In a whirlwind of ice cream and I Dos, August passed...and so did most of September. And, in Kyle's exact words, "Oh, boy. We tried a lot of things."
In early August, we had our final curbside pickup for donuts and ice cream. We couldn't be more thankful for everyone who ordered for our summer pickups. They were bright spots in otherwise empty and quiet months, and we appreciated having guests to the farm, even ones that stayed in their vehicles!
We also invited people to the farm for our first-ever outdoor concert. The Larry Busch Band came and played, we served up some delicious fair-style food, and although we didn't have a huge crowd, the event gave us some ideas for fun things to do in the future.
In that same time, we celebrated with three wonderful couples, who held on to their wedding dates throughout all this uncertainty, made a lot of hard choices and sacrifices, and reconsidered almost everything that they originally planned on to celebrate their marriages in this crazy year.
We had beautiful weather for all three weddings, which felt like grace, and our farm guests were considerate, excited, full of laughter, and FUN...everything we needed during one of the longest and most difficult summers we have ever experienced.
Congratulations to these amazing couples - we hope that this year was just a tiny speed bump in what otherwise will be smooth sailing on your wedded journey. Thank you for your patience, your determination, your flexibility, and your love.
And despite an accelerated slow down in many areas of our farm life, we sped up in the ice cream truck, visiting all sorts of places (we even made it to Dubuque and all the way up to Spring Green!) and scooping up ice cream for all of our favorite people.
From our hard-working farm neighbors to the Cuba City Community Market to our friends right here in Lancaster, it has been a joy to be a part of your summer, and we are already looking forward to the next one. For now, you can still visit the truck - it'll be parked on the farm until we close for fall season at the end of October.
And speaking of fall, after a long spring and summer, our favorite season is finally HERE! After a very rainy and difficult week leading up to fall, the weather cleared for a gorgeous opening weekend, and we were so happy to see our farm families forget their troubles, shed the stress of the last months, and come out for a fun day on the farm. Our sweet little goats, our new calves, the big old pigs, and our donkey and pony had so much love (and so much food); our staff was thrilled to see the kids watch the donuts being made (and, of course, enjoy them as well!); and the zip line buzzed with activity again.
Our favorite season is here, and we look forward to more weeks of fall fun.
This year, despite all that has been going on, we were lucky enough to bring onboard two new interns, who have been having a scoopin' good time at the farm!
Caroline and Bridget, both business students at UW-Platteville, were supposed to start with us months ago. But when the pandemic shut down the farm and their university, their internship was put on hold, and we weren't sure if we would be able to work with them this year.
Happily, with the addition of the ice cream truck and the generally positive direction that life has been going, they were able to start with us just over a month ago now. Since then, these gals have become a staple in our ice cream truck, serving up scoops to our local communities with a smile and "oohing" over every dog they see!
These two have been absolute troopers: They've had to adjust their expectations and schedules quickly and sometimes without much warning; they've had to learn quite a few new skills and get good at them in just one or two shifts; and they've worked hard to help us in a time when we have been navigating unknown waters and haven't been able to give precise direction or even complete instructions. To sum up: they rock.
Bridget, who is our resident dog lover (even more than me!), is at UW-Platteville for business administration with an emphasis in management and a minor in creative writing.
In addition to school and the farm, she also works at the Iowa County Humane Society and volunteers her free time working with animals and fostering dogs to help them get ready for adoption. She hopes to one day start her own business, especially if that business is her own dog rescue.
Working at the farm has given her quite some insight into the time and effort it takes to start new projects and new endeavors. As someone who wants to eventually start her own business, being exposed to the behind-the-scenes work that Kyle and his team puts in has taught her lessons time management, organization, and teamwork. Bridget has proven to us time and again that she's ready for any challenge we throw her way. On her first shift in the truck, she hopped right behind that wheel and drove to the town without any stress. Very quickly, she's become good at running a customer service window AND learned how to scoop, which is actually much harder than it seems.
It's quite amazing how something as simple as ice cream can scoop out lessons in business and life.
So far, Bridget has truly enjoyed working in the ice cream truck, especially when people bring their dogs by or when little kids get super excited about getting ice cream! The only downside to the ice cream business has, so far, been being caught in the rain while restocking the truck. NOT fun!
When Bridget is not traveling in the truck, her off-work hobbies include (of course) spending time with animals, hiking, DIY projects, playing cards, hammocking, and traveling.
