Though it was only late October, it felt more like December on the cold windy day that the Willy West Produce team took our fall farm tour. Nine members of the team came, and because of a daycare closure, my 10-month-old son was also along for the ride. The destination was New Traditions Homestead, a small family farm located just outside Hillsboro, WI.
We felt at home the moment we arrived. Robert and Summer Schulz and their two children greeted us from their front porch, surrounded by bunches of hanging garlic. They welcomed us into their small home and began the tour by telling us about this beautiful house that they had built entirely with their own hands.
Off the grid
New Traditions is unique among our farmers in that they are completely off the grid. All of their heat comes from their own forest. A small solar array powers a few light bulbs and their computer. The sparse indoor plumbing is gravity-fed. There are no tractors on this farm, only horses; and Robert prides himself on the fact that he relies on hand-weeding and hoeing for weed suppression rather than the plastic “mulch” that many farmers have turned to. These are people who truly walk-the-walk.
We bundled up and headed outside to tour the two-and-a-half acres of tilled farmland. New Traditions grows an impressive list of crops for us: baby leeks; bunched carrots; bunched spinach; parsley; collard greens; red yellow, white, and candy onions; hot peppers; kale; and okra. Though much of this was already gone from the field on this cold autumn day, Robert was still picking collards and parsley, and digging carrots for bunching. We marveled at the sweetness of the late season parsley and spinach, and wished we could sell enough collards to get through his huge crop before it was done-in by the cold. Robert showed us his stand of carrots, and we were awed by the amount of time it would take to wash the heavy clay soil off them using a water source that wasn’t pressurized.
After touring the fields, we headed up to the barn to visit the goats, and the horses who are so integral to working this farm’s soil. Laudy, Robert and Summer’s three-year-old son, was proud to show me and my son the chickens and demonstrate the rooster’s noisy call.
Deciding that my small son had had enough of the chill, I headed in to the cozy warm kitchen and let the baby play with Robert and Summer’s kids while I helped Summer prepare lunch. The rest of the crew checked out the farm’s water system and Robert’s blacksmith shop, and also harvested collards and parsley for our mid-day meal.
Lunch was a treat. Summer prepared (with a little help from us) a squash/lentil dahl, Italian parsley and yoghurt tzatziki, and sacuma weki, an African dish consisting mostly of collard greens and tomatoes. The food was incredibly delicious, but the company was even better. By the time we left, early in the afternoon, we felt like we were part of the family.
In fact I would say that we are part of the same family. Visiting the farms that supply us does much more than give us an idea of what a particular farmer’s growing practices are. It forges a connection between the people who grow the food and the people who sell it, and gives us the opportunity to extend that connection to you, the people who purchase and eat it.
One of my favorite parts of the day was hearing Robert describe how much the opportunity to grow for Willy Street Co-op means to him and his family. He told us about how they were so excited after our initial meeting that they went out to dinner to celebrate. For them, it meant the difference between barely making it and being comfortable.
What a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do. By supporting local farm families like Robert and Summer’s, we’re not only bringing fresh, healthy, food to our community—we’re making it possible for hard-working families like the Schultz’s to make ends meet, and working together with them to grow a food system for the future.
In the midst of the holiday rush, it’s worth it to take a moment to consider how simple every day acts like grocery shopping for local foods can make such a difference. Happy Holidays!