- Agronomic: sunflower
- Fruits: berries (other)
- Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals
- Crop Production: agroforestry, biological inoculants, cover crops, intercropping, municipal wastes, no-till, organic fertilizers
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, hedges - grass, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization
- Pest Management: botanical pesticides, mulches - killed, physical control, cultivation, prevention, row covers (for pests), trap crops, traps, mulching - vegetative
- Production Systems: holistic management, permaculture, transitioning to organic
- Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, composting, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, community services, social networks, sustainability measures
The objective of this 110-acre project is to be a sustainable farming model for alternative land use in a suburban setting. By forming a jointly inspired, yet diversified organic gardening cooperative of three independent grower teams, we can produce a fair quantity of fresh, nutritious, locally available vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, herbs, and flowers for our CSA and direct farm market customers. Being situated within 30 minutes of over one dozen Milwaukee urban farm markets and having a potential consumer base of more than one million residents ensures great potential for this endeavor. Additionally, such exposure justifies the dire necessity to guarantee farmers the right to farm in moderate to high-density population areas. By setting an economically and ecologically viable example to both governing and regulatory authorities who have ultimate control over such novel yet traditional operations, we can perhaps finally expand the perception of what constitutes sound land use and equitable tax share valuation. Farmers indeed greatly contribute both fiscally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to the communities in which they reside in and depend on for their livelihood and support. This interdependence ought to be recognized and protected by these same entities, who complain with their mouths full and their stomachs satisfied, that (we) farmers have no place or justification to continue farming operations in affluent suburbia.
Any monies collected through this grant process would be spent on furthering our cooperative efforts. Your dollars – our dollars – would be used to purchase seeds, gardening hand tools and supplies such as: drip irrigation hoses, seedling boxes, fencing, transplanting trays, wash tubs and packaging crates. We can continue to hire a contract farmer who has done our plowing and see drilling for our fifty acres of cover crops. We will be concentrating on moving from our start-up/conversion 2000 season of seven acres of produce to an established pattern of continuous growth. In 2001, we plan to bring a total of twelve acres under production. In addition, we wish to convert another eight acres from cover crop to hazelnut/chestnut plantings. By consistently elevating our short and long term goals, following our farm management plan and monitoring for soil, weather or seasonal fluctuations, we should be able to maintain stability in profits and expenses at our joint and individually projected levels.
Dave and Sandy began the 2000 season with 22 families in their Pinehold Gardens CSA. They are also cooperative vendors at three Milwaukee Farm Markets jointly selling the vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs that will be grown onsite. I have also contracted with other local producers to sell organic eggs, honey, beeswax candles, hand salves, body lotions, homemade soaps, and bath salts through our WatersMeet Eco* Farm Cooperative at these same direct markets for a slight commission. This extends to our customers and the community the ability to pool our resources and offer a wider variety of organically and naturally produced items. Several of these outside producers are not physically able to attend these markets, yet through this combined marketing program, they have not been left out of these outlets. Win—win for all. Through co-promotions with the individual farm markets via press releases and paid ads, we will get unique marketing program publicity. I also regularly attend town board meetings and will notify our county politicos of our progress and shared successes.
First and foremost, our achievements can be measured via supplies and stock on hand. BY having an adequate amount of quality produce and products available for sale, we will know that our methods of farming and securing food supplies/goods were well planned. The expertise of Dave, Sandy, Matt and Peggy is invaluable at this point. All four farmers have experience in CSA and direct farm markets. They have gauged inventory needs through past sales experiences and trends. As connected yet independent operators, they know wheat is brought/sold to their customers and consumers. This internal check and balance system is dispersed between us.
Our ongoing exchanges have been a great educational resource, with all members giving – taking. As for the products from outside sources, I will purchase quantities in bulk (honey, candles, hand salves, body lotions, which come from one producer) and will store them until needed. These items have a long shelf life and can be replenished on demand. The organic eggs will be ordered weekly. This producer is located five miles from our farm and is easily accessible. The soap and bath salt supplier is a mother/daughter team with the college-aged daughter participating as a sales clerk at the WatersMeet Eco* Farm booth. She adds both an employee/producer component to the cooperative and a producer/customer direct connection at the farm market site. I will also be present at all three market booths handling sales, educational outreach and customer service.
The economic impacts can be measured by sales generated. Comparing this to projections and actual costs incurred will give us an accurate hit on our projection estimates. Each producer acts as an independent contractor and is responsible for setting and meeting their own margins. I am the overall farm cooperative manager and will be partially subsidized through commissioned sales. As the landowner, I also charge nominal rent to the participating farmers. We share mutually agreed upon equipment rental as well as the cost of hiring any contract farmers that are brought in to do the plowing or planting that we cannot do ourselves. Dave and Sandy own a small tractor, Matt and Peggy have a medium-sized tractor, and Lisa and I own a large tractor. Any work that can be shared amongst our co-op is done either through a barter system or through a pre-negotiated pay rate.
Being all in consensus with organic and biodynamic farming practices and principles has eliminated the environmental conflicts that may have arisen among us. We try to jointly and individually educate our customers and contacts as to the advantages and blessing of these stewardship actions. As the landowner, I had set stringent ecological preservation policies and all who chose to join this endeavor understood these guidelines from the start. Each farming team can add or enhance these basic philosophies as the situation calls for review or change.
