Farm & Ranch MagazineI was the first girl born into my father’s family in 90 years. By the time I came along, we’d been entrepreneurial city dwellers for three generations; when I was growing up, we owned a hardware store that was just outside Milwaukee. But I always felt the pull of the countryside.
My adopted grandmother and mentor, Diane, took me under her wing, teaching me how to cook with the seasons and to sew like I was a seamstress. I also owe thanks to the incredible Sister Lucy of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who taught me how to weed effectively and produce food on a larger-than-garden scale. A few years of internships and near-minimum-wage jobs on organic farms helped me learn the craft of gardening and make some cash in the summers. Also read this first hand account of what it’s like to run a flower farm.
Farm & Ranch MagazineAfter a few years of farm labor, I landed a job on a well-established 250-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, managing a crew of farm workers and worker shares. We’d pack boxes chock-full of vegetables every week during the growing season for our CSA members and fill the orders from restaurants and various wholesale accounts. People picked up their weekly CSA share from the farm or at one of the many drop-off sites we offered in town.
Farm & Ranch MagazineI started my own operation, Winterfell Acres, named after the heroic Stark family’s homestead from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series. I served 20 families by renting land on that farm, and I continued to manage the larger CSA. My husband, Travis, and I lived on the farm in a 126-square-foot tiny house on wheels that year. It was a crazy and busy growing season capped with our marriage celebration under the giant oaks of southwestern Wisconsin.
After my first season with my own CSA, we moved to a new home and I moved my farm to rented land on a 100-acre dairy farm. I rented less than an acre, but I tripled the size of my CSA. I started selling to restaurants and wholesale accounts. I also decided to quit working for anyone but myself. The experience was terrifying and splendid! I was making all the decisions and setting my hours, but that also meant I was responsible for all the results. If I didn’t get something done, it just didn’t happen.
For the next growing season, I focused on optimizing as much of the farm as possible without increasing my acreage. I stayed at 0.9 acre and increased my CSA membership to 80 families. I used part of a small garage as my washing and packing facility, but I could feel how tight everything was getting. My business was growing and I knew it would be my last year at that farm. I was ready to create a farm of my own!
Farm & Ranch MagazineTravis and I bought 43 acres south of Madison. All of a sudden we were caretakers of a tract that didn’t seem so big on paper, but was huge in reality. Thirty acres were overgrown with honeysuckle and buckthorn. The 15 acres of pastures where I wanted to grow my vegetables were tired and depleted (although organically certifiable).
There was no infrastructure at all. We would have to build everything from scratch, even our home. But this is how we always wanted it. We didn’t want to buy dilapidated farm buildings that wouldn’t fit our needs as a vegetable farm. But it also meant we had a huge project to create our dream farmstead.
Farm & Ranch MagazineMy goal now is to make a decent, honest and fulfilling living by working off the land; to eat delicious food; and to feed my community of customers. All my financial and infrastructure decisions are based on those goals. I love that my farm is led by one woman, me, and I want it to stay that way.
Before I came along, the last woman born on my father’s side of the family was my great-great-aunt Myrtle. She owned a delicatessen in Milwaukee in the 1930s, long before most women ever considered entrepreneurship. I am proud to come from a lineage that honors and supports that, regardless of gender. I work to encourage other women to follow their dreams, whether it’s running their own farm, starting a business or writing a food blog. The world needs more people who are excited to go to work every day. I am doing my small part to help.
Farm & Ranch MagazineTravis and I will be building our home in 2017, my greenhouse is up, and my vegetable packing shed is built. I’m spreading compost on my three new field plots. I will be increasing my vegetable production to 1.2 acres and hope to feed more than 100 families this season. In addition, we’re planting our dream mixed-species orchard. After years of planning and searching, we can finally have our farm. All we have to do now is build it.