Working from dawn to dark with hand tools, surrounded by organic flowers and produce, Jacqui Fulcomer and Dan Bertram find operating a CSA farm in Fredonia a sustainable way to lead their lives
Do organic, locally grown flowers smell sweeter, last longer and bring more enjoyment? Jacqui Fulcomer believes they do, and those who purchase her flowers at farmers’ markets or through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program apparently agree, since most are repeat customers.
“You can put your nose into them and take a big whiff without worrying about any chemicals,” Fulcomer said.
“I pick them fresh that morning, and I forage in the woods and pick wildflowers to add texture, color and scents. This week, I found bittersweet and dogwood berries. I always add herbs to bouquets.”
Fulcomer and her husband Dan Bertram operate a CSA for produce, flowers and eggs on their eight-acre Willoway Farm in the Town of Fredonia, which they bought in December 2005. Their goal then and now is to live sustainably off their land.
What has changed is they now have a son Sam, 3, and 1-year-old daughter Summer, who is often glued to her mother’s hip.
“We still work from dawn to past dark, but with a family, we obviously have to juggle our time,” Fulcomer.
“We used to do a newsletter every week about what’s in the CSA box and how to use it. We would be working on it blurry-eyed late at night. Now, we do a podcast. We call it a farmcast. People can listen to it in their cars, and it saves trees.”
The couple limit their vegetable CSA to 35 full-time shares, flowers to 25 people and egg shares to those who get produce.
“That’s sustainable for us,” Fulcomer said. “All the seeds used for our vegetables, flowers and herbs are either certified organic, heirloom or our own saved seeds. We refuse to use genetically modified or treated seeds.”
Her list of perennial, annual and heirloom blooms is long and includes such unusual flowers as masterwort, painted tongue, tassel flower, salpiglossis, scabosia, “love lies bleeding” amaranthus and “love in a mist” nigella.
“These are things you can’t find at a florist or even order,” said Fulcomer, who also has a wedding flower business, but will only book one event on a weekend.
She supplies edible flowers, such as nasturtiums, violas, pansies and bachelor buttons, to area restaurants that often use her husband’s produce.
The couple has a small herd of Finn sheep that they milk and use for meat.
“I wanted to make sheep cheese and soaps, but then Sam came along. Maybe someday,” Fulcomer said.
She grows flowers around the edges of the vegetable gardens and amid the produce.
“I like walking past flowers as I work,” she said. “The nice thing about growing flowers with vegetables is I can use them also. Dan is growing purple snow peas. I like to add the tendrils to bouquets after he picks them.”
Fulcomer planted cosmos next to kale. The vegetable’s strong leaves support the tall, wispy flowers. Other companion plantings help repel bugs, and tall vegetables and flowers provide shade for plants that don’t like the hot sun.
The couple uses the French intensive gardening method. Bertram built raised garden beds on 1-1/2 acres and planted clover in the wide footpaths. The gardens are on a southern slope, and an irrigation system protects against droughts and frosts.
“The weeding never ends,” Fulcomer said. “We weed constantly. We use only hand tools. We use a hoe between rows, but weed by hand in the rows.”
An apple orchard was planted from grafts of heirloom root stock from Cornell University in New York. Heirloom pear trees were also planted, but they didn’t survive the harsh winter.
The couple have hosted several events at the farm.
Braise Restaurant and Culinary School in Milwaukee held its second dinner on the farm July 26. Another Milwaukee restaurant, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, is planning an event Aug. 31.
Members of the Cedarburg Artists Guild will meet at the farm Aug. 17 for a day of painting and drawing.
On Oct. 5, the couple is planning a children’s music event for CSA members.
“It may be a little cold, but that’s when our work slows down and there should be some good color,” Fulcomer said.
“We’re fortunate to be located in Ozaukee County and close to Milwaukee.”
The couple does most of the work with the help of Bertram’s parent Bill and Jill Bertram, who own adjacent land. The Bertrams also take care of Sam and Summer when needed.
Bertram and his father built a shed from old barn boards next to the gardens that is used for washing and packing produce. An open loft is used for drying flowers and curing onions and garlic.
The main barn, which Fulcomer uses for arranging bouquets, is her father-in-law’s workshop.
A former milk house is being converted into a certified kitchen for canning and making other food products that can be sold. Jill Bertram and her sister are spearheading that project.
A storage shed will soon house Dan’s workshop on the second level with a freestanding porch that overlooks the expansive property.
“This little patch of eight acres is paradise to us,” Fulcomer said. “It’s work to make it paradise. It doesn’t just happen. It’s definitely a family effort.
“Dan is an extraordinary man. He’s very optimistic about what can be done if you put the work into it. People say they wish they could live like us, but it’s not for everybody.”
Information on Willoway Farm is available at www.willowayfarm.net.
Image information: Jacqui Fulcomer and Dan Bertram with their children Summer, 1, and Sam, 3, enjoy life on their organic farm in the Town of Fredonia.
Photo by Sam Arendt