Sharing her fellow intern's dislike of being caught in the rain while stoking is Caroline, who is going to school for business, human resources, and management.
As Caroline puts it, she does not like getting muddy. But she does like seeing the smile we put on people's faces and the joy they get from the experience we are blessed to give them. For Caroline, helping is her main purpose for what she does. Right now, she loves to help people smile while working in our ice cream truck, but after graduation, she would like to continue her good work in the healthcare industry.
So far, this internship has taught Caroline to think on her feet when there is a lot going on. And there has been A LOT going on. Since Caroline has been here, she's helped with two curbside pickups, helped us develop our social media presence, picked up many shifts in the truck, and worked on a variety of other projects, all of which are new to her and to us. She's developed a lot of good relationships with our current staff and customers and been a rockstar through it all!
In her free time, Caroline spends time with friends and family, reads, shops, golfs, and - of course - naps!
One thing is for sure, these gals will not forget their summer of scooping. It's been an adventure for us all.
If smiling is really contagious, then the reason the farm is such a happy place is because we have Brianne around.
Kyle hired Bri about three years ago, when she was in school studying to become an elementary teacher. She said she loved working with kids, so Kyle put her on zip line supervision. And she loved it. And the kids loved her.
Since then, Bri has found her way into almost every aspect of farm life. She helps with events and weddings, bartending, doing dishes, rolling thousands and thousands of silverware sets, serving buffets and bussing, supervising the setup of the space, cleaning the barn and farm areas, and helping the couples decorate. She's helped with strawberries, she's worked the ticket window, been in the kitchen, been behind the checkout counter, sugared the donuts, helped in the fields. And recently, she's been making ice cream and working in the truck, scooping up ice cream to our local communities.
Bri is a really great utility person. And a really great person. Her smile is her superpower - but what's more, her infectious personality and happiness lifts everyone up around her and makes even the longest shifts fun.
We are lucky to have Bri, and so far, we've made it just interesting enough to keep her around at the farm.
Bri's involvement in weddings has given her LOTS of ideas for her own wedding (think of the farm as a living Pinterest board), and it's also given her some of her favorite moments. As coordinators and as staff, we get to meet many beautiful and amazing couples, and get to bear witness to many lovely moments, and one of Bri's favorites is that magic moment when the bride and her father begin their walk down the aisle. Hearing the sweet words from father to bride and seeing the happiness they all feel is one of Bri's favorite moments.
It's these moments that help offset some of the more...unglamorous...parts of a wedding and events business, like the 2 a.m. clean up after a reception. After everyone leaves, the process of wiping down tables and chairs, peeling stickers off the floor, and dumping all the leftover drinks begins. Although this part may not make the Pinterest board, for Bri, seeing the whole day - from turning on the lights for the florist delivery to dunking that final beer bottle in the recycling bin - come together is always a neat experience.
In her whole time at the farm, the only experience Bri was not down for was was being our Easter Bunny for the annual Breakfast with the Easter Bunny. She was able to wiggle out of that job by convincing Kyle that a bunny taller than 5' 3" might be a better idea.
Despite - or perhaps even because of - some of these odd jobs, Bri truly loves working on the farm. Like many of our amazing staff, the fact that she is constantly doing something different keeps her interested and busy. The best part, though? She loves who she works with.
As Bri puts it, who you work with can make or break the work environment. "As a farm staff, we have so much fun together and we truly enjoy experiencing all Kyle's crazy ideas and events together. Being able to laugh together when bussing tables and sugaring donuts definitely makes the time go by faster." We definitely agree, and, Bri, the feeling is definitely mutual.
An added recent bonus?
"I also can't complain about taste testing the countless flavors of ice cream or quality control checking the apple cider donuts," says Bri.
An added recent bonus for us? Bri isn't going anywhere any time soon!
She just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a degree in elementary education, minoring in early childhood. In the fall, she'll be starting her career teaching 4K at Winskill Elementary School right here in Lancaster, which means that not only will Bri be sticking around the area and staying with us at the farm, she'll be bringing her class out to the farm for school tours! She is excited that she'll be able to show her students what she does at her other work home, or what she's doing when she's not spending time with family and friends, kayaking, fishing, or baking. But we've got her beat in the excitement department because we know she'll be smiling along with us for years to come!
Thank you so much, Bri, for just being you. We are so thankful for the person you are and for what you bring to our farm family.
