producers. Wisconsin Foodie documented last year’s market breakfast on a recent episode.
What you can find at the market
Products available at the market include:
Grass-based meat: lamb, beef, goat, pork, elk, and bison; charcuterie
Pastured poultry and free-range eggs
Trout raised in artesian fed ponds
Artisan cheese, ice cream, butter
Apples, vegetables and fresh herbs
Breads and baked goods
Oats (in a variety of formats), granola
Specialty food producers that make fresh pasta, seasonal jams & jellies, pickled vegetables, salsas, pasta sauces, herbal teas/butters/pestos, frozen soups, organic caramels, and savory ethnic cuisine (Greek and Mexican)
Honey, Maple Syrup, Sorghum
Coffee and apple cider
Fresh flower arrangements
Stone ground flour
Dried edible beans
For your four-legged friends, you can also find elk antlers, beef bones and other treats.
Viola’s Honey is harvested from local hives on farms in Hales Corners, Pewaukee, New Berlin, Waterford, and the Wehr Nature Center.
Grab a cup of fresh coffee from Milwaukee’s Valentine Coffee Roasters.
Soap of the Earth, Whitewater, Wis., sells handmade herbal soaps. Owner Lori Hoyt wild harvests her ingredients or purchases from other local producers.
Rushing Waters Fisheries, Palmyra, Wis., offers fresh and smoked rainbow trout, smoked Alaskan salmon, as well as salmon burgers.
Rolling Meadows Sorghum Mill, Elkhart Lake, Wis., brings sorghum, maple syrup and honey to the market every Saturday.
Oly’s Oats, Elm Grove, Wis., sells Wisconsin-milled oats in a variety of formats.
Martha Davis Kipcak’s “Martha’s Pimento Cheese” is a Southern staple made in Milwaukee with real Wisconsin Cheddar cheese.
Lonesome Stone Milling, Lone Rock, Wis., sells a variety of products, including cornbread and pancake mix.
Lakeview Buffalo Farm, Belgium, Wis., sells a wide-range of meats every weekend at the market.
Golden Bear Monarchs Elk Farm, Beloit, Wis., offers elk meat, snack sticks, and elk antler dog chews.
Dominion Valley Farm, Allenton, Wis., raises pork, poultry and beef on pasture.
Milwaukee’s Clock Shadow Creamery sells fresh cheese, including mozzarella, quark and cheese curds.
At the end of the long gravel road at 4382 Hickory Rd., in West Bend, Wis., is a 36-acre utopia that is home to wildflowers, winding nature trails, ponds, a registered bird habitat, and 100 varieties of organic vegetables. A place like this is often only dreamt about. For Mary Ann Ihm, it’s a dream that became a reality and a place she has rightly named Wellspring – a certified-organic produce farm and a not-for-profit education and retreat center.
Founded on March 1, 1982 by Ihm, a former educator, she wanted to create a learning environment that would “help people live in harmony with themselves and the earth.” She started out small, holding workshops and working out of a community garden in Milwaukee. But Ihm, who grew up on a farm, had a bigger vision for Wellspring. She wanted land where she could create a farm and a retreat center. Her dream would come true fives years later in 1987, but it involved a lot of heartbreak and some divine intervention.
Mary Ann’s number one supporter and husband, Wayne, passed away from cancer. Just a week after Wayne’s funeral, Mary Ann was given an ad for a property in West Bend. The description called to her, and upon visiting the land, she fell in love. She knew it was the perfect fit for what she wanted to accomplish with Wellspring. One problem: she didn’t have the money to pay for it. She thought her dreams were dashed, that is, until a surprise came in the mail later that same week. Unbeknownst to Mary Ann, Wayne had a life insurance policy and she received a check for the exact amount of the property’s down payment. Wellspring purchased the property and moved Wellspring to West Bend in the spring of 1988, forming what is the longest running CSA in Wisconsin. It’s here where she and all the faithful employees work hard at educating and informing the public about wellness and healthy food choices.
Introduction to Farming: 101
Wellspring is located on 36 acres of property, but only grows on six. So, to feed the farm’s 110-member CSA and restaurant customers, they really have to get creative and make great use of the available growing space.
Farm manager Alissa Moore incorporated permaculture into the design of the field where vegetables are planted in a curve pattern that mimics the natural flow of the land.
