When Kat Becker and Tony Schultz left teaching to become farmers they looked toward traditional agriculture but away from what they term commodity industrialization.
"We didn't want 80 acres of row crops," says Kat. They aimed instead for diversity. So, while they raise beef, pigs and chickens and have small fields of wheat, they're also certified organic, grow fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs for a Community Supported Agriculture program they've had in place for 10 years and sell at winter and summer farmers markets. And they began hosting on-farm dinners - serving pizzas baked in their own ovens with all of the ingredients other than cheese coming from their farm.
"Diversity is so important for a number of reasons," Kat exclaims. "Diverse farms are beautiful."
She and Tony are in their 11th season on 150 acres of the farm where Tony grew up near Athens in Marathon County. They bought an initial 80 acres from Tony's father, Ed, who helps around the farm and supplies maple syrup and firewood from his own trees. They rent another 70 acres from Ed and Doreen Schultz. She too helps on the farm, as does Kat's mom following her move from New York City. Kat is a Manhattan native who met Tony while she was in graduate school at University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a master's degree in rural sociology. Tony has a bachelor's degree in education.
Both taught before moving to Tony's home farm, he for three years, she for seven at UW-Marathon County while also working on the farm. Aiming for sustainability, they put much of the land into pasture and rotational grazing to provide all-grass rations for their Galloway, Scottish Highland and Hereford/Galloway crossbred cattle, chickens and Berkshire and Berkshire-cross pigs. They also developed a tract for wildlife and insect habitat and planted a broad variety of fruits and vegetables.
Vegetable farming, Kat says, "is our personal interest. It makes farming very interesting for us."
They raise 80 different crops with 200 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, utilizing four greenhouses (up from two) in addition to the outdoor plots, aiming to get an earlier start with more vegetables.
They are fully subscribed in their CSA and also sell at the Wausau Farmers Market and to a limited number of restaurants, schools and grocery stores.
Kat says they learned vegetable production on the job, online, at the MOSES Organic Farming conference held each year at La Crosse and from other farms. Their crops, she says, are part planned and part because of interest.
"We like embracing new things." Tony, for instance, recently began raising mushrooms. One of their employees is starting her own medicinal herb business this season on the Schultz's farm. On the other hand, they tried beekeeping but didn't care for it though they do offer honey produced by a neighbor.
"We have amazing neighbors who have tools we don't want (to buy)," Kat says, "and they're willing to do custom work for us."
This is their fifth year of pizza dinners. The very successful enterprise serves up to 700 diners and 250 pizzas on-site or to-go on a busy summer evening. Kat notes that the dinners now make up a fourth of the farm's income.
"It really adds value," she exclaims.
Tony and Kat use a lot of their own products for pizza ingredients, including the sauce. They raise 6-10 acres of wheat, butcher the offspring of four sows and use some of their vegetable production in building the 16-inch pizzas they bake. Remaining pork is direct-marketed, along with the beef, chickens and eggs and most of the fruits, vegetables and herbs.
As with any farming operation, it's a lot of sunup to sundown and beyond work, Kat acknowledges.
"We struggle with things. Parts are very stressful." But they try to take off three Sundays a month and spend time with their three children, ages 8, 5 and 2.
The farm also offers picking tours, pancake breakfasts and will host a fall pumpkin event for its CSA members.
Tony and Kat have one full-time and two part-time employees and additional helpers who come weekly for four hours in exchange for a vegetable share.
Buchholz lives in Fond du Lac.