We'll always have a melty ice cream milkshake on the counter for you. :)
We just went from 0 to 60...well, 55, while observing all traffic laws and road signs.
June has brought us back to life, not only in the ice cream truck but also at the farm, and with it has come a good refresher of our driver's ed rules and an application of new guidelines throughout our entire work life. But mostly, it's just been so fun to be back!
Since our first visits to Mineral Point and Lancaster, we have been out and about with the ice cream truck! From Platteville to Bloomington, from Dodgeville to Dickeyville, we have been able to bring our ice cream directly to you in your community, and have been blown away with your support and love. We are in the business of happiness, and ice cream has been the cherry on top of this purpose - the smiling faces, the excited kiddos, the sticky faces. We could not have enjoyed this month more.
We have also seen businesses in your community do amazing things to give back to the people they appreciate most. Ritchie Implement sponsored cones for their community in each of their locations, as did Highland State Bank, Don's Tire, and Fillback Family of Dealerships in Highland; People's State Bank in Lancaster; and Community First Bank in Livingston. Many organizations brought ice cream directly to their employees to thank them for their hard work, including Grant Regional Health Center, Amcor, and Morningside. Our visit to the nightshift at Grant Regional was our first ice cream emergency - as we got to park right in the ambulance bay to serve up cold treats to the hard-working night workers. We were so happy to be a part of these wonderful people's plans to show their appreciation for you through our new favorite language: one scoop or two?
After almost a full month in the new truck, we are so excited to see what the rest of the summer will bring. We hope to see you next! If you want to know where to find us, our full schedule is on our website. And if you'd like us to visit for your next event, employee appreciation, or celebration, you can request the truck here!
We were also so excited to celebrate the marriage of two wonderful couples this month! After weeks of the barn sitting empty and serving as Kyle's workshop, the transformation it went through to come back to wedding glory was quite a lot of hard work, but it was such a wonderful payout.
The pandemic did change things quite a lot, both for our couples and for us. The barn set up had to be altered to space seating appropriately and we made many changes to our beverage and food services to accommodate better social distancing and reduce touch points. All these changes made for a very crowded kitchen, as we needed almost double the normal number of staff, and we all had to learn new skills very quickly. Despite a few stress points, the staff was happy to be back to weddings.
Our two couples were so incredibly brave to navigate these uncertain times. Even with all going on in the world, they were determined to keep their original wedding dates, and they worked with us with open minds to keep problem solving throughout all the changes, throughout all the uncertainty, and throughout all the stress to make sure they saw the vision of their wedding day - although altered from their original plans - come to fruition. We were so happy to be able to help them celebrate their happy day, and we honestly feel that our appreciation for them cannot be understated. Many congrats to these newlyweds!
We also fit in some field work and some time outdoors this month. Kyle and the crew put pumpkins in the ground, and they are growing up and getting ready for an amazing fall season.
Our short but sweet strawberry season lasted only a slice of June, but we had great picking while it lasted.
The month ended with quite the bang and a lotta rain. While one of our couples was decorating for their wedding, a monster storm blew in and dropped over an inch of rain in only a few minutes (I think three inches total), which resulted in some serious flooding at the farm. While we ooh'd and aww'd over the new Vesperman Farms whitewater rafting experience, the water did some serious damage to our gravel roadway and scared all the barn cats up the hay pile. We have to give a good shoutout to our amazing couple, who after agonizing over COVID problems, had to then experience major flooding at AND a close encounter with a skunk during their wedding weekend. But I'll tell you more about that another time - it's a story that can only happen at Vesperman Farms. The next day, we fixed up the roadway and all the damage, the farm was back to ship shape by noon, and there was only beautiful white fluffy clouds for the wedding.
This June had a lot packed into it: strawberry picking, planting, cutting out this year's maze design, mowing lawn, traveling with the ice cream truck, making hundreds of gallons of ice cream (so much ice cream!), mowing lawn, getting ready for the weddings, mowing lawn, and fixing all the water damage. It was, as Kyle puts it, one of the longest and shortest months he's ever had. But, honestly, we wouldn't have it any other way. The farm thrives in this crazy environment we've built for ourselves. And even though we're all a little short on sleep, we have a new appreciation for our crazy schedules, our wonderful customers, and our amazing staff. We've missed this very much over those quiet weeks during shutdown, and we could not be happier to be safely - and sweetly - back to the farm.
Guess what! We have a truck! And there's ice cream in it!
