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Chilton Farm Couple Offers Ag Tourism at its Finest

Chilton Farm Couple Offers Ag Tourism at its Finest
Their Simpson's corn maze is open through Nov. 2.

By Harley Buchholz

David and Leslie Meuer are not typical farmers.

Yes, they have a small beef herd, feed hogs and broilers, pick eggs and raise alfalfa, corn, winter wheat, oats, soybeans and sweet corn. But they also host monthly "Farm Flavors" dinners featuring area chefs and Wisconsin food products, operate a small retail store, again offering their own and other Wisconsin produce, and take guests on a two-mile hayride through field and forest on their farm near Chilton in southwest Calumet County.

AWARD WINNERS: Dave and Leslie Meuer's farm near Chilton was named the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association's 2013 Business of the Year. Their operation includes an on-farm retail store.

Maple syrup in late winter, strawberries in late spring to early summer, honey and sweet corn in later summer, kids' activities including a farm animal barn and a straw bale fort, a pumpkin patch and a corn maze in fall. The Meuers have woven their farming enterprises into a wide range of agricultural tourism attractions. Theirs is the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association's 2013 Business of the Year. And at each of their enterprises, David likes to explain the agriculture involved for his largely urban audiences. Leslie says her husband has been known to answer questions for an hour after speaking to visiting groups. "I like talking to people," says the former FFA public speaking contest winner.

COMEDY OF EARS: The Meuer's corn maze's intricate pattern this year observes the 25-year anniversary of "The Simpsons" TV show. The corn maze is open through Nov. 2.

Leslie, equally expressive, says the long and varied hours "are fun for me because I've been living in an urban area." There, she laughs, "people complain about 40-hour weeks and long commutes. This is more rewarding... with the animals and digging fingers in the dirt." "And being your own boss," David adds. He's a fourth generation farmer, working on the 150-acre farm his dad added to the original homestead. David worked with his dad, gained Chilton FFA experience and finished Moraine Park Technical College's Farm Operations Program. He milked cows, turned to cash crops, hogs and steers and then went back to dairying.

He bought the farm in 1994 and gradually moved into agricultural tourism, starting with the corn maze. This year's intricate pattern observes the 25-year anniversary of "The Simpsons" TV show. Strawberries and maple syrup were added in 2009 and he sold his second dairy herd in 2010 while continuing to add tourist attractions.

Now he and Leslie, married in 2012, are constantly on the lookout for things new and different. A single dinner on the farm last year went over so well it turned into a monthly series this year. A field of oats was processed and packaged as rolled oats and is sold in the farm's retail store. Honey, maple syrup and granola also carry the Meuer Farm label, as do the pickings from 4,000 black walnut and 150 hickory trees planted by David years ago.

Theirs is not an organic operation but "we keep things natural around here," Leslie points out. "We're as organic as possible but we do use a fungicide on the strawberries. We are earth friendly without being certified." Their rolled oats and granola products are processed at certified facilities, she notes.

They're also conscious of conservation and are in the competition for this year's Leopold Conservation Award. They show their conservation efforts on the 45-minute hayrides over small streams, past grain fields, wildflowers, beehives and curious cows lined up along the fence in one of the nine rotational grazing paddocks David established back when he was dairying, and through woodlands where tree species are marked and where deer and other woodland critters have been known to pop out. 

Going into late fall, after the corn and nut harvest there's a short rest and planning period before they start again, taking their kettle corn and other products to events off-site and attending conventions. David is vice president of the Wisconsin Berry Growers Association and is on the board of the Wisconsin Agriculture Tourism Association. He was instrumental last year in pushing passage of the ag tourism law that secured protections from lawsuits in injury cases.

"By February, we can start (tapping) maple trees," he says. "When the maple season finishes (they boil and bottle their own syrup) we start to uncover the strawberries, then the beehives go out, then the spring planting..." and the dinners.

For this year's dinners, which ended in September, David approached chefs in the area. Now, Leslie says, "the chefs are calling him" to take part. The guests dine on picnic tables in a large shed David built specially for their ag tourism business. But the tables have white tablecloths and all the ambience of fine dining.

"We have to plan those things five to six months in advance," David says. "We originally thought we'd have locals (diners). That has not been the case. We're getting people from all over the place" including out of state. Leslie calls it "culinary tourism." They've had visitors from 31 states and 23 foreign countries in the last two years.

Leslie has a degree in architecture and an art background so she's hoping to bring more artistry into the farm's offerings. Meuer Farm is among the stops for this month's Rural Arts Roadtrip which is showcasing the talents of a number of area artists. David and Leslie are on the trip committee and will feature on their farm the works of Amy Schauland's Meadow Path Photography and David Bartel's chain saw art during the Oct. 10-12 event. (Stops on the Roadtrip were listed in an article on page 62 in August issue.)

A Maine native, Leslie was working in Lake County Illinois when she and David met online. Since their marriage, she laughs, "This is all on-the-job training for me."

Meuer Farm is located on Highway 151 southwest of Chilton and is on the web at www.meuerfarm.com.

Buchholz lives in Fond du Lac.

TAGS: Soybeans Wheat
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