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.
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.
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.
Huth and his electric tractor.
“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.”
Most people call David Kozlowski and Sandra Raduenz crazy for leaving their full-time corporate jobs for a life focused on growing organic vegetables. But the owners of Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek, Wis., say they wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“We gave up paid vacations, we gave up good insurance plans and jobs we liked,” says David, a former magazine editor, who alongside his wife Sandra, retired into farming in their 40s. “But this is something we knew we wanted to do and this is something that we had an opportunity to do. It sounds trite and it sounds kind of 60s-ish, but we both really did want to make the world a little better place and we both weren’t getting that satisfaction or meeting that sort of goal in our other jobs. So we switched to this and we think we’re doing a little bit of that by producing organic food for people that seem to appreciate it and want it.”
David and Sandra didn’t start farming until the mid-1990s – the same time they jumpstarted their own community supported agriculture (CSA) program. The couple used a small portion of the land they previously rented for 14 years at 1807 E. Elm Rd., in Oak Creek, as well as two other small areas of land in southeastern Wisconsin to grow produce for their CSA program.
But as their CSA member shares began to outgrow their available land to harvest, the couple decided it was time to quit their full-time jobs and pursue ownership of the 21 acres of farmland in the shadows of Milwaukee. But with a price tag of nearly $1 million, David and Sandra’s aspirations were shot down initially because they couldn’t afford the high price tag of the property. So, they began a search for their own farm that took them all across the state.
“We couldn’t find a farm. It was too expensive in the southwest, it was too expensive in northern Wisconsin, it was too expensive in Door County,” says David. “Every place we went to, land prices had skyrocketed. They went from $200 to $2,000 per acre basically overnight.”
The staple crop on the farm is garlic. Nearly 13,000 heads of garlic (12 different varieties) are planted by hand annually.
After a number of years searching for a place of their own, they were back to square one. Feeling a bit rejected, David and Sandra refocused their efforts on the farmland they had been calling home in Oak Creek. Their plan of attack resorted to penning letters, writing e-mails and sending the owner of the property a book on a man who started an urban farm in Los Angeles.
“We said, ‘this is what we want to be, we want to be near the city, we want to bring people out here, we want the kids to come out here.’ It was a hard sell,” says David. “We did that for about a year or so and then we pitched them again.”
The couple also upped their offer.
“We basically said, ‘we can pay $200,000 for this property,’” David recalls. “The [previous owners] said, ‘we like what you’re doing, it’s yours.’ So they took a big loss. They had paid $110,000 for it and that was supposed to be their nest egg.”
In December 2003, David and Sandra officially became owners of Pinehold Gardens. Today, the small organic farm landlocked by a newly-built sprawling Oak Creek suburb with supermarkets and big box stores, serves as one of the few reminders of the type of hard work it takes to produce good food.
Learning the Roots of Farming
Stewards for the slow food movement and sustainable agriculture in Wisconsin, David and Sandra have made it a goal to stay committed to providing the freshest, highest quality produce, and educating the public on healthy food options. Although Pinehold Gardens is not a certified organic farm, David and Sandra stress that they only rely on cover crops for fertilization, and avoid using any pesticides or herbicides.
Before starting their own CSA program in 1995, David and Sandra were gardeners that had no prior background in farming. Everything that they have learned over the last 18 years has been either self-taught through hands-on experience, reading books on farming, attending educational conferences, as well as sharing best practices with the close-knit network of organic farmers in Wisconsin.
In May of 2005, the farm installed a photovoltaic solar panel.
“There’s so much sharing of knowledge that there is very little reinvention of the wheel,” says David. “Every year you learn something new. You’re picking up something, you’re picking it up from another farmer, or you’re learning it on your own farm.”
David says every day on the farm is a new learning experience. David and Sandra take it as a challenge, while at the same time are constantly searching for sustainable methods to improve their operations, their land and the produce they grow.
The greatest resource they have on the farm is the sun. The sun not only helps grow their crops, but it also produces the electricity on the farm.