Like many of our farm projects, this sweet little truck did not always look like this. In December, Kyle purchased a decommissioned fiberoptic cable splicing truck. His staff at the farm? we were, well...unsure. To put it lightly. But like many of our farm projects, Kyle had a vision.
The truck was boring, drab, and a little weird looking, but it had the right features important for a mobile food truck: electricity, hook-ups, and the ability to run water.
But even though it had good bones, it couldn't stay like this. We wanted a colorful, fun, and vibrant truck.
When looking around for options for the outside of the truck, we found this great company in Dubuque called Digital Designs. After looking through their portfolio, we knew these were the guys who could bring our vision to life.
They do this thing called vehicle wrapping, which is basically covering the vehicle in large sheets of vinyl stickers. These guys were awesome. They worked with us throughout the whole design process, going back and forth through a couple of drafts (because we're a bit picky) until we reached a design we loved.
Once we reached a design concept, they worked HARD on executing the design on the truck. It took them nine days to finish the truck, working around all the weird structures and vents and jut-outs and just all-around not smooth sides of this big ugly service truck. They did an absolutely amazing job, even stopping to take photos to update us on their progress.
The staff at Digital Designs completely transformed our truck and we couldn't be more grateful for their hard work and help in turning this old service truck into our new sweet wheels! Seriously, these guys are the best!
But the outside was just the first step in getting this truck road-ready. Kyle spent the next few weeks cleaning and updating the inside, putting in a sink, painting, and finding space for the freezer. We also had to cut a hole for our service window and install that. He had to spend quite a bit of time underneath the truck to re-wire and put in a water tank, which was a pretty tricky business. Plus there was the installation of an impressive back-up camera system to make sure even staff like me can drive this thing!
And then there was the paperwork! The truck has to meet state health and safety requirements and so there was a whole process to making sure we can safely and happily serve you all ice cream from this transformed truck. Because of the pandemic, we actually had the truck inspected virtually rather than in person. Kyle had to take quite a few photos and send them all in for approval. The state will come and inspect the truck in person soon, but virtually, we got our passing grade!
More fun was deciding on uniforms - from the hats to the bow ties, we had a good time dreaming up the ice cream outfit!
About a month ago, the truck was health checked and passed, equipped with a freezer and all the things we need to serve ice cream, and wrapped up in fun colors and cones. We were ready to hit the road!
We were ready. The world wasn't. With the pandemic, a lot of our plans for the truck have been put on hold. There are no markets, not many neighborhood gatherings, and many food vendor events have been canceled or put on hold. Again, this global pandemic changed our plans. But, you know, we can roll with the punches.
Our new plan is to establish a route that covers communities in the area. We are flattered that so many of you have been driving to the farm from 30, 40, or even 60 miles away to do our curbside pickups, and we want to instead bring the ice cream to you. We are currently exploring the idea of visiting towns each month or every couple of weeks to serve cones, but also to fill pre-ordered pints. The details on this are still a bit unsure, but in the next couple of weeks, we will be announcing a new schedule and a new plan for our sweet treats! And we can't wait to see and serve you!
Also, we need to give a big shoutout to our wonderful families and to Shannon Marie Photography, who all came out to our ice cream photoshoot. Thank you for the wonderful photos and the fun afternoon!
It's been a little bit more than a month, but we are catching up with catching you up on what's been going on at the farm. Surprisingly, even with very few things happening, time has still managed to slip away from us.
These past six weeks have brought us into a brand new world at the farm, and although we're not checking our watches as much as we used to and our calendar looks pretty empty, we have been busy learning new skills, staying positive, improving our barn space, and - most importantly - eating WAY too much ice cream.
The coolest thing that we've been doing this past month or so is getting our ice cream truck ready for going on the road. We've painted, moved a thousand electrical wires, installed a water tank, made room for a cooler, problem solved a variety of issues, and filed a bunch of paperwork. We've arranged a photo shoot with the incomparable Shannon Marie Photography, installed back-up cameras, moved the truck in and out of the barn a bunch of times, and taken it out for its maiden voyages to Mineral Point and to Lancaster.
But, honestly, the best part has been making the ice cream! We've perfected our main flavors and experimented with a few others. It has been incredibly fun and quite the learning experience!
(...okay, honestly, the best part has been taste testing the ice cream. We HAD to make sure it was good!)
