If farming had professional athletes, Dela Ends of Scotch Hill Farm would be an all-star.
Her certified organic, family-run farm located in Broadhead, has provided nourishment through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to Milwaukee and neighboring cities since 1994.
Scotch Hill’s offerings also include farmstead products like eggs, organic flowers, pickles, preserves and all-natural, goats’-milk-based body care products.
CSA is an "eat local/eat seasonal" concept where consumers purchase "shares" of vegetables directly from their neighborhood farmer. The CSA "basket" as it’s come to be known, is picked up or delivered during the season, usually June through October/November.
The share purchase is typically done in full and in advance of the season, so farmers can prepare what and how much to grow, but sometimes shares are made available on a per-delivery basis. And farms like Scotch Hill offer many options and add-ons to fit most family’s needs.
The recent emphasis on the importance of eating non-genetically modified food and a renewed interest in farming as a career by a younger generation makes what Ends and Scotch Hill Farm are doing that much more vital. The impact of consciously grown, local, seasonal produce extends beyond just a healthful choice. It’s a delicious alternative that has positive implications on the environment, economics and the cohesion of the area they serve and well beyond.
Scotch Hill Farm is a genuine reflection of the spirit of the "community" piece of this agricultural model. In fact, a dedicated group of Milwaukeeans’ participation in Scotch Hill’s weekly vegetable delivery has been key to the farm’s success.
End’s generously took time out of her busy day to have a conversation with me about the physical component of her daily routine, what it takes to transition into the agricultural life, Milwaukee’s contribution to the development of Scotch Hill Farm’s CSA, the far reaching impact of sustainable farming practices and more.
Lindsay Garric: Please tell me about the Scotch Hill Farm CSA program including the options.
Dela Ends: Our 20-week full season runs from June through mid-October, the 15-week season runs the second week of July through mid-October and the 10-week season runs mid-August through mid-October.
We also have a Fall Share delivered twice in November. These are double-sized deliveries including stage crops for winter and canned goods.
Flower and egg shares are offered as add-on to vegetable shares. Our website and Facebook pages have share information plus helpful tips, a calendar of farm events, fantastic recipes and links to member blogs. It's how Community Supported Agriculture works.
LG: What happens in winter?
DE: During the winter months we work on our books and our organic plan. We do some growing in the high tunnels. If the winter is not too harsh we have offered shares in December and sell a limited amount of produce through the winter. The past two winters have been extremely cold and we have not done winter vegetables.
I make and market our goat milk soap and skin care products that provide a winter income. They sell best around the holidays and at winter farmer’s markets and sales. I do some mail order business as well. We have also gone on several Farmer-to-Farmer training projects to Senegal, West Africa during the winter.
LG: What sets the Milwaukee CSA apart?
DE: Our Milwaukee members are the finest example of a true CSA community that we have ever had over the 20-plus years of our CSA. The Milwaukee membership grew out of a group of consciously minded people from St. Sebastian's Catholic Church who have supported us for a number of years. Deliveries are made to a member’s home by another member who meets us in Madison to take the share back to Milwaukee for Thursday delivery.
This team effort allows us to reduce the cost of the Milwaukee shares because we do not have to spend extra time and fuel making that delivery each week. The group helps and encourages each other by coaching new members, swapping veggies, having potlucks and making group trips to the farm to work and socialize. They support us in so many ways beyond the weekly vegetables, which is how Community Supported Agriculture was intended to work. We in turn, invite our members to events, try to share our farm as much as we can and have formed many wonderful friendships with our members. Their loyalty means we can rely on their support year after year. This is very important to our financial survival.
LG: You mention in the Organic Authority article that farming is hard physical work and that you have to be in shape. That physical investment is what has initially struck me since I’ve been doing a work exchange on an organic farm. How do you take care of your body so that you can keep up with the physical demands? Do you do any additional physical training to maintain your ability to work on the farm?
DE: We started farming in our late 30s. More than twenty years down the road we are still in pretty good shape. You don't need a gym when you work like we do. Eating healthy organic food, working in the sun and soil are so good for the body and the soul. Healthy food, physical and mental exercise and spiritual nurture are all essential to every persons’ well being.
We have not been without health a few health issues over the years. In the late ‘90s I had malignant melanoma that was treated and have been fine, but it gave me a pre-existing condition that was uninsurable for many years. That made me be even more careful about what I ate and what I applied to my skin. Natural soaps and skincare products are as important as healthy organic food to our family and we are grateful to be able to share both with others.
