Real Food, Sustainably Grown with Organic Inputs
"When I was single and lived in Madison, my porch was covered with pots of flowers, herbs and tomatoes. At Blue Skies my love for growing things became a reality," says Louise Maki of her long time desire to live with a garden and grow things.
In those days she lived on Madison's East Side, her
"I've never been happy sitting behind a desk," says Paul Maki, co-owner with his wife Louise, of Blue Skies Farm. Paul worked as a reporter and editor for 15 years before turning full time to organic farming in 1999. He and Louise already had successfully developed Blue Skies as a part-time endeavor, selling raspberries to
car rarely being driven since she biked to work. "That was a fun way of living without impact on the Earth, but I wanted more.
"I met Paul at Cherokee Marsh where we both worked part-time giving wetland tours to school groups. He was just beginning the farm in those days and he was involved with the newspaper. I had no idea I'd find my way to Blue Skies and be a farm co-owner."
Louise's influences at Blue Skies are major. Her job has contributed the important health insurance both need, and a steady winter income. "I also bring in my gardening skills and the people skills I need at the hospital. I'm really a shy person, but I'm very open at market and that's important when explaining how we raise our produce and in helping others understand how to prepare it."
Louise grew up in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin in a relatively poor family that had to be creative in finding ways to keep food on the table for eight kids and her parents. Among the skills she learned was how to work hard, team building, gardening and how to live simply. She grew up strong and capable - just skills needed on a farm. "My uncle used to tell me that that I was strong enough to pull a plow," she recalls.
After high school she earned a zoology degree from the University of Wisconsin, and hoped to work for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "I was a generalist and they seemed to want specialists. I needed a job and couldn't afford going back to school, but I ended up with a good position as a health unit coordinator in a local hospital."
"My goal was to find a career that fit my education. Then Blue Skies came along and I'm getting a chance to use my skills and bring new dimensions to the farm." Louise is often the coordinator of farm tours. She also leads kids on insect-finding adventures and identifies the many insects that are found on the grounds.
"We are a real farm family of the 21st century," she says. "We live our values, caring for the land and in turn it cares for us. We work with so many local kids. We feel like they are part of our family."
"I feel it's important to give back to our community, and I can do that here, teaching kids and adults as well, about organic farming, gardening and showing them ways to live more simply."
Why Blue Skies?
We purchased this 3.77 acre "farmette" in 1991 with the intent of opening a small organic raspberry farm on an existing farmstead. Our property's story is similar to many in southern Wisconsin. The house and a little bit of land had been separated off from a larger parcel because it was a corner that was too small to farm. The barn was old and falling apart. The 1860s house was too old, oddly built and small and too much of a "fixer upper" for most families.
Beliefs like those could only foster the property's eventual demise, as the land became neglected and filled with weeds and its buildings more deteriorated For us, it was perfect.
It needed work. My goal has been to make our farm look like a small farm from Upper Michigan's Copper Country. Our small house is like many of the old homes in the Copper Country, so as we remodeled it, my model was the old cedar-shingled mining houses in Painesdale, Michigan. The 16-stall cow barn is probably from the 1890s and we've resupported its floors, straightened its roofline and replaced rotten barn boards. Its appearance is similar to those in the Copper Country. The old pig barn is long gone, but the foundation was solid and has made the base for our wood structure greenhouse, built now with a high roof and heated with a wood-fired stove. The corn-crib foundation is now our wash station, and the underground base to the silo our earth insulated walk-in cooler.
Reduce, Recycle, Reuse
Not only have we restored the buildings, we used restored equipment. Our 1958 Dodge pickup serves our needs very well. Our primary tractor is new, but we still regularly use my Uncle Urho Prusila's 1951 Co-op E3 tractor from his potato farm in Misery Bay, Michigan. And thanks to my high school friend Glenn, of Tapiola, Michigan, I have a vintage potato planter, digger and mower that perfectly fit the E3.
Thanks to the help of a neighbor, Rick, with several horses and their manure, the village of Oregon for tons of composted leaves, and two very good friends, Mike with heavy equipment and Jerry with soil science knowledge, we have been able to revitalize the soil to make Blue Skies soil a truly organic living system.
Blue Skies Farm is really a vision -- a vision of creating a showcase for small-scale farming, of reusing and finding new uses for old farm equipment, and real uses for our historic farm buildings. By reusing equipment, buildings and land, Blue Skies is being environmentally conscious and looking to our future. Additionally, we are renewing small-town community values by providing opportunities for area youth and providing long-remembered experiences for a new generation..
Blue Skies? Not to be tacky, but next year during the Holidays, watch Holiday Inn and you will understand.
Madison area stores and had a good following of pick-your-own berry customers - but it still didn't feel right.
"I felt like I was talking the talk, but not living it," says Paul. "In the years since I left journalism, I've started living many of the ideals that I strived toward -- living a simpler lifestyle, working for myself and doing something valuable for society. It's not that journalism isn't valuable - it is - it's just that organic farming is just more rewarding."
Paul came from Michigan's Copper Country in the western Upper Peninsula. His grandparents were Finnish immigrants who had farmed, worked in the mines and had strong associations with the cooperative movement of the 1930s. His parents were educated. His mom a local government official, and his dad a teacher and social worker and they valued hard work as well as giving back to the community.
They insisted that Paul get a skill as well as a college education. He got both, a Journalism degree from UW Milwaukee, as well as a liberal arts Associate Degree from the UW Center in Waukesha, and trade school training in masonry and carpentry from a technical school in Ann Arbor.
"I read a lot - philosophy, history and science - and I've come to realize we don't need all the "things" our culture tells us we need. What I'm finding is we need a job or career that gives a sense of accomplishment, good friends, a good community and freedom from the structure of the 40-hour work week. With Blue Skies Farm and farming organically, I'm beginning to pull those ideas together.
"After reading a lot from author and journalism professor, Michael Pollan, I've begun to realize there are many aspects of our food production chain that we have taken for granted, and that they need to be re-evaluated. With that said, in the last few years we have become involved with Slow Food, REAP, the Chef's Collaborative organizations. They all promote using locally grown food and getting people involved in buying and growing local produce. They also are trying to teach us to understand that we as Americans have forgotten how to create meals from REAL FOOD and that eating and dining together makes a statement about our quality of life.
I think those kinds of ideals match what I'm trying to do in the second half of my life, and I hope folks will join in re-creating community, and take the time to slow down and enjoy what they already have.