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Winter Farmers Markets Extend Fond du Lac County Family's Growing Season

Winter Farmers Markets Extend Fond du Lac County Family's Growing Season
The Fausts grow 18 acres of vegetables and fruits

By Harley Buchholz

Winter farmers markets have lengthened the season for fruit and vegetable growers Joe and Rosi Faust and their sons, Joey and Jeff. They're able to pick hoophouse tomatoes well into late fall and have storage for onions, popcorn and garlic.

"Popcorn sells really well over winter," says Rosi, and Joey notes that he's able to keep the hoophouse tomatoes thriving until temperatures dip to 19-20 degrees, using some supplemental heat.

So after the outdoor markets end the family loads up in the cold at their farm between Calumetville and Marytown in northeastern Fond du Lac County and Joey will head for a Saturday indoor farmers market in Green Bay.

LONGER SEASON: From left, Joe, Rosi, Joey and Jeff Faust show off some of their tomatoes growing in a hoophouse on their farm in mid-October.

Theirs is a labor intensive, multi-crop, 18-acre farm with two greenhouses, soon to be five, and lots of family and friends helping. The machines they use generally come to the farm used. One transplanter for strawberries, Joey notes, "I bought off a junk pile." They use three transplanters, one for onions, one for melons "and one for everything else," says Joe. He says that "they're all '48 to '52 models."

Jeff is the mechanic and rebuilds the used machines to suit the crops the family plants and tills. He works off the farm at nearby Park Ridge Organics. Joey works at Lindsley's Greenhouse in Green Bay, where he's also able to germinate the seeds for the next season's crops. The brothers are horticulture graduates of University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Joey in 2006 and Jeff in 2011.

The coming winter is rest time for Joe and Rosi. She catches up on crocheting - she also sells some of her handiwork at farmers markets - and is catch-up time with family and friends. Joe and Jeff like ice fishing. By January, Joey and Jeff will begin planning the next season. Joe says they will have 3-4 acres of strawberries, 5 acres of popcorn, 1 each of onions, squash and watermelon and the rest in a variety of vegetables - kohlrabi, carrots, beets, potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach. He and Rosi were the only vendors selling spinach in mid-October at the Elkhart Lake Farmers Market where they've been regulars for 15 years. They also sell at summer and fall markets in Kiel on Wednesdays and Chilton on Fridays. Joey sells in Fond du Lac on Saturdays.

Trial and error

Jeff notes that they regularly try new crops. They stick with some, discard others. Bok choy didn't sell well, blueberries failed to thrive on the farm's higher pH Theresa Loam soil. "We're just learning," says Joe. He points out that the crops get commercial fertilizers but no pesticides.

Jeff does the nutrient management plan and Joey handles the planting. As the soil warms in spring the transplanters are used. They are three-man operations, one to run the tractor and two to feed seedlings into the planting apparatus.

By June it's strawberry time and the outdoor farmers markets begin.

Joe and Rosi started "The Berry Dairy" in 1988, beginning with 500 strawberry plants and some sweet corn. They had been dairy farming since 1977 but by 2001 after a long period of low milk prices, the cows were sold and they concentrated on fruits and vegetables. They rent 60 acres to a neighbor and devote the remaining 18 to their own crops. Most of the harvesting is by hand although a two-row corn picker is used for popcorn. Joe, who does much of the picking, uses a Crop Care picking assistant for low ground harvesting, lying face down on the battery-operated machine to pluck his produce and drop it into crates.

If attitudes were cash, Joe and Rosi would be very wealthy. Their generally positive attitudes rub off on customers and on fellow vendors.

"They're such nice people," one fellow Elkhart Lake vendor exclaims. Joe is a big guy, quick to grin and sports a carefully twisted handlebar mustache. That trademark is worn nattily along with a straw hat on a strawberry on Joe's and Rosi's business cards. More petite, Rosi is equally as cheerful and quick to make customers comfortable.

She and Joe are proud of their two sons and five daughters and the help they offer to The Berry Dairy. The daughters live and work off the farm but, their mom says, they were a great help while they were at home and continue to support the enterprise.

"If it wouldn't be for them helping with the cows and everything we wouldn't be where we are," Rosi says. The daughters are Angela, Kristine, Lisa, Karen and Amanda. Two are married, Angela to Brad Karls, and Kristine to Matt Schaefer, and each has two children. Kristine's oldest, John, already helps his uncle Joey at farmers markets. He has a brother, Luke, while Mason and Jenna are Angela's and Brad's children.

And even though the crop season represents a hard life for Joe and Rosi - Joe has leg problems and needs to sit whenever he gets a chance - the Fausts plan to continue. Joey and Jeff say they will keep the enterprise going and Rosie laughs, "We won't retire, we'll just get tired."

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