Beef, pork, meat- and egg-producing chickens, all raised on a large-scale organic farm and coupled with retail sales, are working well for the operators of Waseda Farms in Door County.
Tom Lutsey took over the farm 14 years ago and has grown it to more than 1,500 acres of certified organic crops and grassland graze for 500 cows, 300 pigs, around 5,000 meat birds and up to 800 laying hens.
"I had no thoughts of being a conventional farm," he says. "We went immediately into organic." With conventional farming, in his view, "you tend to be stuck with commodity prices."
Tom's son, Matt, manages Waseda Farms retail stores, delicatessen and catering at the farm and in DePere. He notes the original farm already was organic and GMO free.
"We only had to flip the switch and sign a few affidavits to be organic," he says. "We're the only grocery store in northeast Wisconsin with our own organic farm."
Matt and Tom and farm manager Chris Schuh make up the team "that makes decisions together," according to Matt.
The stock is grass-fed but crops provide supplemental feed. The animals, in turn, provide fertilizer, along with cover cropping and some commercial organic fertilizer.
"We plant a lot to go back into the soil," Chris says.
He supervises the registered Black Angus cattle, purebred Berkshire pigs, Cornish cross chickens for meat and white Leghorns, red star and Araucana laying hens. The latter lay green-tinted eggs - "Easter eggs," Tom chuckles. They also raise a couple acres of produce.
"We do all our own beef breeding," Chris says, using both AI and home-grown herd sires and occasionally bringing in an outside bull. Boars are purchased but Chris plans to begin using AI next year.
All of the meat animals are processed off the farm but "We do all the retail cutting at the store" with three meat cutters, Matt says. He adds that 90% to 95% of the meat sales are direct to consumers, the balance going to area restaurants and schools. The Gibraltor School District, he says with pride, "is exclusive with Waseda ground beef." Surplus animals go to stockyards.
Matt credits Temple Grandin, author and animal handling specialist from Colorado State University, with help in designing a handling system that saves labor and puts less stress on the animals.
Tom was working in his dad's ice cream business in Green Bay but followed his one-time farmer father's advice that "you should always own a farm." A bout with cancer 14 years ago helped convince him to start farming on land he already owned in the Baileys Harbor area. He says, though, he didn't realize that it would lead to the scale it has. Still, he says, "We appear to be able to grow; it's logical that the boys figure out where."
Matt sees demand for organic products growing but thinks the challenge is to find a market for non-prime cuts of the meat they produce. He was in the restaurant business in Atlanta when he agreed to help his dad on a "limited, part-time" basis. Then, he laughs, "I was sucked in."
Chris was involved in livestock marketing when he was invited to join the operation. He says he aims for 6-month finishing time for hogs, 18-20 months for the beef because of the grass regimen.
The farm employs a dozen workers and also looks to other farmers for help and advice.
"It's very important to our growth to work within the community of organizations and conventional farmers too," Tom says. "There are many times conventional farmers have helped us. It really doesn't matter if they're organic or conventional, everybody helps everybody."
The farm has an extensive website at wasedafarms.com.