As a result, the farm incorporated permaculture into the design of the field where vegetables are planted in a curve pattern that mimics the natural flow of the land. Farm manager Alissa Moore says this method helps to mitigate erosion during heavy rains in what is a fairly steep slope.
The farm also takes advantage of growing in multiple hoop houses. This helps the farm get an early start on seedlings in the spring and extends the growing season beyond the typical fall harvest time.
Moore oversees the farm’s 40 different types of crops and 100 different varieties. At the same time, she also is mentoring the farm’s interns. In fact, she estimates that 90 percent of her job is devoted to taking the interns under her wing.
“We all work together side by side each day,” she says. “Most of them have never farmed before, so they are learning what it means to be involved in day-to-day activities at an organic farm.”
Interns live and work on the farm from March until October. Each year a new batch of interns come in, while some have the opportunity to stay for two growing seasons. Activities on the farm vary from month to month. In April and May, Moore is teaching the interns how to seed and plant. In May and June, planting, weeding, and harvesting. In July and August the planting comes to an end but weeding continues and most of their time is spent on proper harvesting techniques. In September, harvesting is still going strong and weeding begins for the fall crops. Infrastructure for the different crops is also taken down at this time. In October they continue to harvest the hardiest crops, and prepare the farm for the winter.
Wellspring’s mission is to not only grow organic food but to also help teach the public the importance of growing, eating, and living sustainably. Francie Szostak, the educational coordinator at Wellspring, says many educational opportunities are available throughout the year.
Wellspring offers a host of home gardening courses that teach novices how to plan a home garden. Everything from caring for the soil, preparing garden beds for transplanting, the basics on companion planting, maintenance (weeding, mulching, natural pest control), harvesting, and food preservation techniques.
“We teach people things like with a carrot, how do you know when to pull it out of the ground. Or broccoli, do you just rip it off or remove it from the stem,” says Szostak.
Wellspring also offers seasonal cooking classes where each month a different vegetable that is ready to be harvested is selected and featured from the garden. Each class is led by Chef K.C. Thorson who develops and demonstrates four healthy recipes. In 2012 classes focused on salad turnip and radishes, chicory bitter greens/Asian greens, culinary herbs, beets, root veggies, brussel sprouts, and Thanksgiving dishes.
Visitors to Wellspring can get hands-on in the vermiculture worm composting bin
Workshops are also offered regularly throughout the year. In 2012 the farm hosted workshops on wild edibles, foraging for mushrooms, native pollinators, gluten-free cooking, and a cheesemaking workshop.
The farm is also very big on educating youth. As a result, the farm encourages K-12 schools and community groups (adult groups, too) to schedule a field trip to experience life on an organic farm. Szostak says that children experience farm life and connect with how food is grown through hands-on lessons and activities, and each visit is tailored to students’ ages, learning levels and classroom goals.
Farm field trips typically last two hours and include a farm tour, gardening activity, a picnic lunch, and a snack that is harvested from the gardens. Szostak says kids that visit the farm more often than not are not afraid of vegetables like most people want to believe.
The Agricorp garden at Wellspring.
“They come out here and when they’re in the dirt, using their hands, growing it themselves, they are so excited to taste it,” she says. “Even little kids that are 2 and 3 that came out here, I had some beets to try and they said ‘no,’ but then they popped one in their mouth and their faces just lit up. Kids really aren’t afraid of vegetables.”
Wellspring also has a program on the farm called Agricorps that teaches youth ages 12-17 best business practices using sustainable agriculture. In this program, youth participate in six weekday instruction sessions and two weekend sessions during the summer months, says Szostak.
“They come out, pick a plant that they tend to all season long, and they learn the things that go into growing organically, like pest control, weeding, as well as the business marketing side of farming,” she says. “So they have to plan their garden, plan out the costs, learn about marketing skills, decide where they’re going to sell their product and then after all that they go to the Wauwatosa Farmers’ Market and they get to sell the produce that they’ve grown all season.”
In 2012 the youth planted eggplant, squash, tomatoes and peppers. The proceeds they received from their sales at the Wauwatosa Farmers’ Market were then donated to the charity of their choice.
In 2013 Szostak’s hope is to expand the farm’s reach and incorporate some youth from the inner city and teach them the self reliant skills of growing their own food and marketing skills.
“These business marketing techniques can be applied to any ventures they go into their life,” she says.
