Well into their fifth year of farming together on the family’s homestead in Viola, Wisconsin, the three Haucke children—Jessica, Rufus and Jacob—have reinvigorated the land purchased by their parents for use as a dairy farm in 1976. Now aged, 31, 30 and 28 respectively, the three siblings have brought the farm into organic certification and transformed the business into a thriving hub of food and Fair Trade.
Their father, using a phonetic translation of the Ojibwe word Giiwedin (meaning “the north wind” or “the home wind”) originally named the farm. Rufus reflected on their decision to preserve the name after acquiring it from their parents, “To me it means more than ‘the home wind.’ After traveling for a number of years and never thinking I would ever end up on the farm, it was as if something just blew me back there. Every time I came back and visited I thought ‘Damn, what do I want in life? Here’s 200 acres, dead-end gravel road; it’s absolutely beautiful; what the hell am I looking for?” Keewaydin Farms’ acreage is advantageously positioned in a remote area of western Wisconsin noted for its winding network of hills and valleys lined with fertile soil.
After their parents’ dairy business closed in 1996, each of the Haucke (pronounced “Hawk-ee”) offspring left to seek their own experiences before coming back to the area with their own families. Jessica; Rufus, his wife Star Maule and their two children; Jacob, his wife Carrie and their two children either live and/or work on the farm along with four other employees.
Rufus offered more about his family’s long history on the property and their process to certify the farm as organic: “Our parents were conventional, although they didn’t spray that much. They actually lost their business in 1996, so the farm sat idle for about 10 years. Most of the acreage just sat fallow. So, when we came back it was simple process. We just kind of stepped into it.” Under National Organic Program standards, only a three-year absence of unapproved substances is required to certify the land as organic.
Growing on a full 120 acres (and a 70-acre wood) means there’s plenty of food coming out of their fields to satisfy their wholesale accounts, large CSA, or to feed their dairy herd. After spending the last year updating the dairy barn and restoring that operation, energies are now being focused on building a new packing shed to better accommodate their operations. Part of the packing shed plan also includes a certified kitchen to create dried and other prepared foods from the farm’s harvest.
Certified organic by MOSA, Keewaydin Farm’s Swiss chard and dandelion greens have been a consistent local staple for the Co-op, while their selection continues to grow. When asked if there’s something special one has to do to propagate dandelion greens, Rufus began laughing before he explained, “Its probably one of my favorite things to show people, just because people are floored that we actually grow dandelions greens. Everybody spends so much time trying to get rid of the things. What we’re growing, though, is chicory, it’s not a true dandelion, but it’s in the same family. Actually, the chicory, for propagation purposes, grows better than a dandelion, if you can believe that.”
Since these new farmers made their first sale at the Willy Street Co-op several years ago, Keewaydin Farms has grown to also include foods grown by their new organic partners in the area. Joining the Haucke’s to form a marketing group, over 14 family farms are now supported by the growing Keewaydin Farm’s distribution system. Rufus, who’s been getting about a call a week from interested organic farmers in the area says, “It all started in about December when I was introduced to a number of the growers who are all looking for an alternative market for their produce. Some are Amish who lack the capacity to get the products to market; others are just farmers who would rather farm then worry about marketing. There was a real opportunity to both provide the ever-expanding local organic market as well as provide more markets and hence more money to our family farmers in this community. I do think this is a benefit to Willy Street Co-op members because it should provide a more steady supply of local products that are certified organic from small family farms. Our goal is to get a handful of the growers to put up hoop houses this season to extend our growing season, providing for a longer local season.”
Andy Johnston, Produce Manager commented on Keewaydin Farm’s efforts to secure markets for their organic growing partners: “Last winter, we had several Amish farmers stop in and inquire about selling their products to the Co-op through Rufus, who has been a key figure in coordinating the distribution of Amish goods. Rufus supplied us with copies of everyone’s organic certification and sends us updated availability lists twice a week. His efforts have enabled us to source local product that we may not have been able to get without him!”
About this new effort to strengthen their community of growers Rufus said, “They’ve been great to work with, challenging at times, because of their communication systems, but wonderful people. We’ve got about 14 or 15 and we get calls from people every week, I guess the word is out. The prices we’re paying them are quite a bit [more] significant than other prices they were getting. The point in my mind is to get as much money as we can to the farm.”
Cases of their farm-packed vegetables have now started arriving at the Co-op stamped with the names of the farm on which the veggies were grown, for our information and to bring about more identity for each farm.
Rufus currently holds a seat on Minneapolis’s Local Fair Trade Network’s (www.localfairtrade.org) Board of Directors. The organization was established to develop domestic Fair Trade routes and standards. Their work, along with the work being done by Keewaydin Farms, will help return the economic benefit to farmers who typically receive only six percent of each food dollar spent in the U.S. “Our farm got certified Fair Trade last year, as part of a pilot project up there,” Rufus explained, “that’s been quite an interesting experience. It’s been nice to engage in the conversation of ‘How do we provide equity and equality in our food system?’ because it really is quite an unjust system. Slavery does still exist in the food system. To me, and I’m obviously biased because I’m a farmer, why wouldn’t you support your farmers? We all need to eat.”
Furthering emphasizing his intense passion on the topic, Rufus continued, “You go through the Wisconsin countryside and you see all of these red barns and they’re falling down. We had a hell of an infrastructure here that’s crumbling and gone and the reason is that people decided that they didn’t want to keep investing in that. Now we’re going full circle again and the money’s coming back. People are looking at reinvesting and it’s like, it’s too bad it takes a crisis to come back around to say, ‘Yes, food is important,’ when it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s always going to be important.’
“It only makes sense for us to work the domestic fair trade idea. I would love to see it in Madison as well, and to that accord I have been talking up Willy Street Co-op to the group (LFTN) because I really feel like you guys are one of the leaders in how you deal with your farmers and should get as much recognition for that as possible.”
Finally, asked if there was anything else he’d like our shoppers to know about their farm, Rufus added this print-worthy statement, “I would like your members to know how much I appreciate the support of the Co-op. Willy Street Co-op has been one of the leading co-ops for supporting local growers like Keewaydin Farms. And that is how you change the world. We are truly fortunate to have your support and it really is a unique and sustainable working relationship.”
For more information about Keewaydin Farms, see their website at www.keewaydinfarms.com.