The social impacts can be felt by the general ease, cooperation, respect, and reverence in accepting each of our roles in actively participating in a “whole” much greater than the sum of our individual parts. I can honestly say, we all love what we are doing and this passion transcends into each person’s attitudes and actions. It is through this Divinely-inspired gratitude for who and what we are that is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I have personally seen an immense respect for the traditional, small scale, family farming management goals that I have exchanged with our county extension agent, NRCS director, FSA agent, other conventional members of the farm community, and our customers. I believe they truly mean it when they extend best wishes and hopes for good luck with our co-op efforts.
Why is the problem you are addressing in your project important to your farm and to other producers in your area and the North Central Region?
As one of the largest aspiring organic farms in not only this metropolitan area, but the southeastern WI region, we assuredly can induce the direction, desire, and deliverance of high quality food supplies for both our country and city neighbors. One fact I am not proud of is that our farm has become the ‘poster child’ of urban-rural sprawl for Waukesha County. We are at the epi-center of debate over public growth demands vs. private property rights. Our locale perches us on the edge of the ever expanding Village of Mukwonago, whose sewer and water facilities are grossly (58%) underutilized. This village feels it must acquire new customers in order to fiscally and literally stay afloat. Current state legislation promotes the policy that any village or city can plan extraterritorial zoning / expansion of their municipality and sanitary service district 1 ½ miles into adjacent township boundaries. This provides the basis to their pending 5,120 acre ‘land grab’ from the Town of Vernon (my township).
For the past five years our Town Board, residents and individual adjoining property owners (myself included) have earnestly tried to negotiate boundary agreements and establish a common sense approach to such rapid urbanization of area-wide open space and farmland. All to no avail. The recently adopted Village of Mukwonago Master Plan calls for future residential/commercial/industrial/institutional sewered development on approximately 15,000 acres to be annexed from four surrounding townships. This will increase the existing village population of 4,800+ to 14,000+ residents. Village officials are convinced that their tax collection coffers will also equally rise in such great proportions. Conflicting reports from Sierra Club, Sustain, and the American Farmland Trust have proven otherwise. As populations increase, so do the services, budgets, and infrastructure required to maintain operations of this voracious “growth machine.” Time and again we fail to accept the proof that Bigger is NOT Better!
Although this problem is not unique to our county, state, or nation, it is still not one that ought to be readily accepted as “business as usual.” We must replace such shortsighted actions with long term solutions. The Jurassic dilemma of stopping long enough to question not whether we could perpetuate such destruction, but rather should we? presses to be on both our hearts and our lips. It certainly has been on mine. I do not believe that progress can only be instituted by construction bulldozers, but rather by the movement of farm tractors. Protecting the heritage of small scale farming and family farms defines us as citizens and neighbors. It most importantly gives us the opportunity to be the Divine servants, stewards, and soldiers we were meant to be. In our condensed scenario we can provide a worthy stronghold of economically/ecologically feasible agriculture. By supporting sustainable endeavors like WatersMeet Eco* Farm, you offer one more lifeline in this struggle to peace and justice. Farming and food security have become the battle ground where our livelihoods and our very lives will either rise or fall, survive or perish.
How will you share information from your project with other producers?
I am a contributing editor to the WI Natural Foods Association newsletter (published quarterly), have had numerous editorials printed (the Milwaukee Journal, the Waukesha Freeman, the Mukwonago Chief, Outpost Natural News, Acres U.S.A.) and will continue to write updates on our progress and ideas. I am an active member at the WI Natural Foods meetings, Waukesha Farm Bureau conferences, and meet regularly with local, county, state, and federal government and regulatory agents to advise on organic/small scale farm policies and initiatives. I am also a frequent presenter/participant at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.
Although I am submitting an individual proposal, I cannot separate myself from my cooperative teammates. It is they who are the brains and brawn of the operation. I merely contribute the brashness. My sister, Lisa, who is an accomplished organic urban gardener, and I are one of three farming partnerships. We specialize in growing fresh cut flowers, dried everlastings, and herbs. Our contribution is selling floral bouquets and herbal bunches to the retail and wholesale markets. My goal is to expand into the CSA market and offer seasonal shares of both cuttings.
I also supervise and work side by side with the frequent juvenile offenders who are assigned to my farm as a site for their community service sentences. My vision is to expand into a publicly sponsored gardening initiative for these offenders, and have them be the actual growers of produce for the Hunger Task Force WIC coupon program. I also enjoy playing the role of mother/manager of the cooperative, fulfilling office duties, arranging public speaking engagements, and general cheerleading for our group.
Dave and Sandy are slowly moving their CSA operations and direct farm market production over to land that they rent/share with our cooperative. Both are experienced organic growers and specialize in garlic (blue ribbon winners), vegetables, and fruits. Future plans may include working with me once the Hazelnut/Chestnut production begins in 4-7 years. Really nice persons too!
Matt and Peg are acclimating themselves to their new location here at WatersMeeet Eco* Farm. Both previously worked for large CSA and direct market growers and are currently working part-time at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute. Matt is contract farming to a local biodynamic farmer and Peg works in the Nokomis Bakery. Within our co-op, they organically grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Matt is especially interested in pasture-raised poultry, rotational grazing of sheep for the meat market and hazelnut/chestnut production. Peg has a fondness for teaching and working with children. They are both quite knowledgeable and realistic about farming realities and have common sense applications that will ensure a mutual success among themselves and with our cooperative. Gentle and wise well beyond their years!
We all hope to expand our facilities to include intergenerational (youth/elderly) gardening and hands-on farming programs as part of our community educational commitment. I clearly see the need (and have planned) for agroforestry, permaculture landscaping, prairie restoration, and eco-tourism to be an integral part of our cooperative future. I’m literally betting the farm on it as well!