Besides teaching classes on the farm, Wellspring also visits select schools with a “Farm to School” program. In 2012 Wellspring began partnering with Grafton and Kewaskum schools where they started sampling fresh organic produce in the lunchroom.
“They get to each sample one and if they like the dish that the chef created using that produce, they all get a vote, and then it will be on the lunch line the next week,” says Szostak. “It’s really involving them instead of just shoving some veggies at them and saying ‘eat this.’”
Where to Buy
Wellspring offers a CSA for 20 months that begins in the first week of June through the third week of October. The farm offers three different share sizes: Full, half, and community. The full share is delivered weekly while the half share is every other week.
Members who want to receive a discounted price on a full share and get their hands dirty at the same time, can choose to do a community share and commit to work two four-hour shifts on the farm during the season.
New in 2012 is the addition of a winter share that will be three larger shares that are distributed two weeks apart in November in December.
Wellspring holds farm festivals for its shareholders and families throughout the season, including: an Earth Day Celebration, Herb Sale, the Taste of Wellspring, and Agri-Culture Fest.
A fifth-generation farmer, Jeff Preder was born into dairy farming. And from the day he purchased his family farm from his parents in January 1977 up until September 1997, dairy farming was all Preder knew. That is until the owner of Jeff-Leen Farm in Random Lake, Wis., ventured off the beaten path into raising beef cattle.
Preder started with Holsteins, but little did he know what he truly was getting into. He quickly discovered that raising Holsteins without the use of growth hormones was not economically feasible. It was at that same time in 1997 that a friend from Missouri turned him on to Piedmontese cattle. The friend preached about the low-fat, low-cholesterol nutritional characteristics in the beef animal, and because Preder was gravitating towards a healthy lifestyle, he thought it was just a natural fit to start raising the breed.
He started with seven Piedmontese cattle and finished one out for his family.
“When we got the first Piedmontese cattle and we butchered it, my wife Kathleen said never a Holstein again,” Preder says. “There was such a difference in the quality of meat going from the Holstein to the Piedmontese.”
They quickly swore off raising Holsteins, phased out the remaining few they had, and turned their attention solely on Piedmontese cattle.
The name Jeff-Leen Farm, a mashup of Jeff and Kathleen’s first names, ironically works well because of the lean Piedmontese beef it sells.
Jeff-Leen has raised Piedmontese cattle since 1997. Nutritionists say the beef has less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories than skinless chicken.
Piedmontese, a breed of cattle that originates from the region of Piedmont, in northwest Italy, and brought to North America in 1979, is naturally lower in fat and cholesterol because it is a double-muscled animal. This means that the cattle have more cell mass per muscle and less fat, says Preder.
The genetic characteristics of Piedmontese cattle have been studied by scientists, and nutritionists have documented their health and nutritional benefits. They’ve found that a 50 percent or greater Piedmontese cross is a perfect source of high quality protein, the beef has eight essential amino acids, is an excellent source of B vitamins such as niacin and riboflavin, and a great source of zinc. Nutritionists also say that the beef has less fat, cholesterol and fewer calories than skinless chicken.
Jeff-Leen’s cattle are raised under strictly controlled growing conditions, with a heavy emphasis on a healthy environment. The cattle, which have been 100-percent grass-fed since 2005 are ensured a healthy diet of quality forages as they are moved to a new pasture every two to three days to ensure they have fresh grass and alfalfa.
“To me it’s important that we only let them on an area for a short period of time so that they don’t destroy the habitat,” says Preder.
Preder has the cattle on a rotational grazing pattern that divides the farm’s nearly 300 acres of rolling hills into 14 different paddocks. Even though implementing this system delays the time to finish an animal, he is fine with that.
“Going grass-fed it takes a little bit longer to finish the animal out,” says Preder. “We figure somewhere between 24 to 30 months and we feed them on strictly grass, alfafa, and our own hay because it has higher nutritional value.”
Preder says he takes great pride in raising cattle that are absolutely free of growth hormones, steroids, antibiotics and animal by-products. He also relies on an old-world approach of keeping the animals out on pasture all-year long.
“They never go inside the building,” says Preder. “We have trees around that block the prevailing winds during the winter and if it’s in the wide open space, we’ll set extra bails of hay out for them to trash the bail, and then they’ll either lay against it for a wind break, or lay on it. We’ve never lost an animal due to a weather issue.”
