North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Building Connections

Some folks think that farming is for the asocial, with lots of time alone on the tractor.  It’s a job for folks who like animals better than people or who just want to grow things and not deal with marketing.  But for the small-scale, farm-to-table producer, getting to know the people who intersect your path is an integral part of the process.

It only takes a generation or two to change cultural understanding.  100 years ago, most people were connected with the land in one way or another, whether through agriculture or trade.  Today, agriculture is constantly seeking to teach kids “where food comes from,” lamenting the social disconnect between milk in the grocery store and cows in the pasture, chicken tenders and the feathered bird.

You can pour all the money you want into promotional campaigning or school programming, colorful little pamphlets or TV time, but nothing is the same as actually spending time on a farm with a food producer.  Skip the rhetoric and illustrations and just get to know your farmers.  They have a story of struggle and joy to share, experiences that rebuild our connections with the land.

Building these connections is part of the work every day at Farmstead Creamery.  “Where is the farm from here?”  “What do you ladies raise?” and “How long have you been farming?” are common starter questions folks have about our farm.  Conversations that start with any of these simple questions sometimes stay there and other times delve into the throws of honeybee biology and the plight of CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) or how Belle the guard donkey protects the sheep in the field.

Each encounter chips away at feeling that food-production has become the other, run by machines and migrant labor.  While this is certainly the case in many places, it’s not the story everywhere.  Sustainably-minded small farms push back against agribusiness’ alienation of food-growing practices.  Here, we still stick seeds in the ground by hand and feed the chickens with a pail of grains you can recognize.  It’s a breath of fresh air, a refuge for folks who see the lack of ethics and care for the individual in the mainstream food system.

The draw to reconnect and learn from growers on the frontline of the sustainable food systems initiative is also why we’ve had students from across the country seek to spend time on the farm.  Earlier this month, Natalie, a Waldorf high school student from Sacramento, California, came for a five-day intensive internship as part of her senior curriculum.  Her brother Elliot had taken our “Sustainable Foodie” class through Northland College and recommended us as a neat experience.

It was early on a sunny Monday morning when Natalie arrived.  As always, we start with a hug and “Have you eaten?”

“Well, I had some fruit and yogurt this morning.”

“Oh no, that won’t get you through chores!” and off we go to make our signature multi-grain pancakes with sausages and strong tea. 

Appropriately fortified, we jump into the day with the final milking of the sheep for the season; checking the survivor beehive and preparing it for moving into the aquaponics greenhouse; harvesting the tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumbers; pulling out the hay wagon before the impending rain and harvesting all the winter squash (including tromping through old pig pens to discover the interesting hybrids they’d planted); moving all the chicken and duck paddocks, with feeding and watering; and finally making chocolate milk and a yummy dinner of pork chops with one of the squashes and some of the broccoli we’d harvested that day.

By 9:30 pm, Natalie was wiped—but that was just 9:30 for us, with more to do!  But she needed time to write in her journal.

“So, my teacher told me not to write about what I did.  I’m supposed to be writing about personal growth.  But I’m going to start with a list of what I did anyway so I don’t forget!  This was an awesome day, and talk about totally amazing food.”

Throughout her time on the farm, Natalie helped make gelato, bake bread, make soup, process sheep’s milk soaps for sale, do chores, make meals, buss tables, work in the aquaponics, help with a Jewish harvest dinner we were hosting, and even run wildly in the snow.  Every day brought in some things that were the same and many that were different, which is part of what keeps all of us going in the cyclical journey of agrarian life.

Now back in Sacramento, Natalie will be presenting her internship (along with the rest of the senior class) to the entire school.  We both took pictures from the adventure, and I recently uploaded mine to Facebook for easy access for Natalie, though you’re welcome to logon and see them too—snapshots of a brief but intensive stay on our diversified homestead farm.  Perhaps someday she’ll be back for a summer internship, building on the connections begun this fall.

But you don’t have to live on the farm to be actively connected.  Some folks connect through farm tours, through volunteering, or through engaged conversation.  By reading this story, you’re engaging with our farm as well, even if you’ve never stepped onto the property.  As much as we may not like to think about it, ignorance is what protects the sins of the mainstream food system.  Building connections with responsible small farmers breaks apart that barrier and empowers all of us to make informed food decisions throughout our lives wherever we go.

Who knows where Natalie will take her new experience or how it will impact her life and the people around her.  So, far from being a place for the asocial, commonplace encounters on our farm are meaningful moments for building connections with the land, stewardship, and the story of those who live it every day.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

 
 

Summer on the Farm

It takes a brave soul to decide to spend an entire summer on a farm out in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest that’s run by three (possibly eccentric) ladies.  Of course, there’ll be plenty to do (!!!), lots of great fresh food (another !!!, especially since that includes gelato), and fresh air.  But it’s still a brave proposition and an adventure that young folks who intern on our farm have chosen to plunge into like taking a cannonball splash into Lake Superior.

Immersion learning is another name for it, right here in the living laboratory of our diversified homestead farm.

This year, our intern adventurers are Jacob Schultz from Northland College in Ashland, WI and Sam Harrington from Green Mountain College in Vermont—both sustainable ag majors.  Jake jumped in during spring break in April, returning in June just after the PBS filming.  Sam arrived earlier in June, just in time for piglets.  Both, alas and alack, are leaving us this week to return to their lives and coursework.

Last night around the dinner table after a day of butchering chickens, we were sharing stories and laughing over the summer’s accomplishments and moments of havoc.  Here are some of the memorable points Sam and Jake recalled:

Jake:  The day the lamb Junco was born, since he had both hypothermia and hypoglycemia.  We worked on him for five hours, warming on the block heater and giving electrolyte shots and enemas.  We were so exhausted, but Junco pulled through.  He had to be a bottle lamb because he was away from his mother too long after birth, but now you can’t hardly pick him out from the crowd. 

