by Gail March Yerke
As the USDA reports a continued decline of working farms each year, it’s good to hear there are still those willing to start a new farm. It’s a sign of hope during these times, when a worldwide pandemic and economic uncertainty casts a shadow over small family businesses of all kinds. But exactly who takes on the risk and challenge of a new farm start-up these days?
Bryan Padovana and Lauren Ditscheist Padovana enjoyed successful careers in marketing and advertising in Wisconsin before they decided to take a break from the corporate world and head west. They made the 2,000-mile move to Portland, OR, and Lauren took the lead, working on an organic vegetable farm on Bainbridge Island. “We both love the outdoors and we were out there together for about three years,” she said. “We really liked the farm lifestyle and had a goal to create our own family farm.”
Bryan continued working as a graphic designer there, and together the couple learned about organic growing methods and sustainable practices. They found land in Oregon more costly than Wisconsin and returned to their home state to search for farmland close to a metropolitan area, family and friends.
What’s in a Name?
At one time Lauren’s great-grandparents had a vegetable farm north of Milwaukee. It was eventually sold to developers as Milwaukee-area freeways were expanded. Lauren remembers her parents reminiscing about the farm where her great-grandparents raised 12 children. Everyone helped on the farm and at that time it was commonplace to work the fields with horse-drawn plows. The day that her great-grandfather brought home the farm’s first tractor, one of his sons was so excited he said, “It’s a happy day!” He then painted a smiley face on the side of their barn and soon they became known throughout the community as Happy Day Farm.
Lauren and Bryan eventually found land in nearby Germantown, a community within 30 miles of Milwaukee. The location was ideal for traveling to farmers markets and distributing their CSA program. With the community’s rich German heritage and Lauren’s family history, they decided to name their farm Happy Day Farmhaus.
Like many others beginning a new business, both worked other jobs during the day while getting their new venture started. In one of her first blogs announcing the purchase of their farm, Lauren quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Adapt to the pace of nature, her secret is patience.” She pointed out that you can try, plan, prepare and dedicate for life to move in a certain direction. At the end of the day, however, nature takes over and may have other plans for you. For example, their first greenhouses couldn’t go up until corn was harvested from the fields. Then, frost was an issue. Anyone that farms for a living can probably relate with similar stories.
“We started our first year pretty minimal,” said Bryan. “Everything was started from seed in our own propagation house.” Half of the six acres in field production is vegetables; the other half is cut flowers. Floral fields are strategically placed to aid in pollination. One of their goals is to add a U-pick operation. The farm has two hoop houses and plans to add high tunnel production in the future. Their operation falls into a growing population of farmers who adhere to organic requirements but are not certified. The history of their land prevents them from taking that step at this time, but they are not ruling it out as a possibility in the future.
Their website showcases available produce each week during the growing season and offers the latest news from the farm in a blog called “Notes from the Field.” Bryan’s graphic design and photography talents are evident on the website and social media posts. The “What’s in Season” page shows images of what is available at farmers markets they attend as well. Besides flowers and produce, Happy Day Farmhaus offers cage-free eggs.
Their Farm Share CSA offers a menu of 30 items that subscribers can select from each week. Emails are sent with that week’s additional and changing product availability and recipes. Participants can customize their share for home delivery or pick up at drop-off locations. “CSA sales have been really strong,” said Bryan.
“People feel connected to the farm and really like being able to make their selections each week. We love giving them those options,” added Lauren. Membership to their 20-week CSA program sold out in their first season.
When asked if there were any suggestions for others considering starting a small farm operation, Lauren quickly responded, “There’s not a lot of information out there on starting a farm. You just need to jump in, get your hands dirty and go for it. We learned a lot this past year and already have plans for next year.”
The couple plans on adding more farmers markets in 2021 and expanding their CSA program. With Lauren and Bryan’s optimism, determination and hard work, Happy Day Farmhaus is aiming for happy days in the years ahead.