Jeff-Leen’s cattle meets all USDA inspection standards, as well as the rigid specifications and regulations in the Certified Piedmontese Beef Program, a program that is approved and audited by the USDA. The farm also holds certification from the Piedmontese Association of the United States.
The farm raises 25 Piedmontese cattle that it finishes yearly. Preder says he’s looking to grow that number to 40 by adding 10 more cows to the herd, in large part due to demand.
The beef is processed at Kewaskum Frozen Foods in Kewaskum. Although it is 100 percent raised organic, Jeff-Leen can’t label it organic because it is not processed at a certified organic facility. Preder’s hope is that as other farmers like himself begin encouraging the processor to gain certification that the organic label can someday make it on his beef products.
“Right now, everything is raised here organically, but we can’t label it as such because it’s not full circle,” says Preder.
In 2002, the otherwise strictly beef operation of Jeff-Leen opened up to include chickens and eggs.
Just as the cattle are free-range on pasture, so too are the laying hens. All day long the flock of nearly 200 Production Red hens are allowed free range of the farm where they are foraging on grass, legumes and insects.
Laying hens are free-range and nest inside a mobile wagon.
As a result, Preder says under normal circumstances the hens will produce anywhere from 150 to 160 dozen brown eggs a week with rich, orange yolks. However, this summer’s dry spell and extreme heat wreaked havoc on the flock’s production.
“The heat really took a toll on them and the production just went downhill,” says Preder.
Besides foraging on greenery and insects all day, Preder feeds the hens a whole grain organic diet. This includes corn raised on the farm that gets ground up, coursely-ground oats, soybeans, soybean meal, root-seed meal, and diatomaceous earth.
“Because of the customer base that we have, we want to have as healthy a diet for the chickens so therefore our customers are eating as healthy products we know we can provide them,” says Preder.
This spring, Preder built a mobile wagon for the hens to nest and lay their eggs. Inside it’s equipped with dozens of nest boxes, feeders, water and areas where hens can perch. He also mounted a water tank on the front that stores enough drinking water for the hens for four days. The wagon gets pulled by tractor or four-wheeler to a new area of pasture for the hens daily. Kathleen does the egg gathering twice a day. She also washes the eggs and packs them.
The hens go into the wagon at dusk and the door is closed to protect the flock. The door is opened at dawn.
“In the morning it’s really a sight to behold,’ says Preder. “I come out here at 5 a.m. and open the door and some of them are flying out, some of them are jumping down the steps and then they take off everywhere. It’s really neat to see. And then at night it’s like a parade of chickens, they all go back in.”
Because the hens are free range, there is the risk of losing some of the flock to predators. So far, Preder says that hasn’t been a problem due to the fact that he places roosters in with the hens. He says their loud crows help deter intruders.
Pastured Chickens and Turkeys
Besides raising laying hens, Jeff-Leen also has a flock of approximately 700 Cornish Rock chickens at a time that are sold for meat. These chickens are raised as chicks (purchased from Sunnyside Hatchery in Beaver Dam, Wis.) in the barn and are moved onto pasture at an early age where they rotationally graze in movable pens.
“What I believe is if we can get them out on the pasture early, that I think is a big plus,” says Preder. “We don’t want them in the barn any longer than we have to – just to get them feathered enough that they’ve got enough feathers to keep themselves warm.”
Each pen is spacious enough to hold 100 chickens where they can perch, nibble on insects, grass, legumes, and snack on organic feed. Each day the chicken pens are moved onto a new patch of pasture to ensure the chickens are getting appropriate nutrients.
This year the farm expanded its chicken production from 1,700 to 2,700 to fulfill a 600-chicken order placed by Bruce Evans with Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Culinary School, and also to meet demand by restaurants and customers.
In 2011, a demand centered around Thanksgiving dinner brought Preder into the new realm of raising turkeys on the farm. As a result, he purchased 25 baby white broad-breasted turkeys from Sunnyside Hatchery.
Because it went over well, Preder decided to double his production in 2012. Just like the chickens, the turkeys are raised from chicks inside the barn for a few weeks until they’ve built up enough strength to go outdoors. They are then moved onto pasture into three large movable pens that hold 17 birds. These pens get moved daily. Preder says the turkeys are processed a week before Thanksgiving.
“Some people say I should raise heritage breed turkeys, but I talked with Chef Jack Kaestner and he said ‘Jeff, they’re really tough to raise, so maybe just getting into it you might want to do the white broad-breasted, which are a little bit easier.’ We opted to follow that advice.”
