WASHBURN, Wis. – Buying local farm products and knowing the farmers who produce them really aren’t new ideas. Sustainability through use of local produce is a way to conserve resources, improve health and make a rural economy vibrant.
Next to Chequamegon Bay in far-northern Wisconsin there is a fourth-generation family dairy that has been providing fresh dairy products directly to local customers for more than a century. Tetzner’s Dairy is located just south of Washburn on a 420-acre hillside family farm overlooking Lake Superior. For decades generations of customers have been coming up the hill to buy farm-fresh milk and ice cream right on the farm where it’s produced. Pete Tetzner, who works the farm with his extended family, said four generations of Tetzners have run their dairy.
The dairy was started by his great-grandfather, Frank Tetzner. His son, Phillip Tetzner, started working at the dairy as a child – and is still working there. According to Pete Tetzner, Phillip Tetzner is still the boss. Phillip Tetzner’s sons Greg and Kevin, and Greg Tetzner’s sons Pete and Matt, along with their spouses, own the dairy. Customers who come to the dairy cannot help but meet the Tetzner family.
The farm is in the vicinity of Nevers Road. All crops grown are for the dairy operation. The Tetzners milk a 60-head dairy herd using a robotic milker with a freestall barn. The dairy uses about half the milk produced on the farm, with the remainder bulk-shipped. The current on-site milk plant that pasteurizes and bags milk dates back to the 1970s. Currently pasteurized milk is available as both whole and reduced-fat.
Ice cream production began in the 1980s. Several sizes of ice cream containers are available in a variety of flavors. Sales at the farm are self-service. Customers choose items, list them on an envelope, put cash in the envelope and deposit the envelope into a cash box. The sales are on the honor system; Pete Tetzner said it works well. Products from Tetzner’s Dairy are also available in stores around Chequamegon Bay.
“I was born into dairy farming,” he said. “I’m able to work outside a lot. It’s a lot of hours, but if you like what you do it’s good. It’s a good place to raise a family. I have a lot of good memories here. Kids here can learn values and learn how to work.
“When milk prices are low, direct sales of milk are helpful. There’s a lot of time and cost to running a plant like this, but with a herd this size you need something like it to keep things going.”
Ice cream also helps sustain sales volume when fluid-milk consumption declines.
Some experts say farms need to grow bigger or go out of business. But Pete Tetzner said he believes the farm is the right size for his family.
“We don’t have time for putting in another robot and having twice as much manure to haul and feed to make,” he said. “We don’t need more milk for the processing plant. People around here like knowing where their food comes from.
“We have been around a very long time. People trust us. Keep it local and money stays in this area. We are lucky that people here understand how important it is to keep local agriculture strong.”
And a lot of dairy customers around Chequamegon Bay are glad to know the Tetzner family.