During our first season on the farm, we did a little blogging to help our friends, family, and CSA members understand what our days looked like on the farm as we dove headfirst into a new adventure. Then we took on more and more projects and additional off-farm jobs, and decided we didn’t have enough time to do it all so the blog fell by the wayside. We’re still busier than we’d like (more on that in a moment) but we really want to share a little more about our lives on the farm – the fantastic community that embraces us, our intimate relationship with the land, the highs and lows of this rewarding but unpredictable work – so we’ve decided to give blogging another go. While we expect the coming months to be full of happy but sleep-deprived days, we’ll do our best to provide more regular updates. For now we’re excited to relaunch the blog, and start with a little insight into a crazy and amazing week we had recently. We hope you enjoy this little window into our lives here at Plowshares & Prairie Farm!
Winter is supposed to be a time for rest, reflection, and recovery for farmers. I can’t say that’s how this one has shaped up for us at Plowshares & Prairie Farm. First of all, Scott and I both have off-farm jobs doing environmental work at nonprofits in Madison. We’re thankful that we get to fully explore our passions for promoting healthy communities and planet, pairing our tangible work of farming with this additional work on clean water and climate change. We’re also grateful that our off-farm jobs allow us a lot of flexibility – frequent work from home to cut down on commuting and adjustable seasonal schedules. But that means that in the winter we’re actually working a lot at our other jobs, which leaves less time to recover from the physical and mental exhaustion that accompanies any growing season.
This year was also exceptional in our personal lives. We’ve been undertaking a major house remodel for months. As is often the case, the number of updates snowball into more and more, and the timeline stretches and stretches. The wet weather last fall only contributed to the delays. What started as a completion date of October quickly shifted to December, then the New Year, then Jan. 15. We were fortunate to be able to stay just around the corner with our in-laws during the most disruptive months of construction, but we were eager to get back into our space and our routine. We finally moved back in on Feb. 1 after three months out of the house. We have a way to go to get fully settled in, but for now are so happy to be in our home and are loving the comfort (insulation! a geothermal system!), functionality (so much kitchen counter space!), and beauty (lots of windows looking over the farm!).
The even bigger and most exciting change is that we’re about to meet our first child who will be joining us any day now. Though we’ve been preparing for months it’s hard to believe we’ll be meeting the little one soon. We’re just so excited to meet this little wonder, and to raise our child in this beautiful place.
So, there has been a lot going on. However, there was one week in particular which I think might go down in history as our busiest ever: Jan. 20-27. It was also a week where we felt incredibly loved, supported, and honored.
On the 20th, our cousin threw us a festive baby shower. Family and friends showered us with love, advice, and some adorable baby gear.
On the 22nd, we were invited as guests of honor to attend Governor Evers’ State of the State address. He wanted to acknowledge farmers with significant contributions in sustainable agriculture. We’re proud of all that we do to manage our produce fields, prairies, and wetlands on our farm in a way that keeps our soil and water healthy and stores carbon in the ground. Still, it was a surprise and complete honor to be recommended and selected to be the face of sustainable agriculture for the new administration. Before the address, we got to meet Governor Evers in his office, as well some of the other guests of honor and a couple cabinet members, including DNR Secretary Preston Cole and DATCP Secretary Brad Pfaff.
We were then ushered up to the gallery where we got to sit (and stand up to clap a lot) during the Governor’s address.
Later in the evening, we were invited to the Governor’s Mansion where we again chatted with the Governor, ran into State Representative Mark Spreitzer who we’ve met at Wisconsin Farmers Union events, and enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and picturesque views on a beautiful snowy night.
On the 23rd-25th, I headed to Appleton to host a summit on energy and resilience for local leaders. This is the biggest annual event that I organize for my off-farm job which involves months of planning. I’m happy to say this year’s summit was a big success – I think the best one yet. We had record attendance, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes delivered our welcoming keynote address, and our panels were the most diverse yet (by gender, ethnicity, geography, and age). It was also held in a gorgeous location – at the Bubolz Nature Preserve – where we watched cross-country skiers on the snow-covered trails outside our plenary room and enjoyed a tour of the microgrid that powers the nature center.
On the evening of the 25th, I caught a ride to Johnson Creek on the way back from Appleton to meet Scott, who had already begun the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) award weekend.
Last fall, we were nominated to apply for this award for farmers under 40. From WI OYF’s materials:
GOALS OF THE OYF PROGRAM ARE:
To foster better urban-rural relations through the understanding of farmers’ challenges, as well as the appreciation of their contributions and achievements
To bring about a greater interest in farmers/ranchers
To help build an urban awareness of the farmers’ importance and impact on America’s economy
We submitted our application late last year, and soon learned we were selected as finalists along with seven other farms. The WI Outstanding Young Farmer program judges farms based on: progress in agricultural career; extent of soil and water conservation practices; and contribution to community, state, and nation. Through a number of questions in our application and during an interview that Scott completed on the 25th, we shared our accomplishments in each of these areas.
To make our weekend even busier, we were actually double booked, and hopped back and forth from OYF activities to child birth classes in Madison (which of course we had booked before we learned about the awards weekend and was the only weekend we could take them given our timeline) on the 26th and 27th. We were sorry to not be able to fully participate in all the OYF activities (including a sub-zero degree tour of a local farm), but appreciated how supportive the group was of our balancing our family needs. Before we left for the Breastfeeding 101 class on Saturday, some of the dairy farmers in attendance joked with Scott about never making any comparisons to his wife about milking cows.
We quickly discovered that the very best thing about the OYF weekend was the welcoming and supportive community of farmers, past winners, and volunteers that make this program a reality. It was a pleasure and a privilege meeting all the other finalists who are doing some exceptional farming across the state - large and small, conventional and organic, dairy and produce. Talking with the other farmers throughout the weekend, it was obvious that despite the differences in our scales, methods, and what we grow, we have many of the same challenges and values. We were thrilled to make some new friends and are honored to be part of this community of hard-working, community-oriented farmers.
We were especially proud to win 2nd Runner Up! After learning about all the hard work, community leadership, and innovative techniques that the other finalists were doing all across the state, it was a true honor for Scott and me to have our achievements be celebrated among this impressive group with this award. As a small, organic, community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, we’re not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when people think of farmers in the Dairy State. It meant a lot to have our growing and conservation practices recognized, and we're happy to be included as part of the vision for the future of farming in Wisconsin.
Like I said, it was a wild week. But it was also one where we got to meet the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, educate ourselves and celebrate as we prepare to welcome a new family member, and exchange ideas with leaders from across the state on farming practices and environmental stewardship. I would have been exhausted even if I weren’t 8 months pregnant. But I can say this week is one I will never forget, and I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities. Scott and I work hard to live according to our values. The life we have chosen is by no means simple, but it is simply meaningful. While our winter hasn’t exactly been relaxing, we came out of this week inspired, honored, and reinvigorated for all that awaits us in 2019.