My husband broke his ankle on June 1, 2001. That was an interesting summer season, but we made it through. This past December I had bilateral knee replacements – thank you Obamacare! – and spent much of the winter in determined physical therapy. I'm facing this summer with so much less pain and renewed energy it is amazing!
The massage therapist and chiropractor are additional ways I try to care for my body especially through the demands of the summer labor.
In terms of what we do to stay in shape; in the winter I ride the exercise bike and my husband is a runner. He runs two to six miles most days all year round. We also like to walk the dogs on a pleasant two-mile walk to a neighboring creek near our farm.
LG: Scotch Hill Farms is a family business. How many employees/workers do you have outside of family members? Do you have a work exchange or volunteer program?
DE: The number of employees varies from season to season depending on the size of the CSA. We continually evaluate and adjust our operation to what is wise and realistic for us. This year we have five family members in varying capacities (three of us full time,) plus one farm intern, one part-time worker so far and maybe one or two worker shares, plus many volunteers who may come consistently for a few hours a week or may just come once in a season. Members are strongly encouraged to participate in the farm. Knowing where your food comes from, putting a face and a place on your food changes how you think about your food.
Lindsay Garric: You transitioned into farming after your husband got a job in Wisconsin - you didn’t "study" to be a farmer - although you were passionate and instinctual about sustainable living/living off the land. So, how did you learn to run, manage and operate your farm, to plan the fields? Did you go back to school or was it all hands on / trial by error?
DE: When we started doing CSA and organic farming in the early ‘90s there weren't any places to go to learn how to do it. We were the trailblazers. People thought we were crazy or just didn't understand at all. It was hard with no model before us, but those of us doing it helped each other along. We were early members of MACSAC, now FairShare that started as a group of CSA farmers and urban eaters supporting each other and educating others about Community Supported Agriculture. Much was trial and error. We read as much as we could and tried to attend workshops and conferences to garner information. We didn't have Internet when we started. You couldn't just Google it.
For organic certification – record keeping, planning fields and crop rotations are required. Good records make a better farmer. Organic certification is a plus. Anyone who balks at the organic paperwork doesn't understand how very valuable those records are. Plus, the organic seal is the only label that assures consumers there are no GMOs or synthetic chemicals used on their food. We should all be eating organics and demanding all farmers be required to care for and respect the earth and the health of their consumers.
Over the years we have tried to share our successes and failures with others. We need as many sustainable organic farmers as possible to save our planet. We can't continue down the path of conventional agriculture. The consequences are frightening.
Lindsay Garric: What would you recommend as a path or what advice do you have for urbanites who may have no experience with agriculture that want to make the transition into the farming life either to supplement their income or provide their own food … or for a total career change?
DE: For urbanites I would encourage knowing and supporting your local farmers. Don't consider a career change until you've really tried it out. We've trained many interns over the years and it is a valuable experience for determining if this is really what you want to do or not. Some come to the farm with a rather naive and idyllic idea of what farm life is. It involves getting dirty and sweaty. It means working long days in every kind of weather. It means bugs both good and bad. It means break downs at the worst possible times. There are cute cuddly baby animals and mean roosters and rams. There are the ever-changing seasons that bring new life and death. To be a farmer you have to be adaptable, roll with the punches, live with uncertainties and love the land.
Farming is a lifestyle choice. It is also an economic choice. If you want to make the bucks, don't give up your job. The investment in farming is substantial in terms of land, equipment and time. The returns are minimal and the risks are many. It is more challenging than ever with climate change, pesticide drift, dwindling water, decreasing soil quality and corporate control of most of our seeds.
Urbanites need to learn the agricultural and food issues, stand with the organic and sustainable farmers, help support farmers with good practices so farmers can earn a living wage, know where your food comes from and embrace a healthy lifestyle. It's a much nicer relationship knowing your farmer and visiting the farm than encountering your doctor and visiting the hospital. It's all about choices. Those choices will direct the future. Where do you want to invest?
Lindsay Garric is a Milwaukee native who calls her favorite city home base for as long as her lifestyle will allow her. A hybrid of a makeup artist, esthetician, personal trainer and entrepreneur all rolled into a tattooed, dolled-up package, she has fantasies of being a big, bad rock star who lives in a house with a porch and a white picket fence, complete with small farm animals in a version of Milwaukee that has a tropical climate.
A mishmash of contradictions, colliding polar opposites and a dash of camp, her passion is for all pretty things and the products that go with it. From makeup to workouts, food to fashion, Lindsay has a polished finger on the pulse of beauty, fashion, fitness and nutrition trends and is super duper excited to share that and other randomness from her crazy, sexy, gypsy life with the readers of OnMilwaukee.com.