Three Sisters Community Farm: From Farm to Doorstep

Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer are the owners and farmers at Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wis.

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.

tomatotransplantsUnlike 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.

ducksAlthough 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.”

transplantsJeff 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.

hoophouse“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.

The Drangen is a lay-down work cart used at Three Sisters Community Farm in the fields to weed and transplant.

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.

Farmer Kelly Kiefer of Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wis.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.”

Plowing Ahead

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.

beekeepingBesides 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.

Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wis.“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.

Farmer’s Market

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.

threesistersbarnThree Sisters Community Farm
W3158 Hwy 67
Campbellsport, WI 53010
(920) 533-3042
threesisterscsa@gmail.com
http://threesisterscommunityfarm.com/
Like Three Sisters on Facebook

Not My Farm, Or Your Farm, It’s R-Farm

macriemenschneiderWhen his alarm clock sounds at 4:30 a.m., Mac Riemenschneider can’t afford to hit the snooze button. That’s because he knows he’s got a whole lot of work ahead of him pulling double-duty as a full-time farmer and a full-time construction estimator.

Hours before clocking in at his daytime job in Waukesha, Wis., Riemenschneider starts his day by tending to the livestock on his 100-acre farm, R-Farm, in Dousman.

A husband and father of three young children, fulfilling his role as farmer and estimator takes a lot of balance and dedication. Once morning farm chores are completed, Mac heads to the office. At 3:30 p.m., it’s back to the farm to do field work until the sun goes down.

Mac Riemenschneider, R-FarmSince his freshman year in high school (1991), Mac has been raising livestock. What started out as simply raising two steers with a friend, has evolved into Mac owning his own diversified livestock farm that produces naturally-raised steer, chickens and pigs without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. His passion for farming and connecting the community to local food resources, whether it be from R-Farm or a fellow farmer, prompted the formation of the Dousman Farmers’ Market where he served as the market’s organizer and first manager.

Steer

R-Farm is well known for its steer. Mac currently raises anywhere from 30 to 40 at one time. Currently, his herd of choice is Jersey Steer. He starts them as calves and finishes them all the way through, which typically is just over two years.

“Jerseys are not as big an animal,” says Mac. “It works out for a family that buys a half [of a steer]. They aren’t getting a lot of meat as if they would out of an Angus or a Holstein. It’s a little more consumer friendly and they’re a little more reasonable to buy.”

The farm purchases its Jersey Steer calves from a rotational grazing dairy farm in Waukesha. With help from his dad, Bill, the calves get a bottle of milk twice a day until they are two months old. Afterwards they are fed a grain mix and hay. After reaching two months of age, the calves are moved into a separate pasture for the summer. Then, in the fall they get mixed in with the bigger steers.

Some farmers like to keep their calves in a barn. Mac raises calves until they are two months old in calf hutches because he says if there’s a sick cow, it will jeopardize the well being of the calves.

“The idea is you want them separate when they’re young in case one does get sick, then it doesn’t move through all of them,” he says. “And as long as you keep them dry and out of a draft, they’ll do better. You can put them in the barn but if it’s humid in there or if it’s warm and then there’s a draft, they’re more likely to get sick. If you keep them warm and dry and out of a draft, they do a lot better.”

The calf hutches, Mac says, are a proven, healthy, safe method. Most days, calves are taken out of the hutches and let into a larger group of four to five other calves where they can socialize and drink milk with one another.

cattleThe farm’s cattle herd is grass-fed on pasture from spring up until winter. The farm’s pasture is a mixture of alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, festulolium, and whatever wild grasses creep in.

When the steers are out on pasture they are moved every day.

“Our cattle are all grass-fed on pasture in the warmer months and dry hay in the cooler months when the pasture is not available,” says Mac. “It takes better hay through the winter to feed them. We usually butcher them at about two years old, but because our animals are grass-fed it can sometimes take a little longer to finish them.”

Poultry and Pigs

R-Farm currently raises a variety of 200 Production Red and Barred Rock chickens. A Production Red is a hen that is a cross between a Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red and a Leghorn chicken. The Production Red are a vigorous, hearty chicken that is touted as the best brown egg layer. The hens start laying dark brown eggs between four to six months of age. New to the farm this spring, Mac is raising Barred Rocks that are expected to begin laying eggs for the first time in May. He says Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.

 

hensBoth of the hen breeds raised on the farm lay brown eggs that contain rich, orange yolks. They are a big hit with customers. In fact, on our visit to the farm, the weekly supply was sold out in less than 30 minutes.

The hens lay about 70 dozen eggs a week and around 300 dozen large and extra large eggs a month. When young hens first start laying, they lay smaller eggs known as pullets. The farm sells a pack of 18 for the same price as a dozen.

While the public can come to the farm to purchase free-range eggs, R-Farm also supplies two local gas stations – Wales Lawn & Garden on Hwy 83 in Wales and The Paperchase Mobil on Hwy 67 in Dousman. The two stations purchase 20 to 40 dozen eggs a week.

The chickens rotationally graze in moveable pens starting in early spring and then get moved into the greenhouse by Thanksgiving. The portable, floorless coops have mesh or wire sides, a roof for shade and some enclosed spaces for nesting. The chickens have access to fresh air, all the grass and insects they can eat, and protection from predators.

chickenpens

Chicken pens for rotational grazing

“When we put them out on pasture, we’ve had everything from foxes, raccoons, owls, hawks, and coyotes,” Mac says. “We’ve run the gamut on just about every predator.”

