Charlie Tennessen’s trade is software development but his passion is farming. Ten years ago, he moved onto a 4-acre parcel in Racine County to pursue that passion.
His "team" is comprised of Sebastian, Rosey and Cassie - they’re miniature donkeys. Their job is to pull a homemade sled loaded with compost the resident chickens, goats and sheep contributed.
Tennessen says this is the perfect time to spread the nutrient-rich load. “Winter time is going to be moving compost and summertime, primary tillage on the field,” he says.
He aims to use as much human and animal power as possible to sustain his operation, and the donkeys fit in nicely.
“They can plow, they can cultivate...Also there’s a small cart and it I have 100 pounds of potatoes, they can move that for me as well,” Tennessen adds. "And they’re smart, which accounts for the reputation that they’re stubborn, they’re actually so smart they just know it’s easier just to stand still. You need to work with their nature."
The former Bay View resident revels in being a do-it-yourselfer.
He constructed his barn and chicken coop. And he bakes – a passion that led him to try a new crop. Some baking books recommended the use of Turkey red – so he planted his own plot a few years ago.
Turkey red is a hearty winter wheat that blanketed fields in the Midwest and Great Plains back in the 1870s.
Tennessen says it’s resurfacing among artisan bakers as a coveted ingredient, so he expanded his growing capacity by working with a nearby farmer.
“I ended up growing 11 acres last year,” Tennessen says.
He also unearthed an intriguing UW-Madison study from the year 1919. “Different experiments were done with different varieties of wheat before the agricultural revolution and I’m trying to grow them out, experiment with them, and see which is good for growing organically in the state of Wisconsin,” Tennessen says.
He’s is making headway. Last year, he produced 10,000 pounds of grain and attracted customers.
In his basement, Tennessen mills his grain using the machine he built. “This can only do about 40 pounds an hours…..and I want to be able to do a couple hundred pounds an hour and then I can fulfill an order the grocery store or the baker, do that on the weekend,” Tennessen says.
He reflects on what might come next. “The wheat project looks like there’s a fantastic market, so I’ll continue to do that. My dream would be to live on a 30-acre farm, run it with horses and donkeys. You’d have five to ten acres of just prime animal powered wheat for sale every year. That could be my cash crop,” Tennessen says.
Yet he won’t give up with his day job until the time is right. Tennessen says one mini step at a time.