Jeff-Leen gets both its chickens and turkeys processed at Quality Cut Meats in Cascade, Wis.
It’s hard not to miss the large white wind turbine smack dab in the middle of the farm. The wind generator is a partnership between Jeff-Leen and its neighbor. Preder says his neighbor has the investment in the turbine, but the farm partnered with him and gets a reduced rate on electricity.
“We pay for it yet, we don’t get free electricity, we get a reduced rate,” says Preder. “And when we put it in, there were certain upgrades that needed to be done on the farm and that he paid for upfront. Plus, it looks nice and fits nice with our customer base.”
Preder says he believes wind energy is a good way to go, but they can’t go 100 percent because it’s still unreliable.
“Some days it’s dead calm, but as an alternative source that helps supplement the energy source that’s out there, why not,” he says. “Take advantage of a natural resource and generate as much as we can to help offset some of the petroleum usages.”
Sixth Generation and Beyond?
When Jeff and Kathleen, who have four children and five grandchildren decide to hang up their boots, their hope is that the next generation will take over. Right now it looks like their son Michael, who is in his 30s and is currently in charge of the farm’s planting and harvesting will step in and take over as the family’s sixth generation.
Making the transition easier and putting the best interest of the farm first, Preder has had a full-time job away from the farm at a steel mill in Saukville since 1997.
“My heart is really in the farm, but the health insurance, the 401(k) with matching funds for retirement, those are the things you look at because I want to hand this down to the next generation. My son would really love to step in but I know that at today’s land prices he couldn’t buy us out,” Preder says. “So you out of the goodness of your heart, hand it over to him. You can’t be greedy when it’s a family operation.”
Where To Buy
Jeff-Leen sells eggs, chicken and beef products at several Wisconsin farmers’ markets. They are at the Fox Point, downtown West Bend and Sheboygan Farmers’ Markets on Saturdays, and in the winter at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers’ Market and Sheboygan Winter Farmers’ Market.
Preder encourages the public to come out to the farm and purchase products as well. He says he’ll be glad to show the public around and answer any questions. Just remember to call ahead of time.
“We’ll have people come to the farm and pick up numerous cuts of meat from us. We have individual steaks, roasts and we encourage people to come to farm and buy it because it’s cheaper for them. Anytime we go to the farmers market, its going to cost more because we have to pay the market fees, we have transportation, we have coolers and freezers, and those are the things we have to add cost to and it has to be paid for.”
The farm accepts phone-in orders, can take cash and check payments, as well as debit, credit cards, and also accepts EBT/food stamps at its farm and at markets.
Besides selling to the public, Jeff-Leen also works directly with many local chefs and restaurants. Jeff-Leen is part of Chef David Swanson’s Braise RSA that supplies many Wisconsin restaurants, and supplies the Oconomowoc Lake Club, La Reve in Milwaukee, as well as La Merenda, to name a few.
Customer Appreciation Day
Sept. 16, 2012, is Jeff-Leen’s 9th Customer Appreciation Day. The farm will have live music, food, refreshments, local cheeses, hay rides, and much more.
This is an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the Preder family farm and see the operation first-hand.
“We’re not trying to hide anything from customers. That I think is so important to people. We’ll show exactly what we got going on,” says Preder. “It may not be the most modern facility, but we enjoy what we’re doing and we’re trying to provide customers with as much of a wholesome product as we can.”
Jeff and Kathleen Preder
N254 Highway I
Random Lake, WI 53075 Phone: (920) 994-9502 Email: email@example.com Website: http://jeffleenfarm.com/
Dubbed the “king of the stinky cheese,” Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, Wis., is America’s only producer of Limburger, the famous surface-ripened cheese with a pungent aroma. In fact, the 127-year-old company owned by 21 dairy farmers in Green County, produces and ships 500,000 pounds of the stinky cheese annually across the country.
Managed by master cheesemaker and America’s last traditional Limburger maker since 1992, Myron Olson has been making cheese for the last 43 years. At Chalet, he manages 24 employees and mentors eight licensed cheesemakers. Since the 1930s, Olson is just the third manager at Chalet.
Made the old-fashioned, labor-intensive way as it was over a century ago, Limburger is a cheese that originated in Belgium. Once formed, the individual pieces of cheese, which are molded into the shape and size of small bricks, are laid side-by-side on specially cured pine boards. Bacteria grows on the pine boards and it inoculates the cheese and protects it from other bacteria that could grow.
