Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part article.
WASHBURN, Wis. – We build new structures and think they are permanent. Many only last decades. But world religions describe permanence differently – a state of being attained by living a life that puts love first. Treating land, forests, water, air, crops, animals and people with love can send ripples of grace forward endlessly across generations. That’s permanence.
Along Bayfield County Highway C near Washburn some old farm machinery sits in a field. Among other machines is an Allis-Chalmers All Crop Harvester, originally made to fit a WD model tractor; it’s just waiting for the next harvest season. In good condition, it’s ready for work. Next to it stands a small sign that says, “Farm Store.” An arrow points to Maple Hill Road.
Follow Maple Hill Road and one comes to a farmyard with another small sign for the farm store. The farm is neat and welcoming. The barn and outbuildings have a distinctive look, built from scratch with wood siding and subtle details. A flock of chickens scratch in the snow. They have bright eyes, full feathers and approach strangers without fear. They come and go at will from one of the wooden buildings.
Tom and Connie Cogger have since 1995 been producing food for the community around Chequamegon Bay in far-northern Wisconsin; that’s when they started Maple Hill Farm. The Coggers grow hay, mustard for seed and potatoes. They also grow and grind their own grain into flour. On a winter morning Tom Cogger was finishing dressing the stones in his grist mill.
“We do wheat, rye and oat flour,” he said. “At some point I want to do buckwheat flour too. We sell flour to CoCo’s (a local bakery) and we have been contacted by a couple of businesses that are opening. We are part of the Bayfield Foods Cooperative. We sell quite a lot of bagged flour through the co-op; people can order boxes of what they want from them.”
Sustainability has been a goal of the farm.
“We put up solar panels on our barn about 15 years ago, it’s a 5-kilowatt system,” he said.
The couple believes they were one of the first in Bayfield County to use solar.
“There were no grants back then, but the prices (on solar systems) kept going down so we did it,” he said. “We also bought into the solar garden that Bayfield Electric Co-op built.”
Maple Hill Farm markets wool products.
“My husband gave me a spinning wheel,” Connie Cogger said. “So I learned how to spin. For about a decade we had sheep. We don’t have sheep now but I still make yarn.”
From the yarn comes mittens, hats and accessories.
Tom Cogger said, “I want to keep farming as long as I can. We feel secure here (in the country.) We grow our own food. Through the years we’ve fed thousands of families.”
And though their operation has changed through the years, from hogs and early peppers and tomatoes to strawberries and flour, it’s still going strong – complete with the self-service farm store.
Connie Cogger said, “Our son in Duluth makes maple syrup. He also has about 15 beehives. We market his syrup and honey. He makes soap and salve. I make rugs, hats, mittens, yarn and soap. We carry products from other farmers in our cooperative, like the lactose-free foods in our cooler. We market meat, beef and chicken.”
Tom Cogger said, “The last of the potatoes are in the cooler. (And) our daughter makes painted rocks.”
He also makes wooden baskets.
During conversation years flow past; children grow up and start their own families. The flow of love that brings permanence is seen in the goods the community buys in the little store. Thousands of families have been fed through the years. Some folks seek the answers to the mystery of life. One can see some of those answers at Maple Hill Farm.
To be continued ...
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.