Pens are moved around the grassy pasture on a daily basis.

“We’ve got old lawnmower wheels on the back, so we pull them around,” Mac says. “We cover these with a tarp on the top and one side to keep the wind and the rain out. In the summer, the chickens will have it all grazed down, then it will all grow back.”

The farm has adopted a rotational grazing system where steers are moved first through a portion of the pasture to graze and then the chickens follow a few days after. Mac systematically moves the livestock based on the stage of growth of the forages. While one area of the pasture is being grazed, the rest of the pasture rests. This rest and recovery time helps maintain healthy forage plants for the livestock throughout the warm months.

In the winter, the laying hens are housed in a greenhouse that was constructed in 2009. Ground-up corncobs are applied to the ground as bedding for the hens and temperatures remain warm enough where water does not freeze. The sides roll up to allow for fresh air to pass through.

Mac Riemenschneider mixes his own feed for his pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.Unlike the steers and chickens, the pigs on the farm aren’t pasture raised. They get housed in  the barn, but do have access to a large pen outside where they can come and go.

“I stick to the old fashioned way of doing it,” Mac says about raising pigs. “I’m not brave enough to turn them out to pasture yet.”

Mac mixes his own feed for the pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.

One of the farm’s large sows is expected to give birth to piglets early this spring. He also just finished raising a boar that weighed 740 pounds.

Raising Crops

Besides raising livestock, Mac also is busy tending to his farm’s fields. He provides custom feed for his livestock by raising a variety of vegetables without the use of herbicides or chemical pesticides. He does not use genetically-modified seed.

“We raise our own corn for the hogs and chickens and then I grow oats,” says Mac. “We’re going to grow some peas and wheat and barley this year for the pig feed. Something a little different. I like to move to a more organic feed for the hogs and the way you can do that is with the field peas. Then we raise peas and triticale as forage for the calves. That makes really good forage. Then we’ll do some annual grass, Sudan grass and some millet.”

Although Mac follows organic methods whenever possible, he isn’t always able to raise organic crops.

Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.“I use conventional soybean meal, I use some commercial fertilizers because some of the fields I have are real sandy and using organic methods, I’m just losing money,” Mac says. “I’ve taken a few fields that weren’t farmed for a few years and I’ve tried to get a crop out of them with the organic methods, but it just hasn’t been working too well.”

As a result, he uses water-soluble fertilizer to grow crops. At the same time, however, he’s trying to build up the organic matter by growing cover crops. He also has not used any herbicides in five years.

“I do use organic practices but don’t have the certification,” says Mac. “Most of our customers come right here, so if they want to know what I’m doing, I can show them and tell them.”

Three-person Operation

The farm has been in Mac’s family dating back to the 1950s, when his aunt’s in-laws purchased the farm. Since then it has changed hands a few more times. His parents purchased 20 acres of land in the 1970s and his dad cash-cropped the land. They purchased the house and buildings in 1990, and shortly thereafter, Mac started farming the land and took over the operations and named it R-Farm.

Even though there are hundreds of livestock and nearly 100 acres of land to tend to, a three-person operation is typically what it takes to run R-Farm. Mac runs the operational side of the farm with help from his dad Bill, who has a house on the property. Bill helps with daily chores in the morning and at night and will run errands while Mac is away at work. Mac’s wife Nicole does the bookkeeping, updates the website and responds to emails. She does the meat ordering, keeps track of orders and calls in orders to the butcher. Nicole also has the important job of cleaning the eggs before they get packaged and sold to the public.

Open For Business

rfarmretailstoreIn 2005, R-Farm obtained its retail license in order to offer a variety of cuts of meat. Prior to that they sold meat by quarters or halves. The retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.

“It’s just come and pick up what you need,” says Mac. “Just come and get whatever you want out of the freezers.”

When we visited the farm it was on a Saturday and several customers were coming in to pick up their Easter hams and other meat. Mac says it’s not unusual to get customers coming in from Dousman, Wales, Delafield, Oconomowoc, Waukesha, Brookfield, East Troy, Lake Geneva, and as far as Northern Illinois.

Besides eggs, the farm offers grass-fed beef, custom cut roasts and steaks, ground beef, whole chickens, pork, ham, and different sausage products, to name a few. R-Farm has been using Detjens Northern Trails Meat in Watertown for its butchering since 1991.

R-Farm's retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.Mac believes in using the whole animal and Detjens helps provide odd cuts of meat that can’t typically be found in supermarkets.

“We get soup bones, oxtails, tongue, liver and heart,” says Mac. “Oxtail I can’t get enough of. There’s only one oxtail per steer, so that’s part of the issue, but people really like it. Last year I don’t know why, but oxtail was going like crazy. I talked to our butcher and they were having people drive out from Milwaukee, buying all of the oxtail they had.”

The public is encouraged to call ahead of time or check the farm’s website to see what offerings they have prior to stopping by as some products sell out faster than others.

R-Farm

Mac and Nicole RiemenschneiderR-Farm is a diversified livestock farm located in Dousman, Wis.
W394 S4398 Hwy Z
Dousman, WI 53118
Phone: 414-881-2098
Email: mackayrr@hotmail.com
Website: http://rfarmdousman.blogspot.com/
R-Farm is also on Facebook