Kept in Chalet’s cool and moist cellar, the white Limburger bricks are hand washed with a B-linen bacteria solution and are turned twice over a seven-day period. During this time, the bacteria introduced on the surface of the cheese ripens the cheese from the outside in and begins Limburger’s transformation into a buttery, pungent, aromatic cheese when fully aged. Finally, each piece of cheese is hand-wrapped in parchment and waxed paper and readied for shipping.
In addition to its notorious flagship Limburger, Chalet also produces national and international award-winning Swiss, Natural Smoked Swiss, Baby Swiss, German Brick, Muenster and petite Muenster, as well as traditional Cheddar cheese varieties.
Chalet Cheese Cooperative
N4868 Highway N
Monroe, WI 53566
Phone: (608) 325-4343
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There aren’t many husband and wife combos in Wisconsin who are married to cheesemaking like Tony and Julie Hook. With over 70 years of cheesemaking experience between them, the owners of Hook’s Cheese Company in Mineral Point, Wis., take pride in producing 40-plus varieties of cheese that consumers across the state of Wisconsin have come to appreciate.
A supporter of family farms, Hook’s purchases all of its milk from small dairy farmers in the Mineral Point area.
Tony and Julie formed Hook’s Cheese Company in 1976 and began producing Cheddar and Swiss cheeses. In 1980, they expanded into Colby, Monterey Jack, some flavored Jacks and Marble Jack.
In 1982, Julie’s Colby won the “Best of Class” award in the World Cheese Championship. It was also judged the “Finest Cheese in the World,” defeating 482 other entries from 14 states and sixteen countries. To date, Julie is the only woman in the history of cheesemaking to win the World Championship.
In 1987 Hook’s outgrew its rural Mineral Point cheese factory and moved into a larger facility in the historic “Shake Rag” district of scenic Mineral Point. The new home, which was built into the hills of Mineral Point over 150 years ago during the area’s mining era, has allowed Hook’s to store and cure larger quantities of cheese.
Hook’s curing caves are temperature-controlled, which allows for a slow curing process. Every few months each batch is taste-tested to ensure that only the highest quality cheeses are saved to age.
Known for their moist and creamy aged Cheddars, they have Cheddars that go from one year all the way to 15 years. In 2015, they’ll have a 20-year Cheddar available. In 2006, the 10 year cheddar won first place from the American Cheese Society.
In 1997, Hook’s began producing Blue Cheese. The cave to cure the blue is kept at a higher temperature and a high humidity to allow the blue mold to develop. In 2001, the company began making Gorgonzola. In 2004, the company developed two new blue-veined cheeses – Tilston Point, a drier, washed-rined blue, and Blue Paradise, a double-cream blue.
Hook’s currently sells over 40 varieties of cheese. Besides aged cheddar, they also produce several varieties of Swiss and blue cheese. Three newer cheeses are Little Boy Blue (took first place at the 2011 American Cheese Society Competition and third place in the 2010 World Cheese Championship), Bloomin’ Idiot, a mild creamy cheese that is Blue only on the outside, and Red Errigal, a sheep’s and cow’s mixed-milk cheese that is a mild and somewhat sweet cheese.
Andy Hatch, cheesemaker and manager of Uplands Cheese Co., in Dodgeville, Wis.
A common adage among Wisconsin cheesemakers is that happy cows produce better milk, and that better milk makes a better cheese. Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis., takes it a few steps further. The farmstead, managed by cheesemaker Andy Hatch, operates on the belief that great fields for happy cows leads to even greater milk, and that milk paired with great cheesemaking leads to highly decorated and award-winning artisan cheeses.
Home to 300 acres of rolling landscape in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, Uplands uses an old-world model lifted from the French and Swiss Alps, where it produces cheese with fresh, unpasteurized milk from its own cows. In order to produce artisanal cheeses that boast unique flavor complexities, special attention is paid to what the suppliers of the milk are fed.
The location of the farm, coupled with the nearly 40 inches of rain it receives annually, is ideal for growing a diverse range of grasses, legumes and herbs. It’s this steady diet that the farm’s nearly 150-cow herd feeds on from spring until the final days of autumn, giving Uplands a high quality milk. In order to ensure the herd is getting its proper nutrients each day, the farm rotationally grazes the cows in 20 different pastures and never in the same field for consecutive days. Moving the cows from one pasture to the next allows the cows to feast on new patches of grass and legumes, while allowing the previous day’s pasture to rest and recover.
