By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — When the days start to grow longer but the frost still runs deep and there’s still snow on the ground, Bonnie Warndahl’s thoughts turn to planting flowers and vegetables.
Warndahl, along with her husband, Josh, operate Winnowburrow Farm in the Town of Tainter on county Highway G several miles south of Wheeler.
“It’s fun for us because we’re growing some pretty interesting things that we’ve never had before,” Bonnie Warndahl said.
[emember_protected] The “interesting things” are rare and endangered heirloom varieties of vegetables.
Heirlooms are often thought of as “old-time” varieties that “come true” from seed and are open pollinated and rely on natural pollination from insects or the wind.
With hybrid varieties, seeds from the plants could give you one of the “parent” varieties that were crossed but not necessarily the fruit or the vegetable you grew in your garden that is the combination of the two.
The Warndahls moved from the Twin Cities to Dunn County several years ago because they were fed up with the hustle and bustle of the Metro area and wanted to pursue their dreams of life on a farm.
Josh still works in the Twin Cities, but the Warndahls hope to eventually generate enough farm income to allow him to take a job in this area with a shorter commute.
Winnowburrow will be going into its fourth season, and prior to this, Warndahl operated the farm as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.
In a CSA, subscribers pay for a share in the produce before the beginning of the growing season, and then once a week, the farmer packs a box of produce from the farm and delivers it to the subscriber.
Warndahl used “drop sites” for the boxes, so she did not see her customers on a weekly basis.
“Over the last couple of years, I realize I don’t enjoy (traditional CSA) very much because I never see my customers,” Warndahl said.
The farmers’ markets, where she can talk with people face-to-face, are much more to Warndahl’s liking.
“I really enjoy that engagement (with people),” she said.
So, instead of operating a traditional CSA, Warndahl is planning a “market style” CSA where the customers come out to the farm to pick up their vegetables.
“I want it to feel like a farmers’ market … people will pay up front for their share, like the CSA, but then they will come (to Winnowburrow) and pick up their vegetables,” Warndahl explained.
Other farmers in Warndahl’s neighborhood, such as Blue Ox Organics near Wheeler, also have products to sell. Warndahl said she has asked if the other operations would be interested in participating, too, so people have more than one farm to visit.
One of the farms, near Ridgeland, raises a rare and endangered species of goat and makes goats’ milk soap, while another neighbor makes goats’ milk cheese. And Blue Ox Organics is willing to offer a lamb share, she noted.
“I want to get more people involved in it. Not to take away from the other farmers’ markets, but we have a great little cluster of farms offering nice products in our immediate area,” Warndahl said.
“We’re going to give it a go and see what happens,” she said.
When asked if people would have the opportunity to pick their own vegetables, Warndahl said she “would be open to that.”
“Some people want to pick their own, and some don’t, so I want to have it as an option,” she said.
People also have asked if they could get a discount for coming out to the farm to help, so Warndahl said she also is planning to offer a discount for a certain number of hours worked over a season.
“I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy the engagement with people instead of working by myself all the time and dropping off a product to people I never see. The farm-market share will make it more community oriented,” Warndahl said.
Last year, Winnowburrow Farm also started selling cut flowers.
“I’m really enjoying doing the cut flowers,” Warndahl said.
She has been taking her cut flowers to the farmers’ market in St. Croix Falls and hopes to pick up the Wednesday afternoon farmers’ market in Menomonie this year.
Warndahl also has begun supplying cut flowers for weddings, and she has an account with the Menomonie Market Food Co-op for cut flowers.
This year, she will begin doing cut flowers as well for the Farm Table Foundation in Amery for their restaurant tables.
Warndahl is working on getting her cut flowers into local grocery stores too.
“Right now I’m mostly doing annuals because we are on rented land,” she said, adding that she does not want to invest time and money into planning perennials that cannot be taken with them when they find a farm to buy.
Warndahl said she had planted lilies, daffodils and tulips last fall but those kinds of flowers are easy to dig up and transplant and can be divided.
