I first met Katy in 2012 during our first year of farming. We (my Carrot and I) were young, naive and excessively enthusiastic, attending the Janesville farmer’s market every Saturday, proud to be their only transitioning-to-organic farmers.
Then, halfway through the market season came Katy and Mark and their adorably perfect family. They had a loyal following at the Janesville market, having attended for several years. They were certified organic, had enormous diversity, a super cute (and abundant) farm stand and competitive prices. Their children, then 7, 5 and 2, never stopped smiling or helping folks bag tomatoes. Plus, the whole damn lot of them were blonde. Like glowing blonde.
We were threatened immediately. There went our cute young farmer edge. Replaced by the happily glowing blonde family, with way more vegetables.
And then. Then they opened their mouths. And all intimidation was gone. We immediately fell in love. This couple doesn’t own a TV. They don’t believe in using plastic mulch or buying plastic pint containers for CSA members. They farm organically on Katy’s parents’ once-conventional land (sound familiar!?). They were diligently focused on keeping the food movement truly local, even if that meant learning how to market to a community where local food was a much harder sell. Most things on their farm were purchased at auctions or made out of some re-purposed material. They met in Nepal during their time in the Peace Corps for Gods’ sake! These farmers were truly one in a million. Plus, they were some of the most truly genuine and kind people we had ever met. We talked shop for half an hour at that first market and put any hard feelings to rest.
My Carrot and I respect Katy & Mark of Christensen’s Farm so much for the way they conduct themselves and stay true to their beliefs while running a business. They are resourceful and practical and truly building a whole family operation, and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Today, to kick off the Soil Sister’s weekend (!!!!), I got to attend a field day at Katy and Mark’s farm in Browntown, Wisconsin. And it was an absolute joy. Most of these photos are from the event today. I hope you enjoy checking out their farm and getting to know Katy a little bit!
Let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been farming and how did you get into it?
We are into our 9th year market gardening. I grew up on a dairy farm and really appreciated that part of my life. After being away from Wisconsin for about 9 years I just had this gut instinct telling me that it was time to grow organic food. We started small but just kept getting bigger. We now garden a little over 5 acres and have found our sweet spot.
How did you make the decision to primarily do CSA vegetable growing?
We did several farmers markets for 3 years and loved the interaction with our customers. The consistency, however, was not conducive to a steady or reliable income so we decided to try the CSA model and have designed our CSA to have a “market” feel, which works great for us.
Tell me a little bit about being raised on a farm. Did it prepare you for the road ahead?
I think growing up on a farm instilled in me that farming is not a job, it is a way of life. The work is never really “done” and you just can’t leave or go away whenever you like. I can’t imagine a more satisfying way of life though; I make my own schedule, I am outside enjoying nature and all it’s beauty, and I grow awesome food for my family and others – that is a great feeling!
Your farm really seems to be a whole family operation. How is it working so closely with so many family members day-in and day-out?
My husband grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was not a farm boy but his family always had a garden and he had an early love of growing giant pumpkins (he still does). I am the “head gardener” but couldn’t do what we do without him. We wanted this farm together since it was/is a way for our family to be together. We do most of the garden and vegetable planning together, but I do the promotions, presentations, and book work. During the growing season Mark is the main cultivator and does most of the weeding while I do the seeding, transplanting and harvesting. Of course there is overlap but we have naturally gravitated towards certain jobs and roles.
During our first 3 years my parents, who live across the road and whom we rented and now purchased property from, were integral parts of our operation. When we started farming we had one baby right away and two more joined us shortly and so my parents really were helpful baby sitters. My father was a conventional dairy farmer so there have been definite times when we have disagreed on certain practices but he has respected our space and over time has learned about organic practices. We still differ on methodologies at times but he respects our goals and what we do. We have also become more independent and don’t rely on them quite as much as we used to. It’s very nice to have them close and their help has been terrific.
How did you come to be involved with the Soil Sisters tour?
I participated in a tour a couple years ago and have gotten to know Lisa K. over the years when we bump into each other at ag-related events. We have gotten to know each other more through our local Wis. Farmers Union Chapter and was excited to become involved as a tour stop.
Is this your first time participating?
As a tour site, yes.
What are you most excited for this weekend?
Showing people around the farm and visiting with people from all over.
Favorite vegetable to grow?
Favorite vegetable to eat?
And what is the best piece of advice for young beginner or wanna-be veggie farmers?
Be open to challenges, whether something works out or not, it is always a learning experience and something to build upon.
Lots of love,