Erin Schneider’s Story
My love of farming began in our family\’s garden in rural Wisconsin. I spent countless wonder-filled hours tending crops, building soil, and planting thousands of trees. I left my youthful love to get an education, build a career. My love of plants, dirt, and people never left me. I discovered I couldn\’t work in a lab, office, or even in a Park Service setting. To me organic farming is the only way forward, a way to integrate my loves, build on my talents and create wealth, in cash, as well as in the form of happiness, health, and expanded ecosystem services. When I got married to a beginning farmer last year, I committed myself to a new lifestyle, in the old familiar fields of WI.
We\’re heading into our third season running Hilltop Community Farm, a diversified CSA operation in LaValle, WI where we specialize in organic fruits. We wanted to maximize the sustainability-potential in perennial agriculture, so we chose species that are high-yielding, environmentally friendly, and exceptionally nutritious, including saskatoon, quince, elderberry, currants, seaberry, and honeyberry. We modeled our plantings on forest garden guilds, grouping them in such a way that they naturally balance and enhance one another\’s production.
As interest in our fruit grows,we\’ve outgrown our space. Our 12 CSA shares can still wash up in the kitchen sink, but our impending fruit harvest is on a different scale. The 200+ inhabitants of our new orchard are already beginning to bear sizable crops; our 20 quince trees alone – when mature – will produce up to 800 lbs of fruit per year each. We need your help with financing equipment and materials for building a pack shed and cold storage unit on our farm. We\’ve so far managed to finance farm improvements from cash-flow since we don\’t have enough schedule F history yet to qualify for an FSA loan, but this is a bit much for us. We\’ve studied plans for a “cool-bot” system – a small, insulated room with a modified air conditioner to bring it below 40 degrees – and believe a 6\’ X 8\’ unit will suit our needs. (We deliberately chose fruits that would ripen in series rather than all at once to save on storage space.) $2,500 in funds would cover this as well as framing and sheathing materials for a pack-shed and a few stainless steel work tables and a sink.
We take the “Community” in our name very seriously, hosting frequent farm events and workshops where we can help others learn about our growing methods and the possibilities that some of our unusual fruits hold for farmers in the upper Midwest. We\’ve had exceptional interest from other farmers about this project and working with other beginning farm women to grow the community of eaters and growers, while celebrating the joys and tastes these fruit offer.
We are hosting our first annual Currant Events, engaging and educating participants about the important role these organic fruits play in building sustainable local food systems as well as celebrate the joys of growing and eating these fruits while building connections with our neighbors. We expect feedback from our festivities to provide important information about customer/eater preferences and conditions and connections needed to successfully market new organic fruit products. We are also part of several networks including the Women Food and Agriculture Network, the Land Stewardship Project, Farmers Raising Ecologically Sustainable, Healthy Food, and the Organic Tree Fruit Grower Network, information/latest tips on cultural practices may be shared.
We hope our inspires others to grow organic, eat organic and have fun meeting new fruit neighbors.