“I want to wait to get into the woody plants and the perennial vines until we buy our farm. We’re looking for our ‘forever farm’ right now,” she said.
Winnowburrow Farm has chickens, and Warndahl says she would like to raise turkeys for her CSA customers and then do a Thanksgiving share.
“People could get their Thanksgiving dinner from the farm. Root vegetables, squash, turkey, herbs, eggs. One full meal in (one box). This is your big Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve wanted to do this for years,” Warndahl said.
“We want to incorporate more livestock. And I want to go the route of the heritage breeds. The thing about the livestock, like the heirloom produce, they have these inherent qualities and characteristics that they developed over years of adaptation. Like Scottish Highlander cattle. They have adaptations for a cold climate, like where we live, but they probably wouldn’t do well in Florida,” she said.
Warndahl said she is interested, too, in buying a team of draft horses for the farm.
“We’d like to invest in a team of older, well-trained horses and then have somebody willing to come to the farm to teach me how to (farm) with them,” she said.
The horses can maneuver in smaller spaces than a tractor, can make tighter turns and can operate safely in hilly areas or muddy areas. And horses produce manure that can be used as fertilizer for the garden plants, Warndahl pointed out.
A team of draft horses could be used for wagon rides and sleigh rides as well.
“We want to move in the direction of doing more agri-tourism. A bed and breakfast might be a little ambitious, but we would like to do an Airbnb, where people can come and stay on the farm,” Warndahl said.
“I’d like to do classes and events on the farm, and I feel the horses would be an added benefit,” she said.
Warndahl grew up in northern Kentucky but considers Wisconsin home now.
She went to school in Cincinnati, lived in Alabama for a couple of years, and then lived in Minnesota for 12 years.
Living in the country was a driving force for her to start farming.
“I was a musician. I went to school for music. I did freelance music stuff for years. I always figured I would have my music career, and then someday, I would retire and I’d have a little hobby farm and homestead,” she said.
“It became apparent I needed (the farm) a lot sooner. I like being self-sufficient. I like being in nature. The craziness of the Metro was too much for me. It’s too busy. There’s too much stimulation. Too much light. Too much noise,” Warndahl said, adding she feels connected to this area because there are so many people who care about the land and about the environment.
Their neighbors are wonderful, too, she said.
Finding nature in urban areas is difficult, Warndahl said.
Parks are often full of other people who also want to get outside, and if you go camping, you leave the city to go to a “tent city” where many others also have taken up temporary residence, she said.
This part of Dunn County, Warndahl said, is often considered too far for people to commute to the Twin Cities for work.
“People will drive an hour, but they don’t want to drive much longer. And when you get more than an hour from the Metro, then the land prices are quite a bit cheaper, too,” she said.
Warndahl will be planting garden seeds this month in her hoop house.
“The hoop house starts out empty in February, then by May or June, the entire house is full of flats and flats and flats. And then the field is full of plants,” she said.
“I love it at the end of the season, when you feel like you’re hacking your way through the jungle to get through the rows. The tomato plants are gangly and huge,” Warndahl said.
“I’m somebody, well, I don’t want to say that I get bored easily, but I like change. I like something different going on. I don’t deal well with monotony. This is a great career for me. Every season. Every week. Every month. Something is happening. It’s constantly evolving. It cycles,” she said.
The cycles of the seasons are particularly attractive for Warndahl.
“You go through a period of being very tired, and then the winter comes, and you get to rest again. It works well with the biorhythms. In the summer, the days are longer, and I have more energy. In the winter, the days are shorter, and I don’t have as much energy, so I’d rather sleep more and rejuvenate,” she said.
Learning is another aspect of farming that is important to Warndahl.
“A farmer never stops learning. It’s fun to help other people who want to learn,” she said.
“If you enjoy being outside and enjoy digging in the dirt, (a farm) is a lot of fun,” Warndahl said.
To see more pictures of Warndahl’s enterprise, visit Winnowburrow Farm’s Facebook page. [/emember_protected]