Sam:  Holding down the chicken tractors in the sudden storm that whipped up the evening after the PBS filming until Laura could pound in the T-posts to stake them down.  Then it was the treetops ripping off and landing right next to my bedroom window, ach!

Jake:  The long drive to pick up the colony of honeybees, only to come back and find out the queen was dead!  Then later having the chance to work the hives and see the colonies established and progressing.  Also, knowing that the bees liked me much better than some of the previous interns.

Sam:  Getting to be there when the piglets were born and sitting with Agatha when she was so friendly right before farrowing.  Then there was the one piglet I had to birth myself because Kara stepped away for a moment. 

Jake:  Being dragged off to splash in the mud puddles with Sam.  And the snakes.

Sam:  Ach, the snakes in the hay bales!  [Sam doesn’t like snakes…that’s an understatement]  I had to look at every side of every bale because it seemed like nearly half of them had snakes stuck in them, and then Jake had to pull them out.

Jake:  Yup, at least the chickens liked to eat them.  Throw the snake in the pen, and it was gone.

Sam:  And of course you got to make beer [one of Sam’s talents, which she shared with us this summer].  I kept telling you I make the best beer in the world.  And now you know for real.

Jake:  And seeing the aquaponics was really cool.  Everything from catching and filleting the big fish to introducing the new shipment of little fish.  And planting and harvesting in the greenhouse was awesome…way better than all the weed pulling in the garden.

Sam:  Ooh, but don’t forget tie-dye!  I really wanted to tie-dye Jake’s socks, but I resisted.  We still have to get our tie-dye Tuesday picture together, to go along with “chicken dish Tuesday.”

Jake:  Yeah, there’s been a lot of dishes, and a lot of great food too.  I’ve really loved the food, and the gelato.  That peanut butter gelato is awesome.

Sam:  I never ate so many pancakes in my life, or pizza!  Or pigeon either, never had pigeon before.  I’m still proud that I got it, though.

Jake:  How about the maggots in the back end of the truck, after we got rid of the garbage that one hot day.  At first we thought it was saw dust, but it wasn’t.  It was tons and tons of maggots.  I had to get them out with the power washer, and I was hunched over in the back, spraying, and there was no getting around it by to spray in an arc and get splashed with them.  I went as fast as I could, but it was no use.  The maggots went flying everywhere.

Sam:  Kara and I were the midnight milkers.  But Kara kept falling asleep, so she needed me to keep talking to her.  No matter what we did, we always got stuck milking late, and I’d still be there, cleaning up.  But then, I don’t think I’ve ever met a farmer that got enough sleep.

You can hear more of our interns’ stories this Thursday the 14th at our Annual Intern Scholarship Dinner (in tandem with Pizza Farm Night from 5:00 to 8:00 pm).  We’ll be joined by Tom Draughon and the South Shore Mountain Boys (bluegrass), a slideshow of images from the summer, and more!  All proceeds go towards scholarships for Sam and Jake, and it’s our way to celebrate the dedication and accomplishments of these fine young people who chose to spend their summer on the farm.

Are memories of summertime on a friend or relative’s farm part of your storybag?  It’s high season in the garden, the pizza oven is fired up, and maybe we’ll see you down on the farm before our handy helpers head off to school.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

 
 

2012 Offers new promise and internship opportunities

2012 Summer Season and Internships Opportunities

 

Have a passion for animals and plants?  Wondering if the new practices of local and sustainable agriculture might be an ideal lifestyle for you?  Looking to stay active and be outdoors this summer?  If these ideas appeal to you, then a summer internship at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC might be an exciting opportunity for you.

 

Tucked in the boundaries of the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin, North Star Homestead Farms is a model representative of small-scale, intensive, sustainable, humane, and wholesome agricultural practices.  Our pursuits include pasture raised poultry, sheep, and hogs, as well as a large market garden for CSA and Farmer’s Markets, honeybees, fruit production, herbs, and a small commercial bakery.  Our focus is on building community, connecting people with the land, maintaining transparency, and giving great service.  Owned and operated by three enterprising women, North Star Homestead Farms, LLC offers a constructive environment for personal growth, learning, teamwork, and humor in the everyday rigor of farm living.

 

2012 is going to be a busy season at the farm, with the opening of our Farmstead Creamery & Café, and we are in search of eager hands and positive attitudes to help make this season successful.  While previous farm or garden experience isn’t necessary, we’d love to hear your story and why you may be interested in being a part of our farm’s enterprise.  We are looking for interns who are available for four months (approx. mid May through mid September), though we are flexible for extenuating circumstances, such as beginning college.  Due to changing labor laws, applicants must be 18 years of age or older.  A modest stipend is available to interns, but the real value you will receive from this experience is learning-by-doing—building real knowledge and skills in this growing, exciting food and cultural movement.

 

Accommodating rooms are available in our renovated farm house, and most meals will be shared with the Berlage family.  Wi-Fi is available on the farm campus, as well as unlimited long distance phone service (within reason, of course).  Our goal is to help you have a fully integrated experience of homestead living.  In return, we expect our interns to work eagerly alongside us, to listen to our council and advice, and to practice responsibility and self motivation.  Small scale, localized food production offers an environment to gain personal skills that can serve you in any field, including problem solving, public interface, teamwork, leadership, work ethic, and meaningful goals.

 

We hope that the opportunities available to summer interns at North Star Homestead Farms, LLC are exciting for you, and we would love to talk with you further and introduce you to life on the farm.  Please contact us at the above information to receive an internship application, and we are of course happy to take any questions you may have.

 

Hope to hear from you soon!

Laura, Kara, and Ann Berlage

North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

 
 
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