A member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association for 20 years, David is a huge proponent for renewable energy. So first on David’s mind when they bought the farm, next to getting the land ready for planting, was putting in a renewable energy system. Initially he says he was going to put a wind generator in, but things just worked better for them to go to photovoltaics. So, in May of 2005, the farm installed a photovoltaic solar panel, a 2.5-kilowatt dual-axis tracker that generates electricity by converting solar radiation. They then followed that up in October 2008 by adding a larger second system that is 2.7 kilowatts and is mounted to the roof of the tool shed.
“What that has meant for us is savings in electricity,” says David, who has become a solar pioneer in southeastern Wisconsin. “Being a farm, we’re running wells, we’re running walk-in coolers, and then of course all of the household appliances and things like that. Last year we had a net positive electric account with WE Energies where they actually paid us $200. We had no electrical bill and made $200. So that’s a significant savings for us.”
David says a financial move was never their goal with the installation of the solar panels.
“Our intent was always to do what we thought was the right thing,” says David. “We wanted to produce energy with the sun and we wanted to supply that energy to ourselves and our neighbors. That was our first priority and to put less carbon in the air. The fact that we’re making money at it and the fact that the systems are actually paying for themselves, that’s the icing on the cake.”
Walking around the farm, there’s no shortage of experiments going on. This spring, David and Sandra have begun a new endeavor where they carved out vegetable beds that are 100-foot long, 4 foot wide, with strips of grass in between.
“What that means is I have less to cultivate, so I’m using less gas except for the mower to mow the grass down,” says David. “And then in two years it will get reversed. Then we should get good black ground. It’s an experiment. We don’t know if it’s going to work or how it’s going to work.”
Another undertaking on the farm recently has been its 30×75 foot mobile greenhouse that runs on rails like a train. Currently, it has the option to be moved in three different positions in the field.
“We can move it over crops rather than trying to grow the crops inside the greenhouse,” says David. “Nobody around here is doing it yet, so we’re the guinea pigs. But I’m convinced it’s going to be really useful.”
David has devised a two year plan that details each move and what types of produce the mobile greenhouse will help yield. His hope is that the greenhouse will be a source in helping supply more produce to the public year-round.
Produce, Bees, Chickens, and Peaches
Pinehold currently grows over 40 different fruits and vegetables, and in some cases has dozens of varieties of some items. The staple crop on the farm is garlic. Nearly 13,000 heads of garlic (12 different varieties) are planted by hand annually. While Pinehold takes advantage of the plant vigor and production quality of hybrid vegetable varieties, it also seeks to preserve the genetic diversity and exquisite flavor of select heirloom varieties. The farm grows a number of items that have been recognized by the Slow Food Ark of Taste, a program that prevents the extinction of food and promotes them in the marketplace.
Besides growing fruits and vegetables, Pinehold also raises chickens on its land. The farm raises free-range heritage breed chickens, including Java, Ameraucana, Barred Plymouth Rock, Delaware, and Silver Laced Wyandottes, in a pasture lined with fruit trees and black currant bushes. In this pasture, the chickens feast on an assortment of clover, grass and insects. The chickens also get a nice supply of organic feed that consists of corn, soybean and flax. The flock produces a dozen to 18 eggs a day.
The farm also has several hives of Italian honey bees. David says the bees not only are used to pollinate the many crops, but as an added incentive, each hive produces 100 to 125 pounds of honey.
One of several family pets, Peaches, the Ossabaw Island Hog, is the official farm greeter. She is a rare heritage breed and descendant of pigs released by Spanish explorers on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia (hence the name, Peaches) over 400 years ago. She was born at the turn of this century, coming to the farm by way of Old World Wisconsin. When she’s not busy munching on her pile of food scraps provided by area restaurants, she enjoys belly-rubs in the sun and chatting it up with visitors.
