The VFC has been working with Keewaydin Farms since they started growing certified organic vegetables in 2004. Keewaydin Farms was founded in 1976 as a dairy farm by Richard and Mary Haucke. They were both city kids from the east side of the state who bought into the back-to-the-land movement hook, line and sinker. They were further committed to the dream of farming after traveling through this area in the early 70’s. After several years of searching, they discovered a farm perched on a prominent ridge overlooking the eastern tributary valleys of the Kickapoo River with beautiful views of the sunrise, storms, sunsets and the country night sky.
They farmed here till 1996 when they could no longer sustain their farming dream. But they were able to hold on to the land, and in 2004 after several years of traveling and ski-bumming, their children Jessica, Jacob and Rufus returned to the home farm to make it a family farm again.
Part of VFC’s defined purpose is to actively encourage increased production and distribution of organic products. So Dani Lind, our Produce Manager, interviewed Rufus Haucke about a new venture they started this year under the umbrella name of Keewaydin Organics, marketing & distributing not only their own produce but that of 15 other local farms as well.
HOW DOES THIS NEW VENTURE WORK - IS IT A CO-OP?
In December (when produce farmers have some time on their hands) we started connecting with several farmers in the area who were looking for more markets. The conversations started sooner with one of our farms in particular, The Thimmesch Farm, whose owners Jason and Jennelle lived and worked on our farm last year before purchasing their own farm in the Avalanche area. Once winter set in though, we were really able to focus on several more farms and after holding meetings around the area, the business began. Currently we are not a co-op, though we do cooperate in ways and will continue to do so. For now everyone seems satisfied with the current business arrangements. To us the most important aspect of our business is that we are small family-run farms, raising a diversity of crops and tending livestock as well. All the farms we work with are certified organic and are within 20 miles of the Viroqua Food Co-op.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO YOU & THE OTHER FARMERS?
I decided to try this out because I have been fortune enough to have more market demand than I was able to supply and wanted to share that with other farmers. I have been committed to farming no more then 10 acres of market garden because I see this as a sustainable level of farming both for our land and our time. The benefit for me is that I get to share my markets with other farmers; I get to visit their operations and learn how others are farming. I help (hopefully) provide a more stable supply of local, organic product to meet the growing demand for food produced in our neighborhood.
For the other farms I am providing a more diverse marketing base, increasing the amount of money that makes it back to our farmers and teaching them about new crops they could grow for this ever-expanding market.
WHO ARE THE OTHER FARMERS THAT MAKE UP KEWAYDIN ORGANICS?
The farmers I am working with are all from the local area, some Amish some not. They all operate beautiful little family farms nestled in quaint valleys and ridges with names like Cozy Hollow, Pristine Valley, Little Ridge, or EZ Farming. These are the type of farms lots of marketing people would like consumers to think of when they buy their products, but rarely exist anymore in the modern farming world. They are farms where the cows or sheep still graze on pastures, where families can be seen working the gardens together, where in some cases horses still work the land.
When I first started visiting these farms I was amazed at how beautiful these places are, as someone who has grown up in the area and have seen the Amish working the fields from afar it has been an awaking for me to see these farms up close. I’ve even gotten to drive a team of horses as they disked up a field. The silence and pace of the work was breathtaking.
WHAT HAS THE EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE SO FAR?
So far the experience has been very positive. I have made many new friends in the farming world and learned many new techniques of farming I would have never thought about. Many of these farmers have been farmers their entire lives and are well versed in what they are doing. Many have been saving their own seed for years or growing gardens their whole lives.
Of course with everything there are negatives, such as the amount of driving I have been doing this year. We joke around at Keewaydin Farms that I’m more of window farmer these days. I would honestly like to get back to farming my own land more, but I know that will happen in do time, starting a new business requires patience and the ability to put off some of your wants until another day. Other negatives involve just general rookie mistakes that any person starting a business is bound to run into, making sure you are constantly looking at the numbers, doing your bookwork and watching the summer fly buy as your friends are out floating on the Kickapoo River. And then there is the sleep factor; sometimes the nights get long and sleep can be a precious commodity. All of those things are minor though, compared to the friendships I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned.
WHERE THE HECK DO YOU FIND THE TIME FOR YOUR OWN FARMING??
Luckily for me I have a wonderful wife and crew that have made it possible for me to do what I am doing. I sneak out to the garden when I can with cell phone in hand. I’m looking forward to more gardening time this fall when things slow down. We are in the process of putting up a couple greenhouses to extent our season as long as possible.
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR KEEWAYDIN ORGANICS NEXT YEAR?
I hope to continue next year, though one never really knows what the future will bring. There will definitely be changes and that is one thing I have always tried to communicate with everyone. We must always be ready to face the changes that present themselves to us. As long as we have the support of wonderful stores like the Viroqua Food Co-op and the community of people who support small organic farmers with their food dollars we are bound to be successful.