Keeping Small Agriculture Alive – A Walworth County Farm Story
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a model that has gained popularity in Wisconsin and around the country.
An event Saturday demonstrates the momentum of the movement. The Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee is holding its fourteenth annual meet your local farmer event.
Farmers Tim Huth and his partner April Yuds will be in attendance.
The Walworth County couple have been growing since 2007 and call their business LotFotL, which stands for ‘living off the fat of the land.'
Growing up in Onalaska, Wisconsin, Huth's only encounter with farming was through his grandfather.
“He had a small hobby farm in Black River Falls. I only knew him until I was five or six. I have that one vivid memory, like out of a horror movie, where there’s a field of turkeys and my three siblings are in front of me being chased by thousands of turkeys. So I’m reaching for the fence, and right at the end the turkeys are nipping at my heels. That’s all I knew of rural life,” Huth says.
And so Huth’s original vision for farming did not include livestock.
That changed when he met a pig. “They’re so enjoyable for us to raise and live with. It brings a lot of high spiritedness being around them. So to be able to come here and sell them and share that with other people and also to have such great product is just a joy for us,” Huth says.
Huth and his partner rent 25 acres on an historic farm 25 minutes drive southwest of East Troy. The Quinney farm dates back to 1868.
“Richard Quinney has written many books about his family's farm. (He and his brother Ralph) decided they wanted to start becoming more sustainably managed, so we’ve been out there since 2011. We’re growing 20 to 25 acres of vegetables, we had 27 pigs this year. CSA is our main thing,” Huth says.
He says give-and-take is required to make the land rental arrangement work. “Richard’s in Madison and Ralph is in Ripon and so we have meetings and we powwow. They’re now looking at the problem a lot of people in rural America face. What do you do with the land when the kids aren’t interested in farming."
Huth can’t afford to buy the land, even if it were for sale. “You’re lucky to find land under $12,000 an acre by me, so that’s prohibitive. But a long term lease and permission for us to build infrastructure is our big thing – a packing shed that’s going to meet new food safety laws that will come out in a few years. So there’s some give and take. I see a functional opportunity to grow my business into stability," he says.
This year, he's partnering with Colectivo. “We’re going to grow about 20,000 pounds of potatoes for them. They’ve been great to work with... They started by buying a few potatoes from us, sampling the product. Then getting to know us. Then we started to figure out…where can we get to price-wise where we can still make a decent living and their accounts aren’t freaking out,” Huth says.
He says Colectivo and other larger clients help stabilize the business, but CSA customers continue to form the backbone of LotFotL. The way it works is individuals pay small farmers a fee and in return receive weekly boxes of their fresh produce during the growing season.
Huth’s work has informed his view of the difference between conventional agriculture and his preference - organic/working with nature philosophy. “I’d much rather deal with some of the rough and tumble of nature, but not fight it, work with it, from an educated standpoint,” he says.
A crew of eight people will soon come on board to help at LotFotL.
One worker has been with Huth for years, several others have gone on to farm on their own, yet he admits coming up with a good team season after season is one of the hardest things he does.
Huth is now in his mid 30s and he says he and his partner have occasional conversations about taking new professional paths. “What would we if we weren’t farming? Would it just be nice to just get a paycheck from somebody,” he says.
Although Huth says he no longer has stars in his eyes, he still loves his work.
“It’s undeniably a super rewarding life way and financially, it can work. It takes some sacrifice, it takes some planning….We don’t go on as many vacations as we’d like to, but we get to live in a beautiful spot and do very rewarding work,” Huth says.
There is a potential wrinkle in LotFotL’s long range plan. One of the two Quinney brothers recently died, and now the family is deciding what’s next for the family farm. “We’re not exactly sure how it’s going to shake out. We have two years left on our lease, so we’re not going anywhere any time soon. And we hope to stay here because we five buildings and two walk in coolers and all sorts infrastructure. We’ll roll with it,” Huth says.
For now, he has to think about the 70 different crops coming up this season, raising another batch of pigs and bringing a largely new crop of workers up to speed for the season.