Pinehold Gardens’ CSA
Pinehold’s 16-week CSA share begins in mid-July and ends in late-October, with deliveries on Wednesdays (2012 shares are still available). Pick-up sites are in Cudahy, Oak Creek, Racine, Bay View, Greenfield, Milwaukee, Shorewood, Wauwatosa, and on the farm. A weekly newsletter keeps customers up to date on the farm as well as providing recipes and food preservation techniques from a Milwaukee area chef.
Since the farm’s CSA starts after the sugar snap pea and strawberry season, Pinehold gives CSA members the opportunity to U-Pick a certain amount of those items for free. The CSA share also includes a U-Pick of 10 pounds of tomatoes.
In addition, CSA members are offered a 10 percent discount on “Market Dollars.” The use of Market Dollars is an opportunity for customers to supplement the CSA box with fresh produce of their choice any week during the 2012 market season at the South Shore Farmers Market, at Pinhold’s farm stand, and at the Milwaukee County Winter Farmers Market.
CSA members and the community are also invited to the farm’s annual open house celebration, the End of Summer Harvest Festival, which will be held on Aug. 26, 2012.
Instead of paying the lump sum for a box of produce, Pinehold offers a limited number of worker shares. A worker share is an exchange of labor for a CSA membership. Worker shares receive a box of fruits and vegetables as a result of working four hours per week. The majority of the worker share hours are Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sandra says a worker share commits to a shift and works that shift for the entire season. All shifts are 16 weeks long for a total of 64 hours. The early season begins May 15th and the late season begins July 10th. The farm’s worker shares are full for the 2012 season, but schedules change, so Pinehold encourages the public to send them an e-mail and get on a wait list for possible openings.
“Because this is a job, we expect people to come on their shift every week. They have to make up their time and plan it and tell me ahead of time if they’re not going to be there,” says Sandra.
For those unable to meet the financial obligations of being a CSA member and are unable to partake in the worker share program, Pinehold offers an Assistance Fund. The fund is used to partially offset the difference in what a member is able to pay and the cost of a membership. In 2012, the farm is offering up to $100 off a membership. Flexible payment options are also available. For more information about Pinehold’s CSA program, visit the farm’s website.
How to Buy From Pinehold Gardens
Pinehold currently sells its produce at the South Shore Farmers’ Market, through its CSA, and sells produce on the farm at its farm stand (2-6 p.m. Saturdays during the CSA season).
Pinehold’s produce is also found on the menu at several well-known area restaurants in Southeastern Wisconsin. These include La Merenda and Juniper 61. The farm also supplies MATC Cuisine and Oconomowoc Lake Club, among others.
“We like working with the restaurants, but it’s not the name of the restaurant or the popularity that matters to us,” says David. “The only things that matter to us are the chef, we need to bond with them, they need to understand us, we need to understand them, and the menu.”
Bonding with the chef means having a close interaction and understanding of exactly what type of produce is wanted for a particular dish. David and Sandra take pride in the food they grow, so they want to ensure that all of the produce they supply to local restaurants is being used in its entirety.
“That’s the other thing we like about chefs,” says Sandra. “A good chef is a cheap chef. He’s not going to waste anything.”
Sandra Raduenz and David Kozlowski
1807 E. Elm Road
Oak Creek, WI 53154
Phone: (414) 762-1301
Operating a year-round mushroom farm, overseeing a commercial kitchen, and planning for 30-plus farmers’ markets every year results in a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of mushrooms. Just ask Eric Rose, it’s in his job description as the owner of the oldest commercial mushroom farm in the Midwest, River Valley Ranch & Kitchens in Burlington, Wis.
Even though he has experienced a fair share of ups and downs during the last 36 years of mushroom farming, Rose says he would have it no other way. In fact, every day that he steps foot on his 37-acre farm, he is carrying on his late father Bill’s vision of growing the finest mushrooms in the Midwest.
