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Organic produce business breathes life into former dairy farm

Organic produce business breathes life into former dairy farm

Ben Priesgen believes in keeping family farms alive, especially his own family’s former dairy farm. Even though no cows are milked there today, the Priesgen family has worked together during the last year to bring life back to the farm in the form of organic produce. The business is called Country Blossoms Organics, LLC and is situated on Priesgen’s parents’ 120-acre farm near Lomira, Wisconsin.

“This is a new adventure,” Priesgen said. “I always thought about doing something with the land and this was the most creative idea I could come up with. Local produce is becoming more of a need because we all need better quality food.”

Priesgen, his wife, Jenny, along with his parents and sister, grow all sorts of organic produce, such as garlic, dill, parsley, basil, cilantro, lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beets, onions, pumpkins, squash, carrots, sweet corn, sunflowers, marigolds and calendula. This first season, the garden spanned one and a half acres, but Priesgen has dreams of expanding it during the next few years.

Priesgen has been thinking about creating this business for a long time, he said. He wanted to keep the farm in the family, keep it usable and provide a lasting, purposeful legacy for his three children, ages 8, 4 and 2. When a neighboring farmer wanted to rent some of the land to grow organic alfalfa, Priesgen saw an opportunity that would help his dream reach fruition.

“My parents were thinking ahead to have organic certification done five years ago,” he said. “It was a good decision because it saves us the time of having to do it now.”

The land is inspected annually by Midwest Organic Services Association. Priesgen said he can walk into grocery stores and restaurants and present the farm’s certification, which assures other business owners that Country Blossoms Organics adheres to organic-certification standards.

This year, the Priesgen family sold produce at area farmers markets, such as the Lomira Farmers Market for 18 weeks, Kewaskum Farmers Market for 10 weeks and the Oconomowoc Farmers Market for eight weeks. Total sales include direct from-the-farm sales, deliveries, farmers markets and stores.

The primary project for the Priesgen family this year, besides planting, caring for and selling produce during their first year, was to install a hoop house on the property. They hope to start produce in it next season in early February and prolong the growing season through November.

“This will put us a little ahead of some other farms that don’t have the option for a longer growing season,” Priesgen said. “It’ll be a great spot to start some seeds too.”

Priesgen tries to keep everything as fresh as possible when fulfilling orders, so the family uses a walk-in cooler in the old dairy barn to store harvested products. Floral arrangements are also stored there.

In September, Country Blossoms Organics landed an agreement to sell produce to Good Harvest, an organic market in Pewaukee. Priesgen was not expecting to see such good fortune during the first year of business. He lets Good Harvest know what’s available on the farm, Good Harvest places an order and Country Blossoms Organics delivers the order to the store, which is about a 40-minute drive.

“This has huge growth potential for us,” Priesgen said. “It saves us a lot of time on the sales end of things.”

Country Blossoms Organics operates without any paid employees, something Priesgen would like to continue to do. He believes staff, along with land purchases, can add a lot of stress to businesses. Since he already has the land, he’d like to just rely on his family members to do the work. His children do what they can to help out as well.

“Working for ourselves will hopefully keep a few stressors out of the equation,” he said. “We should be able to make a decent living off a couple acres and still be able to function doing other things outside the farm.”

One goal for next year is to plant various fruit trees. Priesgen believes that apples, pears and cherries will be a big hit with his customers, he said. He also hopes to follow community-supported agriculture models by putting together CSA box orders.

Priesgen plans to let his customers know what produce is available so they can choose what they want in their weekly boxes. He believes this will increase interaction between the business and the customers as well as provide the most useful produce for them.

Customer service on the farm is expected to improve as well, he said. He’d like to make it a priority to follow up with customers when they have questions.

“One big goal of mine with this business is to have exceptional customer service,” Priesgen said. “That seems to get lost in the shuffle with some businesses.”

At the end of the day, Priesgen wants to be outdoors working with his hands, bringing life back to the family farm, being with his family and teaching his children priceless lessons that can’t be taught anywhere but the farm. His family and the farm’s history are both very important to him, he said.

“I really want to show my kids that anything can be accomplished if they put their minds to it,” he said. “I’d like to build a work ethic in them too. I think we need to take time to focus on the farming aspect of life and the quality of our food. That’s beneficial for everyone.”

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