MONROE — The Farm Aid festival is back in Wisconsin this year and attendees will have the chance to taste a true Wisconsin beer there — one brewed 100% with ingredients from one family farm in Green County.
Jeremy Beach, owner of Cheese City Beer Company, will be bringing close to 10 barrels of his “Agriculture Ale” to the event on Sept. 21 as part of HOMEGROWN Concessions, an area of the festival dedicated to offering attendees local and organic food and beverage options, with the majority of them sourced from family farms across Wisconsin.
Beach is excited to have his “Agriculture Ale” available on tap and in cans at the festival — something he may not have imagined happening three years ago when he started Cheese City Beer Company. After working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., Beach returned to Wisconsin with a crazy idea to pursue beer-making with a special twist.
“I had this idea to start my own beer company where I grew all the ingredients on the farm,” he said.
He’d seen local food movement trends erupting on the east coast, including the desire for consumers to know where their food comes from, who the farmer is that grew it and the process involved in getting that product into their hands.
“I thought it was a cool notion, and I wondered if it could be done for beer,” Beach said.
As it turned out, it hadn’t been done yet. To Beach’s knowledge, he is the first person in the Midwest, and possibly in the U.S., who is growing on a single farm 100% of what is going into his beer. He is also likely the only brewer in America who is using only the barley and hops grown on his own farm to produce a beer sold commercially.
Beach grew up on his family’s farm southwest of Monroe, and his parents still live there. His brother, Andy, is in the process of purchasing the farm from his parents, allowing Beach to continue to grow the ingredients he needs for his beer there — from hops to more specialized ingredients like aronia berries and hazelnuts.
Even the water used to make the beer is from the farm, with Beach filling totes of well water and taking them to the brewery to be made into “Agriculture Ale.” He refers to his beer as an “estate ale,” meaning all the ingredients are inclusive from one estate.
He hopes to engage those who drink his beer with a broader perspective about food and the supply chain, especially since all his ingredients are grown on his farm and can be grown on other farms all across Wisconsin with success.
“We can produce all these ingredients in Wisconsin and can incorporate local ingredients into other breweries too,” Beach said. “It’s a new alternative that I hope to promote as it gains traction — to get a movement going in the state.”
When he heard Farm Aid was coming back to Wisconsin, he knew he had to be part of it. He reached out to Farm Aid organizers and was able to submit his farm and beer’s story for the HOMEGROWN Concessions area of the festival. After a third party Farm Aid representative visited his farm and Cheese City Beer Company provided a sponsorship, Beach’s beer was approved to be offered as a local, sustainably sourced beverage at the festival.
Several other Wisconsin breweries will also have beers available at the festival, something Beach calls “a great opportunity for lots of Wisconsin breweries and businesses.”
“In some ways, I’m trying to promote awareness of the current state of agriculture and business with my beer,” Beach said. “Agriculture, more broadly, has become more centralized and we’re losing small farms during tough times.”
He’d like to see a group of stakeholders, farmers and consumers come together to see if there’s some positive effect to garnered from using local ingredients and trying new things.
“I think it’s an area where I see some opportunities for collaboration,” Beach said.
For more information on Beach’s “Agriculture Ale,” including where to find it, please visit cheesecitybeer.com.
COLFAX — Fun, educational opportunities, and, of course, cows were in abundance at the 12th annual Farm-City Day held Sept. 7 at Denmark Dairy near Colfax in Dunn County.
Karl and Mandy Kragness, their daughter Olivia, and Dennis and Mary Kragness are building on a more-than-century-long family tradition on the farm as they continue to grow their farm in stages. They were happy to welcome people from around the area to their farm to get an up-close look at their dairy operation.
From a petting zoo, machinery from local implement dealers and a variety of educational and informative booths and exhibits to lunch available for purchase from a local 4-H club and wagon ride tours of the farm, the day provided plenty of opportunities to explore and learn about some of the inner workings of agriculture.
The wagon rides looped around the farm, with guides to explain what was occurring at each area, and wound through the cattle barns for an up-close look at the farm’s mainstay.
The farm’s milking parlor could be viewed through windows or on a TV screen in the attached office.
“I think they’re going to see that we are a family farm, even though we are a rather large farm,” Karl said.
Between the primary farm near Colfax and a recently acquired property near Ridgeland, the Kragnesses have approximately 2,400 cows and 4,500 acres, Karl said.
Heifers on the farm are raised to six months, and then they are moved to a small town in Nebraska to be raised on dirt lots for a year and half before they come back to the farm.
Cow comfort, safety, and efficiency are driving factors behind how the operation is run.
“Cow comfort runs hand in hand with the quality of milk products that we get out of these cows,” Karl said.
Denmark Dairy has implemented a complex sand-separation system designed to reclaim 90% of sand used for bedding, an investment that saves them 25 to 30 semi loads of sand a week. Along with the sand bedding, free-choice feeding, fans and a sprinkler system over the cows help keep the cows as comfortable as possible.
Each part of the process works together in a system that seems to function well for the farm. Denmark Dairy also employs approximately 40 people to keep the farm operating smoothly.
“It’s quite a process that I think we take for granted because we see it every day,” Karl said.