As a former restaurant owner in Chicago, Bill always had a tough time finding quality mushrooms for dishes on his menu. As a result, he purchased farm land in Southeastern Wis., and formed River Valley Ranch in 1976 with the impetus of providing the highest quality mushrooms to restaurants and markets. Just a few months later, Bill took Eric under his wing. Quickly thereafter, Eric was hooked and was soon tasked with running the operational side of the farm.
“I just found the whole process fascinating,” says Eric. “I really was drawn to it.”
When the farm was founded in 1976, Eric says there were 800 mushroom farms in the United States. Now, he estimates that there are less than 100; mostly in the state of Pennsylvania. What once was a two-man operation that only cultivated white button mushrooms, now employs 40 people, harvests five different certified organic mushroom varieties a week, and also grows 10 acres of pesticide and chemical free vegetables.
Following the tenets of organic farming, River Valley grows five varieties of mushrooms (portabella, crimini, white button, shiitake, and oyster) year round in its five growing houses. In these dark mushroom houses where temperature, humidity and airflow are carefully controlled, the farm harvests nearly 7,000 pounds of mushrooms on a weekly basis – all picked by hand.
Mushroom beds in one of River Valley’s growing houses.
In each house, mushrooms begin growing in 40-ton batches of compost, produced on the farm using sustainable methods. Every 10 days the farm is supplied with 30 tons of fresh stable bedding. The farm uses this as a base for its compost, which is produced on an ongoing basis. The compost is a mixture of straw-bedded horse manure, a few different protein supplements, non-GMO soybean meal, a poultry fertilizer, gypsum, and calcium phosphate. In the beginning stage, the compost is a bright yellow wheat straw. Two weeks later, it breaks down into a dark aromatic blend that is then packed into mushroom growing trays.
Rose grows all of the white buttons, portabellas and crimini mushrooms in trays. One crop represents 176 growing trays, 22 square feet each. The trays are stacked four high just like bunk beds. After the trays are filled with compost, they get moved into a temperature controlled room for pasteurization. Pasteurization occurs as the temperature of the compost is regulated to 140 degrees for a period of seven or eight days. When the process is complete, the material gets cooled down and then the mushroom culture is introduced, says Rose.
From there, the mushrooms go through a 20-day incubation period where the temperatures are maintained to encourage mycilium, a lacy white filament, to grow. Eventually when the crop starts showing some maturity, the environment is changed, which stimulates the mushroom myclium to reproduce. Rose says it’s similar to how green plants sense and respond to daylight.
Compost prepared on site.
“Because mushrooms are not light sensitive, they don’t have that trigger, but basically if everything is done well, we see mushrooms 10 days later and pick two cycles after a 14 day period,” says Rose.
After two cycles of mushrooms have been picked, the trays are emptied, the houses are sterilized with steam, and the process starts over again.
The 40 tons of compost does not go to waste either. The farm packages it and sells it to the public at its retail store. Rose says it is an excellent fertilizer for home gardens.
For oyster mushrooms and shiitakes, the process is a bit different. Although they are also grown in mushroom houses, they don’t grow in beds like white buttons, portabellas and criminis. To grow oyster mushrooms, compost is pasteurized,
Oyster mushrooms sprouting from plastic bags filled with compost.
cooled, mixed with spawn, and packed into plastic bags. Holes are punched into the bags to allow the mycelium to breathe and the bags are set on racks in the growing houses. After about two weeks, the mushrooms pop out through the holes and can be harvested. Rose says the farm harvests 500 pounds of oyster mushrooms a week.
For shiitake mushrooms, oak sawdust is packed together into a brick shape, sterilized, mixed with spawn, and placed in environmentally controlled rooms. Mushrooms can then be harvested in about seven weeks.
Even though temperatures, airflow and humidity can be easily controlled in the inside environment, the growing process doesn’t always go as planned. Mushroom flies and diseases can easily decimate a crop so careful monitoring is very important. Pleasant surprises also arise, as was the case back in 1990 when Rose walked into a mushroom house where he was growing criminis.
River Valley’s portabella mushrooms are popular at farmers’ markets.
