Many a farm family has opened its doors to the public at this time of year for the purpose of serving up a tasty farm-fresh breakfast while offering a chance to take in the farming lifestyle and learn about the importance of agriculture to the state.
These unique farm-to-fork experiences, however, are not limited to the annual dairy breakfasts held across the state in celebration of June Dairy Month. As interest in eating locally produced food and knowing where that food comes from has grown, so has the number of farms that have launched on-farm dining opportunities that are open to the public all summer long and often into the fall, weather permitting.
Each of these experiences is as unique as the farm that provides it. Most are family-friendly affairs with sharable foods, while some are sit-down dinners served outdoors, available by reservation only. Some are set to the sights and sounds of a still-operating farm; others are held on farmsteads that have been fully transformed into rural restaurants and event venues. Many come with live music, outdoor games, and other entertainment.
What they have in common is that each offers guests a chance to relax and unwind in the beauty of rural Wisconsin; enjoy a delicious, locally produced meal; and make new connections—with the food, with the farmers who produce it, with the land, and with each other.
Many of these on-the-farm dining adventures can be found in electric cooperative service territory. Here are two such farms, both located in western Wisconsin near the beautiful Great River Road National Scenic Byway on Riverland Energy Cooperative’s lines.
Located near Mondovi, Together Farms, owned and operated by Andy and Stephanie Schneider, serves up gourmet burgers and other meat sandwiches using grass-fed beef and pastured pork. The burger business is, like other on-the-farm dining operations, an extension of Together Farms itself, which is a working farm.
Running a rural restaurant on their farm wasn’t initially in the Schneiders’ plans. They got into farming about 12 years ago because they wanted their children to grow up in the country, and they wanted to raise their own food. The Schneiders bought a farm that had been abandoned, “a serious diamond in the rough,” as Stephanie called it. They brought the property back to working order and began raising grass-fed beef cattle, lamb, and pastured pigs for their own family’s needs.
Eventually they began raising just a little bit more and selling the excess meat at farmers markets with the intention of simply maximizing their production time and adding to their revenue stream. However, what began as a side project quickly surpassed hobby level in terms of time commitment, and Stephanie said it was clear they had to make a decision: Either go all in with the outside sales or get out. The couple enjoyed sharing the food they produced on the farm, but they also knew they didn’t want to commit more weekend time to working at farmers markets, so they considered other options.
“We learned about pizza farms and we thought that was kind of a cool thing, but there’s not much meat in pizza production and our farm was always based around meat,” Stephanie said. “We wondered if there was something we could do that focused more on meat.”
Guests enjoy Burger Night at Together Farms in Mondovi. “Technically it’s a
restaurant, but we want it to feel more like you’re going to a friend’s house and
eating in the backyard,” owner/operator Stephanie Schneider said.
“We thought we could do burgers instead,” she added. “They’re just as versatile and just as unique as pizzas, and you can make them kind of fun.”
However, serving burger meals is more complicated than serving pizzas since it requires a full kitchen, with fryers for sides like French fries and cheese curds. Still a little hesitant, the couple decided to test the idea by hosting a few burger weekends before investing fully in the equipment they’d need for a larger-scale operation. The test weekends were a hit, even drawing the attention of “Wisconsin Foodie” from Milwaukee, which sent a crew to the farm to film an episode.
“So that’s when it was really cemented in our minds that it was a big deal that would work, and we really should make an investment,” Stephanie said.
That was in 2016—Together Farms has been serving up burgers ever since. With attendance steadily growing to last summer’s average of about 500 guests per weekend, the demand is now far beyond what the family could raise themselves. The Schneiders work with the Wisconsin Grassfed Beef Co-op and other local producers for any outsourced meat, all of it organically raised and nutrient-dense. Other foods come from local sources as well, such as the buns and beverages, including craft beers and wines.
Tables and chairs are provided, but guests are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs as those tables fill up fast, especially on peak summer nights when the weather is perfect. Stephanie cautioned that on those perfect summer evenings guests should be prepared to wait a bit for their order; however, with a farm to explore and so much to do, no one’s in much of a hurry for their food anyway. There are outdoor games to play, farm animals to check out, and room to run around. As the sun goes down there’s a bonfire and a clear view of the stars, with live music on Friday and Saturday nights. In June, July, and August, guests can also purchase tickets for a wagon-ride tour of the entire farm.
Other events at Together Farms include Chef Dinners on the Farm, held the second Wednesday of the month from June through September and featuring multi-course, seasonal meals prepared on-site by local gourmet cooks. These dinners require reservations and a ticket. There’s also an on-site store in the old milkhouse, where guests can purchase some of the farm’s meats to take home. A larger store building is under construction and, weather permitting, could be open by the end of the summer.
“We’re really excited for that because we could bring in more products from local producers,” Stephanie said. “There’s lots of potential for showcasing more of what our region is producing.”
Together Farms is located at W93 Norden Road, Mondovi, WI 54755. Burger Nights are held May through October on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 9 p.m. Reservations are not needed. Learn more about the farm by visiting togetherfarms.com, calling 715-210-4740, or emailing email@example.com.