Dairy is a unique industry, Karl said, because there are a lot of different ways to do it and a lot of different ways to do it right. By hosting Farm-City Day, people could see why the Kragnesses run their business the way they do and how it helps them stay competitive.
“People driving by don’t get to see this stuff, so it’s an opportunity for them to stop in and see firsthand what we do,” Karl said.
Anticipated attendance numbers for Farm-City Day on Sept. 7 exceeded 1,000. In addition to the Sept. 7 event, the farm welcomed 550 third- and fourth-graders and their teachers to the farm on Sept. 6 for a full-day field trip.
There are plenty of educational opportunities for kids to see on the farm, Karl said, and Farm-City Day can help open the kids’ eyes to the agricultural industry.
Farm-City Day rotates to a different farm annually between Dunn, Eau Claire and Chippewa counties. A wide variety of farms, small or large, organic or more traditional, are included in the rotation, said Katie Wantoch, UW-Extension Dunn County agriculture agent.
“Last year our host farm was an organic dairy and this year’s more traditional, a little larger, a lot more cows on this farm than last year’s host farm,” Wantoch said in reference to the varying scales of represented farms. “They do different practices, and it’s nice to show people what they have here.”
Planning for this Farm-City Day began six months ago, Wantoch said. An all-volunteer committee organizes the event and goes through the process of selecting a host farm, lining up sponsors, and arranging for volunteers to cover all aspects of the free event.
More information about Farm-City Day and full biographies of Denmark Dairy and previous host farms can be found by visiting www.farm-cityday.com.
ELKHORN — Since 1985, musicians have come together to host the Farm Aid festival, bringing together artists, farmers and fans in support of keeping family farmers on the land. This year, the popular festival is returning Wisconsin — only the second time in the event’s history that it’s has been held in “America’s Dairyland.”
Farm Aid 2019 will be held in a similar economic climate to the one that sparked the first Farm Aid concert in 1985, which was held in response to a catastrophic collapse of the farm economy and resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of family farmers from the land.
Farmers across the country are now enduring a multi-year downturn in the U.S. agricultural economy, impacts of intensifying corporate consolidation, rising production costs, diminished crop yields from extreme weather and market disruptions. Wisconsin is no different — with dairy farmers especially feeling the effects of a harsh agricultural economy.
Wisconsin is home to about 7,700 dairy farms, which is more than any other state in the U.S. However, there were 691 dairy farm closings in 2018, with another 388 closing since then. Wisconsin also recorded 49 Chapter 12 bankruptcies in 2018, more than any other state.
“With devastating weather, low prices and harmful farm and trade policies, America’s family farmers are facing immense challenges to hold onto their farms. It’s not right ... family farmers are essential for all of us,” said Willie Nelson, Farm Aid president and founder. “By bringing our festival to the heart of the struggle, we will stand side by side with farmers.
“At Farm Aid 2019, we’ll highlight solutions and show our support for family farmers’ contributions to our health, economy and environment.”
The all-day celebration of music and family farmers is coming up this weekend, Sept. 21, at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy. The musical line-up includes Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews as well as Tim Reynolds, Bonnie Raitt, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Tanya Tucker, Brothers Osborne, Yola, Particle Kid and Ian Mellencamp.
The festival also features two special areas dedicated to American agriculture: HOMEGROWN Village and HOMEGROWN Concessions.
In the HOMEGROWN Village, thousands of people will have the opportunity to explore exhibits about soil, water, energy, food and farming through art, games and hands-on activities. Farmers and artists will be on-hand to discuss issues within the agriculture industry and share their stories — all in the name of celebrating the culture of agriculture.
Dozens of Wisconsin organizations will be participating in the HOMEGROWN Village, including Central Rivers Farmshed, Stevens Point; Forest County Potawatomi Community Farm, Laona; REAP Food Group, Madison; SLO Farmers Cooperative, Seymour; Wormfarm Institute, Reedsburg; East Troy FFA, East Troy; Elkhorn FFA, Elkhorn; Family Farm Defenders, Madison; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Spring Valley; University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability, Madison; Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Madison; Wisconsin Farmers Union, Chippewa Falls; Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council, Gillet; Equal Exchange, Madison; Words for Water, Bayfield; USDA-NRCS, Juneau; and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, East Troy.
Festival goers can learn something new in the HOMEGROWN Village by visiting the Homegrown Skills Tent. This area features demonstrations and workshops on fermentation, propagating lavender, making soap from milk, beekeeping, grain milling and seed saving. Farmers from Wisconsin and beyond will also gather in front of the FarmYard stage within the village to chat with attendees as well.
HOMEGROWN Concessions on the festival grounds will feature family farm-identified, local and organic foods. Many Wisconsin foods and beverages will be available, sourcing the food items from family farms to feed the 30,000 concert-goers that are expected to attend Farm Aid this year.
Since 1985, Farm Aid has raised $57 million to help family farmers all over the country while inspiring millions of people to take part in the Good Food Movement.
Tickets for the festival went on sale in July and sold out in record time for the third year in a row. However, those interested in listening at home can live stream the event starting at 2 p.m. on Sept. 21 at farmaid.org. The show will also be broadcast live on Farm Aid’s YouTube channel.