“I started growing portabellas by accident some years ago when my air conditioning shut down and all the crimini mushrooms blew up into giant portabellas,” he says. “I had no idea what to do with them.”
He took them to a farmers’ market outside of Chicago and people were amazed at their size. A woman identified them as portabellas, and told Rose that chefs in Chicago were getting these mushrooms, which are a hand-sized version of a crimini mushroom, shipped in from the East Coast.
The next week he brought more to the farmers’ market and people lined up 20 deep to buy them. Rose says it was then that he started to grow portabellas on a regular basis.
Even though Rose grows mushrooms year-round, their demand in the winter months face a significant drop. With farmers’ markets pretty much non-existent due to the cold weather in the Midwest, he was often left with a large portion of mushrooms that he ended up having to sell at less than production cost. It was not healthy business for a farm that was already struggling at the time.
An assortment of River Valley’s pickled mushrooms.
Fifteen years ago, he thought that there had to be a better way. He came up with his own unique way of pickling the leftover supply of mushrooms. What started as just two different flavors of pickled mushrooms has expanded to more than a handful over the years. And it didn’t stop there.
In 1997, Rose opened a licensed commercial kitchen on the farm. He began producing artisan sauces, dips, salsas and pickled vegetables, using the vegetables grown there.
He takes pride in producing a superior product, so he does not use chemical preservatives or thickeners. Rose says he lets the freshness of the product shine instead. Each jar is prepared and packed by hand.
The farm’s kitchen also produces a veggie burger that is vegan and gluten free and was recently a hit at the music festival Lollapalooza in 2011. Another popular item among customers is the farm’s portabella bratwursts (a regular bratwurst that combines portabellas and Swiss cheese). Newest to the kitchen this year are vegetarian-friendly portabella tamales.
Grow your own mushroom kits are available through River Valley Ranch.
The superior quality of River Valley’s products have gained recognition by the Chicago Tribune in December 2007 as one of the 16 must-have foods for the holiday table. The farm was also featured on the Food Network’s “Food Finds” television show, where its Portabella salsa was highlighted for its unique ingredients and outstanding flavor.
River Valley’s fame and success isn’t dependent on just one person. Rose says it takes a lot of hard work and dedication from all of his employees.
“This business doesn’t operate without a lot of really good people giving 110 percent,” says Rose. “I feel real fortunate that I’ve been able to grow as a business and provide opportunity for people to do some great work and produce some good food. Employees are excited and energized and sometimes it’s hard to get people to go home.”
Where to Buy
River Valley Ranch & Kitchens’ farm store is open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas), from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; summer hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Mushrooms and other jarred products can also be purchased on the farm’s website and at 30-plus farmers’ markets in Southeastern Wisconsin and Illinois. Click here for a list of the markets River Valley attends throughout the year.
The farm also sells a ready-to-grow mushroom kit. The kits come with everything needed, so all one has to do is follow the instructions. The kit will yield up to 10 pounds of mushrooms.
Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus, owners, Tipi Produce
Want to see happy soil? There’s no shortage of it on the 76-acre farm, Tipi Produce, owned and operated by Steve Pincus and Beth Kazmar in Evansville, Wis. Since purchasing the land from an Amish family in 2002, Tipi Produce has transformed a farmland that had been dormant for many years into a certified-organic vegetable farm that wholeheartedly believes in nurturing its soil. Having an unconditional love for the earth allows this small family farm to grow some of the most attractive and tastiest organic produce the state of Wisconsin has to offer.
Tipi Produce takes pride in feeding nearly 2,500 people from Madison to Milwaukee through its 26-week CSA program (as well as thousands more who purchase their produce from local stores like Outpost Natural Foods and Willy Street Co-op), and also makes sure its 45-acres of soil is being fed a strict diet. The farm plants several organic cover crops in late fall after the growing season has concluded in anticipation for the next year. So by the time spring rolls around, the land sprouts a mix of bright green cereal rye and hairy vetch. On our visit to the farm in the last week of March, the cover crops were already ankle high due to the unseasonably warm winter and spring thus far. Tipi grows these cover crops and tills them into the earth prior to the planting season to nourish the soil and for soil fertility. Pincus says the cover crops release carbon and nitrogen into the soil where microorganisms start chewing on it, producing organic matter.