Uplands’ cows are rotationally grazed on 300 acres of pasture.
Managing a closed herd, the farm only uses its own bulls and raises its own calves. It does not purchase cows from outside the herd. In fact, Uplands crossbreeds nine different types of cows. Because the cows spend their life outside grazing pasture, Uplands’ cows need to have athletic and robust characteristics. As a result, the farm breeds less for size and more for mobility and efficiency in converting grass into milk. The farm has found success crossbreeding larger breeds like Holsteins and Brown Swiss with smaller breeds such as Jersey and Tarentaise, says Hatch, cheesemaker and general manager at Uplands.
“We’re after a few things with our cows. Physically that they’re outside grazing all the time,” Hatch says. “We’re also looking for a flavor complexity. Different breeds of cows give different kinds of milk. They have different fats and proteins. The other end is the flavor you can develop in your cheeses is how those fats and proteins are broken down in the aging process.So our thinking is the more complexity you begin with in your milk supply, the more flavor complexity is available. It’s a luxury and we can approach it like that because we use the milk just from one herd. If someone is buying milk, they can’t pick and choose. But everything we do here, how we breed the cows, how we manage the farm, how we age the cheese, it’s all aimed at flavor complexity.”
Cheese is placed on racks and is moved into the ripening rooms.
Uplands’ philosophy is that its herd should go through a natural calving pattern, so the cows have their calves in the spring and are allowed to go dry throughout the winter, meaning they don’t get milked. This allows them to build body reserves for next year’s calves. As a result, cheesemaking does not occur in the winter months.
“It’s the old school way of dairy farming and it’s a natural way of farming,” says Hatch. “A cow is meant to have her baby in the spring when there’s abundant food and then hibernate when she’s pregnant in the winter. It’s not practical for most dairy farms but because our focus here is that grass-fed milk in the summer, we’re able to make it work.”
Hatch says the cows are milked seasonally in the spring, summer and fall, twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
“We don’t get very much milk out of our cows,” he says. “A holstein kept in a barn fed hay and corn will give you 100 pounds of milk a day. We get about half of that out of our cows. It’s because they’re eating only grass and their genetics aren’t geared towards volume. The volume is much smaller and the flavor properties are much different.”
From May through October, while its cows are grazing fresh pasture, Uplands is busy making its highly decorated Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a hard cheese made in the tradition of coveted Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort.
The traditional practice in cheesemaking was to make cheese on the farm using milk that was as fresh as possible. That’s exactly what Uplands does. Moments after the morning milking is done in the barn (which is 10 yards from the creamery), the milk is pumped directly into the cheese vats in the make room and the cheese making begins.
“It’s pretty much straight out of the cow,” says Hatch. “We don’t pasteurize it or homogenize it or anything, it’s about as fresh as you can get. We get more flavor complexity out of raw milk.”
Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese forms
Making Pleasant Ridge Reserve takes Hatch about six hours and the last step is to put the curd into forms. The cheese gets pressed over night and the next day the 10-pound wheels are removed from the forms, salted and placed on racks where they are then moved into the ripening rooms. Here, the cheese is hand-washed every two days in a brine solution, which encourages the development of certain cultures on the cheese rinds. These cultures, along with the micro flora that is indigenous to its unpasteurized milk, develop flavors in the cheese over time. And as the cheese ages, the flavors become more complex and concentrated.
Hatch says the cheese is aged a minimum of four months, and after 12 months it’s considered extra aged and is sold at a somewhat higher price.
“A large part of our work is ripening it and deciding if we can sell it,” says Hatch. “Each batch is a little different. We use raw milk, so each day cows are in different pastures the milk can be variable. It’s just a part of working with raw milk. So the name of the game is how do you ripen each batch differently and how do you sell it at its peak. It’s almost like dealing with different vintages of wine.”
By the time the cheese wheels are shipped across the country, they get turned and washed an average of 60 times. In fact, it takes more labor to age the cheese than it takes to make it. Hatch says washing rinds rarely occurs today because of all the labor it requires, but doing it this old fashioned way creates wonderful flavors during the maturation stage.
Cheese is hand-washed every two days in a brine solution.
