BRODHEAD, Wis. — Working in cryptology for the U.S. Navy, Betty Anderson developed analytic skills. She continues to use those skills today as a farmer — but her analysis has given her pause.
“We originally thought raising meat animals would be our main focus — and our retirement plan so to speak,” she said about the farm she owns with her husband, Dane Anderson. “That has shifted somewhat. As we approach our retirement we realize so many things can happen. We hope to farm for as long as physically possible, but we’re also planning for other possible eventualities.”
The Andersons haven’t been farming long; they’ve held jobs in other industries. But Dane Anderson in 2012 inherited part of his parents’ farm. He has since purchased the rest from his sister. Currently he and his wife raise a cow, two steers, a few goats and assorted chickens, ducks and guinea fowl. They also annually buy a few feeder pigs to finish. They call their farm the “Old Smith Place” in honor of the previous owners.
“We’re basically homesteaders,” Betty Anderson said with a smile. “We raise fruit, vegetables and meat. I have a value-added business making gourmet jams, jellies and pickled products. This year we’ll also grow industrial hemp and be doing a lot of learning.”
The Andersons spent the first couple of years on the farm renovating the house and repairing the barn.
“We’ve poured a lot of resources into things that should increase the farm’s ‘salability’ if we need to sell it,” she said.
That has involved investing in a new septic system and upgrading the farmhouse’s bathrooms to make the home more accessible for people with disabilities.
“One of my dreams is to build a commercial kitchen that’s not only accessible, but workable for people with disabilities,” she said. “I’d love to continue making my canned goods, but standing all day to do it becomes more difficult as I age.”
She’d like to provide jobs for military veterans with disabilities, she said, and to share with them the farm’s calm setting.
“The land and the animals can do their healing work on our minds and emotions as well as just the physical aspects,” she said.
When the Andersons planned for the new septic system, they chose the largest one possible to help the farm be more valuable to buyers with a large family or to handle the size of a commercial kitchen.
Also figuring into their analysis was the possibility, if necessary, of opening a bed and breakfast or a community-based residential facility for seniors with special needs.
Anderson learned a number of skills — from electronics to plumbing to maintenance — while in the Navy. She further honed those skills working as a missionary and then as a technical director for a church — before joining Homes Thru Financial Freedom of Beloit, Wisconsin. She helped that organization’s founder Matt Finnegan rehabilitate properties and match them with families in the process of learning the basics of financial literacy.
When she and her husband moved to the farm, they planned to raise goats for meat. She had become accustomed to eating goat meat when she traveled to various countries, she said, during her years in the Navy and doing missionary work.
“While in Haiti I learned that goat meat was not only tasty, but that goats were also fun,” she said. “But the lack of inspected mobile-slaughter facilities has kept us from growing that portion of our farm business.”
That’s one of the reason she worked with other livestock farmers on a study to determine the need for greater meat-processing capacity in southern Wisconsin. They secured a $20,000 grant from North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education to measure livestock-producer interest in both brick-and-mortar and on-farm slaughter capabilities.
“Just being a farmer has changed my view of meat and meat consumption,” she said. “I’m still a beginning farmer and a big part of my ‘awakening’ was the purchase of Lilly, our cow. She came to us pregnant with her first calf (named Burger-chan). I never really looked at farm animals as particularly sentient beings. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth; the cycle of life played out here has been very nurturing. We care for Lilly, and she provides us milk as well as meat through her offspring. We have a relationship with her.
“The day we butchered Burger-chan almost made me want to stop eating meat. But once the meat arrived I was shocked. I had never tasted anything as tender, juicy and delicious. I knew giving animals a good life is a good thing, but I didn’t really understand the amount of damage one could cause by stressing an animal in its last moments of life. Burger-chan never saw his death coming. It’s my pact with the animals we raise for food; we give them a good life and a quick painless end. It’s difficult to do, but it has changed the way I see raising animals for food.
“Until the issue of inspected mobile slaughtering is resolved, I can’t see raising meat for sale. I need to know I can have an animal’s entire life — and that includes its death — under my control.”
For now she’ll raise enough livestock to provide meat for her family and to share, she said. But this is the first year she has been able to schedule a mobile-slaughtering date with Natural Harvest of Spring Green, Wisconsin — so she may be able to sell surplus meat. But that company provides one of the region’s few inspected mobile-slaughtering units.
The Andersons currently do their own processing for their poultry.
“We like raising ducks, but the processing is difficult,” she said. “If we were to find a waterfowl processor, we might increase production in that area. Again it’s dependent upon processing availability.”