Other On-Farm Eateries
Riverland Energy Cooperative’s service territory is home to a number of unique on-the-farm dining experiences. In addition to Together Farms and The Stone Barn, the following pizza farms are located on Riverland Energy’s lines:
Suncrest Gardens Pizza Farm
S2257 Yager Valley Road, Cochrane, WI 54622
Suncrest Gardens offers a wide variety of stone-fired pizzas, with a selection of appetizers, desserts, and beverages. There’s live music on Friday and Saturday evenings, weather permitting, as well as lots of play equipment and games, farm animals to see, and a u-pick flower garden to walk through. Suncrest Gardens’ season this year is May 6 through October 1. It’s open Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 3 to 8 p.m., rain or shine. Limited seating is available in the barn although guests may bring their own lawn chairs. No reservations necessary. For more information, visit suncrestgardensfarm.com, follow Suncrest Gardens on Facebook, or call 608-626-2122.
Winghaven Pizza Farm
N18057 Grover Lane, Galesville, WI 54630
Winghaven Pizza Farm (featured in the June 2018 WECN, wecnmagazine.com/article/pizza-with-pizzazz/) serves original-recipe stone-fired pizzas as well as locally sourced appetizers, stone-cooked soft pretzels, desserts, and beverages. Winghaven Pizza Farm is open this year from May 27 until cold weather closes it down, rain or shine, Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Some tables and chairs are available but guests are also encouraged to bring their own seating. There’s live music on the Winghaven Main Stage throughout the season; check Winghaven’s Facebook page for upcoming events. No reservations needed. For more information, visit winghavenpizzafarm.com, follow Winghaven’s Facebook page, or call 608-519-4228.
Dancing Yarrow Farm to Fork Retreat
S193 County Road BB, Mondovi, WI 54755
The Dancing Yarrow Farm to Fork Retreat is a holistic and wellness retreat hosting workshops and classes. Among its many offerings are wood-fired pizza and open mic nights held every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. during the summer months at the property’s refurbished horse barn. This month’s season runs through September 29. Indoor and outdoor seating is available but guests are encouraged to bring their own blankets or chairs. Visit farmtoforkretreat.com, follow Farm to Fork Pizza at Dancing Yarrow on Facebook, or call 715-309-5238.
The Stone Barn
Near the village of Nelson is The Stone Barn, where Matt and Marcy Smith and their crew serve up wood-fired, artisan-style pizzas to guests at their historic farm nestled in a beautiful valley.
Both teachers, Matt and Marcy worked here together for two summers for the previous owner, Pam Taylor, who had been operating a pizza restaurant on the property since 2006. Matt and Marcy learned the pizza farm business from Taylor, and when she was looking to step back from the operation, the couple decided to step up and purchase the farm from her in 2016. Marcy still teaches, but Matt now concentrates on The Stone Barn full-time.
In transitioning to owners, the Smiths took on stewardship of a farmstead that’s been around since the 1880s. The Stone Barn itself was built in 1896 as part of the largest farm in what is now known as Norwegian Valley. Taylor purchased the farm in 1991 and restored the buildings, including a Victorian brick house, a granary built in 1880, a white barn built in 1920, and finally the stone barn, which had collapsed in the 1990s, leaving just the stone walls still standing proud. Rather than take down the walls that had endured for more than a century, Olson added a new roof and turned the former dairy barn into a restaurant, with a kitchen and bar inside and a courtyard outside for seating, in the open air but still within the stone walls.
Olson’s menu featured some unique combinations in addition to more standard options. Among The Stone Barn’s more unusual pizzas are The Alaskan, with smoked salmon, onions, dill, and capers; The Greek, with lamb, onions, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and oregano; and The Modena, with balsamic chicken, onions, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and feta cheese. The Smiths saw no need to make major changes to the mouthwatering menu, but they did add a weekly special.
However, they’ve bolstered the local sourcing of the ingredients. Many ingredients already came from nearby; for example, the ground lamb for The Greek pizzas comes from a sheep farm just eight miles away. This year, The Stone Barn began partnering with Burnett Dairy in nearby Grantsburg, where neighboring farms take their milk, for cheese.
“The farm that borders us sells their milk to Burnett Dairy, so now we’re actually sourcing cheese that is produced with milk that is produced by our neighbors,” Matt pointed out. “When it’s fall and you see these 10-foot cornstalks right next to where people are eating, and they’re using the corn as backdrop to their photos, it’s going to be great to be able to tell them that corn that they’re standing in front of feeds the cows that make the milk that makes the cheese that is on the pizza they’re eating right now.”
The Stone Barn also carries Chocolate Shoppe ice cream from Madison and local and regional craft beers and wine.
The food, however, is only part of The Stone Barn’s attraction. Those aforementioned cornstalks are part of a stunning backdrop to the dining experience and among the reasons why people travel from many miles to come here.
“Wisconsin has this tradition of supper clubs where you will drive to the middle of nowhere just because it’s a nice drive and it’s a really unique spot,” Matt said. “So here we are, in the unglaciated region of Wisconsin, where we have all these bluffs, and these hills, and our spot right in this valley. That’s what you’re coming for—the scenery and the beauty.”
And the fun. Any given pizza night will find children running around playing soccer and other games with the equipment that’s always available, while other guests explore the historic barns, feed the goats that are kept for “lawnmowing and entertainment,” or browse through the gift shop in the old granary. Family reunions and birthday parties are also held here. In short, “This isn’t a place where you just come and eat your pizza and leave,” Matt pointed out.—Mary Erickson
The Stone Barn is located at S685 County Road KK, Nelson, WI 54756. It’s open for pizza on Fridays from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturdays noon to 9 p.m., and Sundays noon to 8 p.m. from Mother’s Day weekend to as late into October as the weather allows. Reservations are not needed, but for groups of 20 or more some advance notice is requested. Learn more at www.thenelsonstonebarn.com or call 715-673-4478.