“Cover cropping is a real important part of the program,” says Pincus, who heads the operations for Tipi Produce. “It is on any good organic vegetable farm. We always have something growing. That’s the goal. We like to have something decomposing in the soil, so the soil is always chewing on something. Whether it be cover crops or the things we’re adding like compost.” At the beginning of each growing season, Tipi has no shortage of compost. Located just three minutes outside of the city, the farm has worked out a contract with Evansville to take all of their leaves during fall collection. The city collects the leaves and delivers them to the farm free of charge. What starts as a mound that is half a football field wide and two stories high, gets tilled into the soil that grows the farm’s 45 different crops. “They bring them right here and they’re glad to do it. It’s an inexpensive and simple way for them to dispose of them,” says Pincus. “And we use them all, they go on the fields and are more or less in the food.”
Strictly a vegetable farm, the farm does not raise any livestock. However, it does use composted manures from neighboring farms to fertilize. Pests and diseases are controlled through proactive management and gentle natural materials.
An Organic Start
Tipi Produce is currently in its 36th year of producing quality certified organic vegetables. For nearly 20 of those years, the farm, which is now in its third and permanent home, has been certified organic – a way of growing produce that Pincus has endorsed since becoming involved in farming. Tipi Produce started five years after Pincus, a young city dweller at the time, helped form Outpost Natural Foods. But before there was an Outpost, Pincus helped start the East Kane Street Co-op in Milwaukee. He served as the store’s first manager. In May 1971, Pincus, along with a half dozen others, opened the first Outpost on the northeast corner of Clark and Fratney street in Milwaukee. In his role with Outpost, Pincus was tasked with finding local organic farmers in the state of Wisconsin.
One of Tipi’s four greenhouses, filled with crops waiting to be transplanted into the ground
While traveling the state, he met a lot of people who were farming on a large scale and fell in love with the lifestyle. It was then that he decided he wanted to leave city life behind and become a farmer. Nowadays, alongside his wife Beth, Tipi Produce provides produce to Outpost’s three Milwaukee locations, as well as Willy Street Co-ops in Madison and Middleton, Basics Cooperative Natural Foods in Janesville and Whole Foods Market in Madison. Selling to co-ops is half of the farm’s business. The other half comes from CSA sales, which is headed by Kazmar. Alongside six or seven of the farm’s 23 employees, Kazmar manages and oversees the packing of 500 CSA boxes on Thursday mornings that get shipped to the Madison and Milwaukee markets from mid-May until November.
The Farm Operations
Along with its 45 acres of farming land, Tipi has four large greenhouses — one they added to the farm this year. The greenhouses serve as the starting point for some of the crops on the farm until they are ready to be transplanted into the land. This year the farm started growing the crops in the greenhouses in February and planted its first wave of lettuce in the third week of March, which is uncharacteristically early for Wisconsin.
