Maybe you have met the ladies—Laura, Kara, and Ann Berlage—at the Cable Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, or as a member in their produce CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or through a friend while enjoying a meal of pasture-raised chicken, turkey, pork, or lamb from North Star Homestead Farms. Either way, you may also have heard some of the buzz that surrounds these ladies’ latest enterprise—Farmstead Creamery & Café.
This century-old homestead (nestled in the ChequamegonNational Forest just off Moose Lake Road) is stepping forward as a regional leader in the growing movement for local, sustainable, and bio-secure foods. As increasing national food scares and documentaries such as Food Inc. bring to our attention the desperate nature of industrial food production, farms like North Star Homestead Farms have been pushing back and offering wholesome alternatives that bring a story and a face to your food. Now, having access to their and other slow-food movement products will be even more convenient and enjoyable.
2011 has been anything but a quiet season at the homestead, with hammers and saws from Jon Sorensen’s Venison Creek Construction bringing a long-researched dream to life. Farmstead Creamery and Café’s design is inspired by the farm’s picturesque 1919 barn, with a “hay loft” upstairs and stunning barn quilt over the entryway. “We created this design to be versatile and accommodate all the different aspects that were part of our goal,” says Laura, a recent graduate of Goddard College’s Masters of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts program. “Farmstead Creamery and Café is very much about creating space for possibilities—merging agrarianism, community, and the arts.”
This is reflected in the project’s mission statement, which asserts: Farmstead Creamery & Café, as an extension of North Star Homestead Farms, is dedicated to building community through local, sustainable, and bio-secure foods that bring out the best of rural living. Mindful of our unique and precious environment, our hand-made-from-scratch ethic strives for egalitarian access to wholesome foods directly from their place of production. Maintaining transparency, offering educational opportunities, and nurturing community are cornerstones in our effort to reinvigorate the culture in agriculture.
Driving down Fullington Road (named after the founding homestead family), some are surprised to discover the gem of a farm just around its natural bend. Now, the inviting barn-like Café, bordered by a split rail fence and topped with a rooster weather vane, serves as the face of the farm—becoming a one-stop shop for everything from fresh produce and meats to home-style bakery goods, jams, eggs, and dairy products. You can even stay a while and enjoy some coffee or tea, soups, sandwiches, or gourmet salads. Alongside the Café stands a large greenhouse, which will hold a new aquaponics unit. This very scientific and bio-secure method of organically raising fish and produce year-round (designed by Nelson and Pade Inc., a Wisconsin company) will greatly augment North Star Homestead’s ability to serve the community long after the summer growing season. “It’s a natural relationship,” says Ann, a family physician and longtime supporter of her daughters’ initiatives, “In which the waste from the tilapia provides nutrients for the plants. The plants then clean the water, which is recirculated to the fish, like a highly-managed pond.”
Inside Farmstead Creamery & Café, however, there are more pleasant surprises to discover. Not only does the “hay loft” provide space for more seating and a view overlooking the homestead, but it can also be used for classes and workshops. A small stage on the main floor can be used for live concerts, storytelling or poetry events, or even presentations on important related issues. “Our goal is to reconnect people with what really matters—and a big part of that is building a healthy relationship with our food and really knowing its story, who grew it, and under what conditions. It’s about reclaiming our connections with the land,” Laura smiles as she calls attention to the interior of the Café, with its large timbers and vaulted ceiling.
Behind where the bakery case and counters will be is a window into another room, which holds a special place for Kara, who has a BA in Environmental Studies with an Emphasis in Sustainable Agriculture. This will be the Creamery & Café’s dairy plant for the production of gelato—an Italian form of ice cream with less fat and more flavor. Kara has been working for years to improve the genetics of her flock of sheep (so she not only has excellent lamb production but also quality dairy traits) while studying the science and art of making gelato. “Just this fall, I went to a course from the Gelato and Pastry Institute of America in New York,” she explains while indicating the future placement of her dairy plant equipment. “There I studied with a master gelato artist from Italy and created my own recipe using sheep’s milk, which naturally has the right butterfat content for the production of gelato.” Farmstead Creamery & Café also hopes to carry other locally produced dairy products to augment the shop’s selections.
The ladies of North Star Homestead Farms put considerable thought into the location for the Creamery & Café, ultimately deciding that staying close to the farm was an important aspect of the project’s purpose. “We see ourselves not only as producers but also as a hub in the greater local food network,” Laura explains. “But it’s more than food; it’s also about education. Many people are now several generations removed from their farming heritage, and it’s important to revitalize that connection. Farmstead Creamery & Café offers something new for the area—it’s a place where that heritage is brought into the present through wholesome products, meaningful education, and dedication to supporting the health of our rural community.”
Farmstead Creamery & Café is still under construction but plans to open sometime early in 2012, with a grand opening during the glory of the summer growing season.