The results have spoke volumes. In 2001, 2005 and 2010, Pleasant Ridge Reserve was named “Best of Show” at the American Cheese Society competitions, and is the only cheese to have ever received the honor more than once. It was also named U.S. Grand Champion at the 2003 U.S. Cheese Championships, making it the only cheese to have ever won both of the national competitions.
Building on the success with its Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, Uplands began producing its other highly-coveted cheese, Rush Creek Reserve, in the autumn of 2010. Previously, the farm always sold its milk to another cheesemaker in the autumn when the cows start transitioning to eating hay because the milk produced is less than ideal for Pleasant Ridge.
Instead of producing a hard cheese like Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rush Creek Reserve, which is made from September to mid-November, is a soft cheese that, since being produced, is a hot commodity across the country.
“We like to say that Pleasant Creek is made in the pastures and Rush Creek is made in the caves,” says Hatch. “The flavor that you find in Pleasant Ridge is very much a product of the inherent complexity of the milk itself. Rush Creek on the other hand develops its flavor much more through the ripening process and the yeast, the molds and the microflora.”
Rush Creek Reserve is designed to show off the richer texture of the hay-fed milk and the delicate ripeness of a soft, young cheese. Made with unpasteurized milk, it is aged side-by-side Pleasant Ridge in the ripening rooms. It’s a smaller wheel, weighing 12 ounces, roughly an inch thick and wrapped in spruce bark.
Hatch says Rush Creek Reserve is inspired by the French Vacherin Mont d’Or, and is bound in spruce bark, which gives shape to the soft round and imparts a sweet, woodsy flavor to the cheese.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve in its early stages.
“Rush Creek’s flavor is a product of how its ripened, what molds are growing on the rind,” says Hatch. “The idea is you’re working with less flavorful milk, so you have to generate flavor somewhere else.”
The savory flavors born from the rind gives Rush Creek’s custard-soft paste a deep but delicate richness, reminiscent of beef broth or finely cured meat. Hatch says it’s best enjoyed by removing the top crust and scooping the cheese with a spoon or a nice crusty bread.
The award-winning cheeses that Hatch produces at Uplands is coveted in households and restaurants from coast to coast. In fact, the cheesemaker, who says he stumbled into the profession, says the company’s biggest market is San Francisco, followed by New York and then Chicago.
City Boy Turned Cheesemaker
Growing up in Whitefish Bay, Wis., Hatch’s family was not a farming family. But somehow, he was always attracted to the profession. In the early 2000s, he began working for a corn breeder at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wis. But corn breeding wasn’t an ideal job for Hatch who was looking to go a different direction.
In a rather strange turn of events, Hatch was whisked into cheesemaking.
“The corn breeder I was working for had married into a Norwegian cheesemaking family, and right about the time I was getting ready to leave his lab, his elderly father-in-law in Norway died and he sent me over there to help out,” Hatch recalls.
While in Norway Hatch was taught how to make cheese. He then spent a couple years in Europe apprenticing for a few different cheesemakers. Upon returning to the states, Hatch decided to enroll at the University of Wisconsin to study dairy science. He then apprenticed with a couple cheesemakers near Madison and became a licensed cheesemaker. It was in 2007, when he was hired by Uplands’ owners Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude to head the operations.
On top of raising a herd of dairy cows and cheesemaking, Uplands also raises pigs. In fact, it sells about 50 Berkshire pigs, which are pasture-raised, yearly to restaurants in Wisconsin.
“We fatten our pigs on whey – whatever is not incorporated into the curd from the milk,” ” says Hatch. “They go nuts over the whey. Most of the lactose is still sent out in the waste, which is sweet, sugary, and they just go [crazy] over it. They’ll drink five gallons a head a day.”
When the farm gets the pigs in the spring each year they are about 35 pounds. When they get butchered in November, they’re 400 pounds.
“That’s like 180 days and like 350 pounds,” says Hatch. “We finish them on acorns because there are a lot of oak trees around here. And then we sell them to chefs.”
Hatch says the pigs are sold to restaurants such as Sanford Restaurant, Rumpus Room and Lake Park Bistro in the Milwaukee area and to L’Etoile in Madison.
“The fat in this pork tastes like maple syrup. All of the sweetness in the whey gets concentrated in the fat,” Hatch says. “The fat is like three inches, it’s really amazing.”
Uplands Cheese Company, Inc.
5023 State Rd. 23 North
Dodgeville, WI 53533
Phone: (888) 935-5558