A farm for all seasons, many reasons

A complex abundance of produce rises from Willoway’s acres
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Willoway Farm doesn’t have an identity crisis. It is just many things to many people and on its way to being more.

The 7.7-acre Town of Fredonia community supported agriculture farm offers a plethora of organic produce available for purchase at a couple of places, a flower subscription service and flower bars at which people create their own bouquets, and it has a campsite for people to escape to tranquility.

It has a pond for ice skating, disc golf baskets and an elderly sheep and protective dog, and the owners plan to develop more draws to the property.

“This is something my husband Dan and I both love to do ­— grow things,” co-owner Jacqueline Bertram said.

The farm’s south-facing gradual slope is perfect for planting, and the Bertrams are taking full advantage.

Broccoli, cabbage, carrots, beets, tomatoes, African blue basil, elderberries, hazelnuts, rhubarb and oodles of garlic grow in close proximity to one another, along with a host of flowers, the dahlias with bags around them to prevent the petals from being eaten by bugs, a common challenge on organic farms.

“It’s not monocrop whatsoever,” Jacqueline said.

Then there’s “asparagus row,” a 510-foot long stretch of the plants that Jacqueline is proud to show off.

It wasn’t always this way.

When the couple bought the property 15 years ago, it needed work to be ready for gardening. The asparagus area alone required weeding of crab grass for five years, Jacqueline said.

She is one of those people who doesn’t mind that type of work.

“Pulling weeds from a highly weeded area is very rewarding,” she said, referencing stepping back and viewing the finished product.

Dan grafted apple trees for the first 10 years, and this summer was the best season they’ve had. It’s the first time they have enough empire, liberty, winesap and snow apples to share. Jacqueline said they may dehydrate them, make applesauce or use them as lunch snacks for their two children.

Dan and his father also constructed a building with reclaimed timber, and poured its concrete base.

Inside of it is where the family washes their veggies and Jacqueline holds flower bars.

The Bertrams do timely hoeing and undersow many of their field crops with a cover crop such as the white Dutch clover, which is growing beneath their trellised heirloom tomatoes.

A few birdhouses stand on tall posts on the property, including one made by Dan’s father that looks just like the Hotel Grafton.

The Bertrams also have a wind turbine they hope to fix up and use for power someday, and they recently bought two properties in Waubeka that need some work with the hope of being rented out in the future. Jacqueline is part of the effort to designate Waubeka as a national historic district.

Adding more sheep is also in the plans, as is a pollinator garden.

Jacqueline likes picking the best of the flowers and watching the bees, butterflies and others doing their thing with the rest.

Dan manages the farm around his full-time job at the Andrew J Construction Co. in Fredonia, and he works part-time at the Stoney Creek Disc Golf Course in Fredonia. He has created a YouTube channel and plans to update an app for the farm.

Jacqueline balances school with the farm, and she and Daniel split commutes to soccer games at different venues, one with their son and the other with their daughter.

Jacqueline, a New Jersey native, fell in love with the woods during summer camp as a child.

She ended up working for a forest service and Glacier National Park in Montana, earned a certification to fight fires and spent one summer working in Alaska. In Montana, she picked up a weekend hobby at an organic farm that eventually turned into a part-time job that sparked her interest in running a farm. She planned to go to school for sustainable agriculture until she met her husband.

Daniel is a native of Fredonia who earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before meeting Jacqueline in Whitefish, Mont.

They moved to Wisconsin in 2003 and became garden students at the Michael Fields Institute in East Troy, where they learned organic farming.

Opportunities took them to Pennsylvania, where they started a market garden from scratch on an 80-acre estate.

During a trip to Wisconsin in December 2005 to visit Dan’s family, the couple were drawn to a property on Camp Awana Road and bid on it three days after it was put on the market. Four months later, they were moving in.

They used to sell the produce to restaurants and were excited about attracting newly opened eateries to their products, but the pandemic halted those plans.

Jacqueline’s flower subscription service now serves as a backbone for their business; she sold out of custom Christmas ornaments filled with dried flowers last year.

They joined the Ozaukee Area REKO ring to sell garden produce through Facebook.

Their produce is also available at Dream Port Harvest Market in Port Washington. 

They get help from their children — their son attended the Riveredge Outdoor Learning Elementary School and their daughter still goes there. Sam and Summer picked all the garlic this year. Thousands of bulbs are hanging in their barn drying.

The Bertrams create syrup with their elderberries and use it for throat care during winter.

Jacqueline wants to share her passion with more people. She is taking an online course on horticulture therapy to be able to offer gardening to different groups.

Gardening for therapy has been around for at least three decades, she said, and studies have shown it’s beneficial for youth, elderly and those recovering from addictions. Many hospitals in the United Kingdom have gardens, she said, and teaching gardening to inmates in jails provides them a skill and a job.

It allows people in a social setting to use their mind.

She wants to create a space at the farm for people with disabilities and the elderly to garden.

Willoway Farm will host a small Fresh Friday Farmers Market from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on September 23 at N5412 Cigrand Dr., Fredonia, offering vegetables, herbs and cut flowers.

For more information, visit www.willowayfarm.com.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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