Willoway Farm grows sustainable produce
One afternoon at Willoway Farm and you'll understand why sustainable farmers Dan Bertram and Jacqui Fulcomer love the land as they do. Visually astonishing, Willoway's gardens flourish with eight foot sunflowers, rows of lettuce, tomatoes on the vine and edible flowers. The thick, fresh air is littered with butterflies and the only unnatural sound is the occasional roar of a passing farm vehicle.
Located just south of West Bend, Willoway Farm is a small all-natural sanctuary in fields of conventional farming. The 8 acre plot contains the owner's two story farm house, a huge traditional barn and the one and a half acre organic farm.
All produce is cultivated from certified organic or heirloom seed. In order to most effectively use the natural elements, Bertram and Fulcomer strategically calculate sustainability; considering the placement of every plant in order to capitalize on water runoff, soil organisms and daylight. Twelve raised plant beds are divided by clover filled footpaths; simultaneously allowing workers to walk between plant areas while preventing possible flooding by absorbing water runoff.
Willoway Farm produces everything from herbs and lettuce, to peppers, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cucumbers and leeks. A small group of chickens, raised on organic feed, produce white and blue eggs.
"I believe the American consumer has gotten caught in believing a bigger veggie is better than a smaller one. We have had several of our customers tell us how they have tried conventional produce and our produce and found our veggies have more flavor than the other non-organic/ hybrid veggies," Fulcomer explains.
Bertram and Fulcomer run the farm single-handedly. Without a single hired helper, the farm relies on the couple's commitment to hard labor and the occasional volunteer who offers to work in exchange for produce. Even more miraculously, Bertram and Fulcomer farm the land using hand tools; believing the land is most fruitful when treated in a natural, harmonious manner.
Referring to her homestead as absolute paradise, Fulcomer exudes a visible love for all living things and devoutly works to keep her own environment as sustainable and natural as possible.
Although Willoway is sustainably farmed without pesticides, they are not yet certified organic. Government policy requires Fulcomer and Bertram farm the land according to specific guidelines for three years before applying for the organic tagline. Purchasing their farm in 2005, Willow Way has been producing "organically grown" produce for three years but is now just able to apply for the official standing.
"Organic is important to us because life is awesome and we want to live as long as we can without getting sick. We are both advocates of the environment. We appreciate the earth because it has so many gifts to offer; why jeopardize it by using miscellaneous chemicals," Fulcomer explains.
Fulcomer and her boyfried, Daniel Bertram began farming organically on a farm in Montana. Wishing to continue developing their understanding of sustainable living, the pair studied organic farming at the Michael Fields Institute.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, located in East Troy, WI, is a non-profit organization determined to increase awareness of the environment and cultivate sustainable lifestyle. The institute offers a range of programming for students interested in agriculturally based professions.
"Years ago I never imagined myself to be growing vegetables, but it really took to me and I really enjoy helping things grow," Fulcomer explains.
Upon graduation, they were offered a chance to start and maintain a farm in Pennsylvania.
"We were new stewards to the land and so it was a great chance to try it out and see if it could work with just the two of us. It worked out really well and we looked for a farm in Wisconsin," Fulcomer explains.
When Willow Way farm became available, Bertram and Fulcomer saw the opportunity to cultivate their own dreams.
"There are several places in Wisconsin that have an abundance of vegetable growers and so there is a lot of competition out there. We are very small scale but we're trying to make enough money to afford life and the farm we own. That's why the farmers markets are great; you get a chance to introduce yourself," Fulcomer explains.
For the 2008 season, Willoway participated in a small CSA, the Friday Cedarburg farmer's market and the Saturday East Town market.
"The East Town Farmers market is our favorite because it's really diverse and multicultural," Fulcomer explains.
In Cedarburg, they are the only all natural vendor; competing for prices and selection with many conventional farmers who are able to occasionally outsource for variety and quantity when the season's weather becomes unpredictable. Despite this competitive market, Willoway's regular weekly customers help sustain the viability of the farm.
"This is our second year selling in Wisconsin and it's a different time because the economy is pretty different from last summer," Fulcomer explains. "Everyone is kind of in a panic in this moment and so people are conserving their wallet whether they are growing their own or just buying the minimum. But there is still a portion of people who want to buy local because they realize the effects of our globalizing economy."
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) provides the support for small, organic farmers or community gardeners to get their produce into the community. Willoway's CSA member reiceve a weekly dose of produce; a combination of different vegetables every week picked fresh that day.
"We use a system of rotating bushel baskets for our CSA's. That way we're not using bags, we're recycling and everything in that basket really doesn't ever get packaged," Fulcomer explains.
Willoway Farm took on 14 customers this summer; dropping baskets at Slow Pokes Local Market in Grafton and several homes in Milwaukee's Riverwest.
"We were going to take 20 on but we capped it at 14 to make sure we had enough produce. We had already committed to a few farmers markets and with the late spring, we wanted to make sure to be able to fill what we promised," Fulcomer explains.
It is not only big box groceries stores but conventional farmers that Willoway must compete with at area farmers markets. Using tractors, chemical treatments and genetically modified crops, even small conventional farms in the state are able to grow a higher yield at a lower price.
"The use of herbicides and pesticides by conventional farmers has depleted much of the soil of nutrients to the point that nothing can grow in it without the application of chemicals. Genetically modified plants, are able to withstand more weed growth but in return have given rise to super weeds all over the country which are virtually impossible to kill," Fulcomer explains. "There still isn't any understanding of the long term health effects of genetically modified vegetables. There is a lot of risk in conventional farming that has not been publicized and is unknown."
"The government gives subsidies to large corporate farms that are farmed by a man but it is the corporation is in control. All these subsidies come from the taxpayer's dollar," Fulcomer explains. "They are huge scale farms that pay very little and ship produce for days in bulk around the world. Of course it's going to be cheaper in bulk but it's the small farms that get lost in all of this. The price that small farmers and organic farms charge is what it should cost, what it really costs."
Acknowledging the vast amount of work that lies before her, Fulcomer continues to develop a vision for the future potential of her farm.
"The goal for the hill is to someday have an area for goats pasturing. It may take a while because we want to prepare a good home for them," Fulcomer explains. "We would be able to consume their milk or make soap out of their milk."
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