PESHTIGO, Wis. – Asked if she had ever imagined she would be a farmer, Erin Pape answered without any hesitation, “No; I never thought that would ever happen.”
The answer is surprising considering the ease with which she and her husband, Aaron, move a herd of cattle at Pape Family Pastures, a grass-fed beef, pork and chicken operation near Peshtigo. But she grew up in suburban Milwaukee; she’s an orthopedic nurse-practitioner and never considered farming as a profession.
Some people aren’t sure how they landed where they are in life. Others have had a transformative experience that has set a specific course. Pape is one of the latter.
A few years ago not long after she married her husband, the two visited Aldo Leopold’s shack in Sauk County, Wisconsin. While at the shack she had an epiphany, she said. Suddenly she knew the two were destined to practice conservation to save and improve land as Leopold had done in Sauk County.
“I had never been exposed to anything like that in my life,” Erin Pape said. “This idea of restoring land that had been beat up and turning it in to something beautiful … all of a sudden I could feel a switch go off. What he was talking about was part of a worldwide phenomenon of taking care of land and making what it should be.
“I feel like I went from not understanding conservation to looking at what Leopold did. I had gone to National Parks and I thought that was what conservation meant. I didn’t know conservation was something I could do. I could have a bigger impact than one individual could accomplish.”
“When Aaron and I first got married we did not know this was the journey we would go on.”
Aaron Pape is a farm-business and production-management instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. He said he had always wanted to return to his grandparents’ farm to improve the land. But it was a puzzle as to what they could do to make the farm productive and to practice conservation.
“We knew we wanted to promote conservation," he said. "We explored a lot of options. We wanted the land to be productive and we wanted to practice conservation. We thought about permaculture, trees, hops and hazelnuts. But we settled on rotational grazing. We knew it was good for the environment. It was good for the soil. We knew it would help heal the land.”
Not long after the visit to the shack they had an opportunity to purchase a friend’s small family farm just down the road from the grandparent farm.
The couple currently runs Pape Family Pastures on the farm they bought in 2016. But they also have plans to expand their operation onto part of his grandparents’ old farm too.
“We did a lot of research to discover what would be our passion,” Erin Pape said. “Without passion and a plan you don’t get through the challenges. It is important to reminisce and see how far you’ve come.”
Growing up in the suburbs she was looking for deeper meaning in life, she said. A life in suburbia would have had the temptations of screen time and “keeping up with the Joneses.”
“In a society that faces more and more challenges we knew we were looking for a place with deeper meaning,” she said. “I wanted a strong marriage and relationship. With projects to work on together, you come together. You have a stronger marriage when you are working together on a project. This farm is that project for us.”
Visit papefamilypastures.com for more information.