Hoop house, aquaponics reflect forward thinking at Pheasant Creek Farm
It should come as little surprise that one of the first hoop greenhouses in the region has been erected on a Highway A farm in the Town of Fredonia owned by Dave Brethauer and managed by Tony Randall.
The team has been fearless innovators while jump starting their fledgling CSA, Pheasant Creek Farm.
The 20-foot-by-96-foot hoop greenhouse had a rough start, swamped by a flood in mid-July that washed away most of the seedlings that were planted in June.
“We lost about $50 in seeds and I can’t say how many hours of labor planting,” Randall said.
The greenhouses have taken on the unexpected role of media darlings after First Lady Michelle Obama erected one on the South Lawn of the White House.
She used the structure as a platform to promote the concepts of sustainable agriculture and healthy eating.
The federal government has gotten in on the act, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.
Wisconsin is one of 38 states participating in the three-year USDA program that reimburses owners of the experimental greenhouses — also known as high tunnels — provided they follow rigid guidelines. The produce grown must be planted directly in the soil and there can be no electrical service to the facility.
The seasonal hoop house is designed to extend the growing season for vegetables and other crops by several months. It uses a heavy plastic sheet stretched over half-circle ribs that stand eight feet high, anchored onto a wooden frame.
Materials for the hoop house cost about $4,000. The goal is to grow nursery stock for the farm inside it.
Brethauer said the greenhouse is being used as a demonstration project this year, and will be put to full use next growing season. As a temporary structure, there are no heating or cooling systems, other than window flaps that can be opened or closed.
“It is a consistent 15 degrees warmer inside, which is great in the spring, but in the last couple of weeks when it got into the 80s outside, it was suffocatingly hot inside,” Brethauer said.
“At this point, the hoop house is just another thing we are doing. It comes down to two guys trying to do 30 different things at once.”
Ultimately, Brethauer said, he anticipates the hoop house becoming a key component in the diverse commercial soil-based farming operation he envisions on the property.
The seedlings will be transplanted into nearby fields and be part of the organic crop of lettuce, radishes and other vegetables to be
grown completely free of pesticides and herbicides.
“This approach requires a lot of weeding by hand, but we have been lucky to get volunteers from the community who want to help,” Randall said.
Brethauer is interested in using traditional and cutting edge agriculture to raise heirloom plants and livestock to promote healthy growing and eating
The innovations include raising pheasants that will be marketed for meat, as well as establishing an aquaponics operation that raises yellow perch to generate nutrient-rich fish fertilizer and grow greens.
“A lot of this is learning as we go. With the aquaponics, we have been dealing with water temperature issues and light issues,” Brethauer said.
“The master plan is to have everything up and running in three to five years. The goal is to offer an alternative to Big Agriculture. Soil-based farming is efficient, and it is the right thing to do. As a nation, this is the direction we should have been going for the past 30 years.”
In time, Brethauer envisions selling memberships for the naturally grown produce and meat from the farm and maintaining a Certified Naturally Grown rating for the operation.
Brethauer admits he is new to farming. Originally from Kansas, he worked for 11 years as an information technology specialist in Chicago before assuming the role of a stay-at-home dad from his Mequon home.
A former weight-lifting fanatic, Brethauer has become increasing concerned about the quality of the food we eat.
“We’d like to control the entire process, from the seeds we plant to the final marketing,” he said.
A HOOP GREENHOUSE has been added to Pheasant Creek Farm in the Town of Fredonia. Lower left photo, owner Dave Brethauer (left) and manager Tony Randall intend to use the greenhouse to extend the growing season of their vegetable crops. Lower right photo, Brethauer tried to scoop yellow perch from the 1,200-gallon tank. Photos by Mark Jaeger