Lettuce in the ground and ahead of schedule
While Pincus and Kazmar tend to the farm on a daily basis, they do need a lot of help to keep operations moving smoothly. The farm expects to employ up to 23 people again this season. Workers often commute from Madison five days a week, Monday through Friday, but not all of the farm’s employees care to own a car. As a result, Tipi subsidizes carpooling. Not every employee is full-time, but typical shifts start at 6 a.m., with 18 to 20 workers working at the same time. “They kind of do everything,” says Kazmar. “Their work varies anywhere from seeding plants to working in the greenhouses, transplanting out to the fields, weeding, and mostly picking, washing and packing the CSA boxes.” Tipi Produce doesn’t believe in working its employees longer than eight-hour shifts. As a result, they have been rewarded with committed and long-standing relationships with their employees. “Employees tend to stay with us for a long time,” says Kazmar. “We have one worker who is having her second baby so she’s not working this summer, but she’ll be back in the fall. She’s been here over 17 years. And then we’ve got a couple workers at 13 years, and a whole bunch at five to eight years.” Part of Tipi Produce’s mission is to teach employees how to farm. As a result, Pincus says there have been several employees who have moved on to run their own farms. “We need more farmers,” he says. “We have more people that want to eat well, but we can only grow a certain amount. We’re maxed out here and I’m not interested in buying more land.” Because the farm is organic and does not spray pesticides, weed control is a major chore all season long for employees. In fact, Pincus says weeds, not insects, or diseases in the crops, are the farm’s number one problem pests. “We try to control the weeds the best we can mechanically, but there’s no crop we can grow without some weeding or hoeing,” says Pincus. “There’s a lot of getting down on your knees depending on the crop.” Weeds aren’t the only things that grow in abundance on the farm. The farm’s soil is a sandy loam that is ideal for vegetable growing, including its signature crop, carrots, which are available through the farm’s CSA and at natural food stores. “These soils grow good carrots, really terrific carrots,” says Pincus. “But because the soils are somewhat lighter, even when the soil is wet, we can harvest mechanically, we can go in and get those carrots out under some fairly tough conditions. We know that from the farm we moved from, a heavier clay soil is more fertile innately, but you have some real problems with getting those vegetables out. This soil works great.” Another benefit of the soils on the farm is that they drain well and warm up quickly.
Radishes protected by a roll cover to help advance growth
“One of the advantages is that we do get crops early which is one reason we can start our CSA earlier than some other farms and get some things on the shelves in stores,” says Pincus. Even though the farm does operate with eight tractors and a variety of mechanical tools, Pincus says it takes about 450 hours of hired labor per acre planted to make the farm run smoothly. How does that compare to a conventional farmer’s methods? “[Farms] growing corn and soybeans the conventional way, they might put in one hour or one and a half hours of labor per acre,” says Pincus. “They have incredibly large equipment and nobody even sees the fields in the middle of the summer. It’s totally different. It’s the nature of vegetables vs. other crops. It’s a lot of people. It takes a lot of time to make it work even with all of the equipment.” It also takes a lot of farmer with a whole lot of love for the land to grow a quality crop.
Tipi Produce CSA
2012 marks the 10th anniversary of Tipi Produce operating at its current homestead. Tipi offers a 26-week CSA (mid-May to early November) with 13 pick-up sites in the Madison, Janesville and Milwaukee areas, including the farm itself, which is located 35 minutes southeast of Madison and one hour and 45 minutes west of Milwaukee. The farm is still accepting registrations for the 2012 season, and expects to begin deliveries during the third week of May.
Produce grown on the farm: The farm offers the complete line of crops it sells to local stores, plus additional crops nurtured in small quantities for CSA members only.
Membership options: The farm offers several membership options. The weekly share (26 weeks) supplies enough produce for a family of four. The every-other-week share (13 weeks) offers the same size box as the standard share, but is delivered every other week. The farm also offers a winter share that consists of two large deliveries of stored vegetables in November and December. Tomatoes, peppers, basil and strawberries can be purchased in bulk for canning or freezing when crops are abundant.
Newsletter, farm events and U-picks: The farm issues a bi-weekly newsletter for its CSA members with information about the vegetables in the box, news on the farm, as well as some recipes. CSA members are encouraged to visit the farm for several celebrations each season, including a strawberry festival and a pumpkin U-pick and gleaning event. The farm expects to offer raspberry U-pick days in its young raspberry planting this season. The farm does charge for the strawberry and raspberries taken home, but not for pumpkins or gleanings.
Payments: The farm offers payment plans where a household can pay in full or pay in three installments. Low-income households can pay with food stamps or may be eligible for subsidies through the Partner Shares program. Members in the Madison area also may be eligible for a HMO rebate towards the cost of their CSA share.