As Wendy and I began a road trip to Palm Springs, California, it would be only a few hours before we made our first stop near Clear Lake, Wisconsin. We pulled into the driveway of the Turnip Rock Community Supported Agriculture and Cosmic Wheel Creamery farm.
Visiting in January is a bit different than being there during the growing season. An air of calmness pervades the space. That was true to an even greater extent when Wendy and I stepped into their home to discuss the operation with owners Rama Hoffpauir and Josh Bryceson. Their children Otto, 8, and Sadie, 5, were at school.
Hoffpauir and Bryceson met in 2005 on a CSA farm that Bryceson was managing. They were married in 2008 just a week before they signed the paperwork to purchase their first farm near New Auburn, Wisconsin. Bryceson described their first farm as being too rocky with not enough land to accomplish their vision of having a small dairy. So they moved to their current location near Clear Lake. They describe their farm as an ecosystem with annual vegetables, perennial-grass pastures for their 15-cow grazing-based herd, and wildlife integrated into the fold. The vegetable portion of their 180-member CSA is grown on 4 acres with hoop houses and outdoor garden plots. They set themselves apart from the average CSA by producing artisan cheese from their grass-fed dairy herd. In addition their pig-growing niche utilizes whey left from cheese production. By adding eggs from a neighboring farm, they offer a CSA box that comprises a full diet.
Cosmic Wheel Creamery is the couple’s cheesemaking operation. They produce raw-milk natural-rind cheese, which were in varying stages of aging in a small curing room attached to the barn. Two of the Gruyere cheese feature a taste variation specific to what the cows were eating when the cheese was produced. The Moonshadow variety was made when the cows were eating hay while Moonglow was produced while the cows were on grass pasture. Feta, curds, quark and whole-milk ricotta are also produced with fresh pasteurized milk. Bryceson milks his herd once daily during the growing season to produce cheese. A small parlor is retro-fitted into their dairy barn to accomplish that, though the herd was dry when I visited them.
Bryceson and Hoffpauir have taken a unique path to arrive at where they are in life. They both have backgrounds in the art world. Hoffpauir attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and Bryceson was an art student in Kansas after graduating from high school. Living the lives of artists is still important to them; they feel they are an example of “experiential artists.” Hoffpauir describes the work she does as fulfilling her need to produce art. Bryceson said a garden is merely a temporary work of art.
Experiential art is different from that of gallery or object art. It’s about being a living example of art through interactions with the outside world. Things used to make experiential art often occur in the natural world or are recycled objects. In some instances there doesn’t need to be any specific object involved. One of Hoffpauir’s artistic influences is the sculptor Kinji Akagawa who creates stone benches among other things. Hoffpauir quoted him as saying, “It’s not about the bench; it’s about the people interacting while sitting on the bench.” Hoffpauir described their work as a melding of art and life.
Although Bryceson and Hoffpauir are in a stable place in terms of the financial health of their business, they said one can never be complacent about the evolving nature of customer buying habits. Because they sell in the Minneapolis Mill City market, they said they’re beginning to feel a sense of competition from trendy upscale grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Online shopping is another trend they are watching closely. Farming is tenuous, one must be forward-thinking and proactively react to variables that nature and customers present, Hoffpauir said.
Another thing the couple has been impacted by is the number of people in their lives who are at the end stages of their farming careers – and have been caught off-guard by it. That, of course, includes Wendy and me. As a result Bryceson said he hopes to add developing an exit strategy to his long-term-goal list.
It was good to visit with the forward-thinking couple. We hope for the best of luck to them as they continue their journey living life as artists whose medium is the earth beneath their feet and the lives they touch along the way. Visit www.turniprock.com for more information.
Greg and Wendy Galbraith have since 1989 owned a 229-acre grass-based dairy farm in eastern Marathon County, Wisconsin, near the dells of the Eau Claire River. Visit www.poeticfarmer.com for more information.