THE READER
December 2005

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2005 Farm Tour Report

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2005 Farm Tour Report

Three Farms, Eight Hours and One Good Time

by Lynn Olson, Member Service Manager, and Melissa Klemes, WSGC Staff

The annual Willy Street Co-op Farm Tour took off down the road on an early grey morning on Sunday, Oct. 9th and, by the time we reached our first destination, the sun was shining and provided another perfect day for touring. At our first stop, the Scott Trautman farm in Stoughton, WI, they were enjoying their first official days as a certified organic farm. While Scott’s products aren’t available at WSGC yet, this farm was included in the tour to give the group a pragmatic example of the challenges in putting together a new organic farming operation.

A healthy herd of curious Jersey beef cattle met us at the edge of a paddock while Scott spoke frankly about his farm’s journey to becoming organic. He addressed the need for thoughtful planning in planting and maintenance of grazing areas, choosing the breeds, and the quality of the end product.

Scott described the many types of grasses and other grazing plantings he sows for the herd during the growing season and the benefits of using a rotational grazing system (moving the herd from one paddock, or fresh grazing area, to another). Traditionally, some farmers employ a method of feeding only grain to their animals before harvesting (called “grain-finishing”) in order to promote marbling, or fat. Scott detailed the characteristics of the grass-finished beef and how the pasture-fed method means that the harvested meat produces a denser, leaner cut. Because grass-finishing avoids producing extra fat, his beef is a source of low-fat protein.

Witnessing this small-scale pasture-fed beef operation, up close and personal, provided a significant glimpse of the obstacles and a direct experience with the animals.

After a big thank you from us, Scott bid us farewell and we were back on the bus, headed for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI). Upon arriving at the East Troy location, we were greeted by Aura LaBarre, Farm Education Coordinator. She started our grand tour with a walk through the Stella Gardens, an integral component to the organic teaching farm.

The three acres of raised bed plantings and creative composting systems are all hand-worked by students as part of their vegetable production training. Aura described the composting projects that students build as part of their training. Like building a cake, these compost mounds bake themselves and do not regularly require turning. Hay bales are lined up to form an oval shape before the many ingredients are layered inside. Leaves, produce, garden scraps, soil, hay and other biodynamic ingredients are all laid inside the formed hay bales, then covered with a layer of hay to prevent the dirt from drying out. Undisturbed, the mounds then “bake” slowly for roughly two years to become rich, nutritious, recycled soil. Aura told us that students also spend time at nearby Ela Orchards to receive training on the fruit production end of farming.

After a short walk through the gardens, the group was invited to ride along on a tractor/wagon combo through some of the 200 acres of the farm, accompanied by Alan Wood, MFAI Farm Manager. Alan manages all of the farm operations for MFAI, coordinates the machinery on the farm and projects crop rotations out to seven years into the future in order to better plan for long-term strategies and environmental benefits.

Aura and Alan spoke a lot about the pains and pleasures of hand-pollinating the corn on the farm, a necessary step of control during hybrid tests of air pollinated plants. Also highlighted was a view of the fields where organic wheat is grown for Nokomis Bakery to make their delicious breads, which are available at our Co-op.

We then headed to our next stop, the Krusen Grass Farms where the entire Krusenbaum family, their two interns and Michelle Pedretti from Organic Valley, the Krusenbaum’s cooperative, eagerly greeted us.

After a brief introduction from Altfrid Krusenbaum (who also served on the Governor’s Task Force on Organic Farming), the group was brought into the milking parlor for a thorough “walk through” of the milking process. From the many mechanical components to the subtle evaluation and cues of heifer health and the timing of insemination methods.

Farming organically at this location since 1990, the Krusenbaums are committed to participation in a program designed to train new farmers: Collaborative, Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT). CRAFT is an alliance of Illinois and Wisconsin farms and market gardens committed to the education of beginning agriculturalists. The alliance offers a yearly program of on-farm demonstrations, tours and work exchanges.

Before leaving the barn, Altfrid directed our attention to a display of organically approved substances used to treat the heifers, which was laid out for the group to review, including aloe vera, iodine, garlic juice and vinegar.

We moved out of the barn and down the cow path, as the cows would twice daily, and Altfrid described examples of some biodynamic approaches to their dairy farming. The cows on the farm are sheltered over the winter months by a half-barn structure with a cement floor and hay is regularly applied as bedding for the animals under the canopy.

Over the winter, the bedding area becomes packed with layers of hay and dung, which can become valuable fertilizer, but it first needs to be stripped up and off the cement. Altfrid illustrated the process of manually digging out thin lines on the packed beds and “hiding corn” under some areas to symbiotically encourage the pigs to root around in search of the corn, thereby aerating the composting layers of bedding. In spring this process also makes it easier to remove the entire lot.

We were again treated with a wagon ride out to the farthest reaches of the farm where some of their 110 cows were grazing. The Krusenbaums practice what is called an intensely managed, rotational grazing system, much like the Trautman farm, where the animals are moved daily to individually apportioned paddocks with the use of portable electric fencing. In all, there are 47 paddocks on the 320-acre farm with 80 acres in hay and forage crops.

Thank you to all of those who attended this year’s Farm Tour and we look forward to providing this valuable experience indefinitely and to keep emphasizing the connection between our food and our farmers.