Because we haven't been able to hold events, the barn space has transformed into a workspace for Kyle, and the main thing he's been working on is updating our bar space. It's been something we've worked around for years, but with the extra time on his hands, Kyle custom-built shelving to fit our storage and functional needs. It still needs doors, a few paint touch ups, and a backdrop on the back wall, but it is looking amazing and we can't wait for our bartenders to try it out at our next event!
In April, we learned a completely new skill when we tried out curbside pick up for our donuts, kettle corn, and ice cream. We tried another one out on Mother's Day weekend. Both times, we were overwhelmed with people and their patience and wonderfulness as we learned the new skills needed for online ordering and social distancing pickup.
We have loved doing curbside pickup and really want to express our gratitude for our farm guests. This has been an uncertain and stressful time - for us and for everyone - and we are so appreciative of your support in helping us through. We hope that the ice cream, the donuts, and the kettle corn lifted your spirits and elevated your late-night snacking!
You can check out our time-lapse video of our pickup on Mother's Day!
Since everything started, we also said a very sad farewell to our amazing inter Caitlin, who moved back home and is currently under very strict orders to visit us whenever she finds her way back her. Caitlin was such a huge part in starting our ice cream project - if you had ice cream last summer you probably saw her smiling face as she scooped!
Although we miss Caitlin, we've also said a very happy hello to two new interns, Bridget and Caroline, both business majors at UW-Platteville. Because of the pandemic, their internship job duties have changed quite a bit, but they'll be helping us through summer and fall, working on ice cream and helping us create some new blog and social media content. They are both excited - as are we - to bring you some new things from the farm!
One thing is for sure that this new month will bring us new challenges and new things to overcome. But if the last three months have taught us anything, it's that we can adapt and move forward, no matter what the world throws at us.
Before things went south, Kyle actually went South, to Disney World and delivered to us the greatest photo ever taken. Kyle and Mickey are best friends for life.
He didn't go for pleasure (guys, he didn't go on ANY of the rides), but for business. Every year Kyle attends the Corn Party, the most amazingly named conference for people who have pumpkin and corn maze farms in the United States. They travel to a new place each year, and this year, it was in Disney World.
In true Kyle fashion (actually I think this is probably a trait of many of the Corn Party goers, which make them hilarious and awesome), when we sat down to talk about Disney, we didn't talk about the rides or the food or really any of the things that normal people who go to Disney get excited about. You know what we talked about? Laundry. We talked about laundry.
One of the stops on Kyle and company's "business behind the magic" tour was the employee area, which is the area that manages the 75,000-strong employee Disney force. This, by the way, is 20,000 more people that is in the whole city of Dubuque! Kyle was amazed by the system they had worked out - for every employee, there are 3-5 pieces for their uniform, making 400,000-some pieces of clothing for Disney to maintain, keep track of, and launder. Everything is equipped with an RFD chip that tracks it's movement from when an employee checks it out to when it goes through to the laundry at one of Disney's four laundry facilities.
With thirty-some resorts and that many employees, they have some serious laundry needs. At the one facility that Kyle and his group visited, Disney washes as many towels and sheets and uniforms in 1 day that, at home, would take 75 years, running our machines 24 hours a day. That's from 1 of their laundry facilities, and they have 5 of them. So it's massive. Just massive. And Kyle was massively impressed with the hundreds and hundreds of carts filled with clean towels ready for redistributing. After his visit, he couldn't look at the towels at his hotel the same.
Besides the towels, Kyle was also fascinated by the group's visit to a place called Creative Costuming, which is the area that takes care of the employee costumes, from the characters to the shows. He got to see the process of making a costume for Disney, starting from a rough sketch to the creative re-working process, to the making and cleaning and maintaining of the costumes.
Everything Kyle saw on his trip showed him that Disney is incredibly aware of and incredibly caring towards both their guests' and their employee's experience. Everything from the buttons to the equipment to the consideration of the costumes is precisely planned and thought through. When you go to Disney, you have an experience, and they work really hard to give that to you. Kyle got to see all the effort and love behind the fancy facades and sparkly entrances.
These parks get 54 million visitors a year and it's a far cry both in geography and scale from our little Lancaster farm, but as always, the Corn Party delivered many amazing lessons in guests' experience, in attention to detail, and in the wonderful work of providing a wonderful place for families to gather and love their time together. Definitely lessons we'll bring back to you guys here on the farm.
PS - Kyle did have a little fun. He went to a parade. Once. And ate some ice cream.
A little over two weeks ago, on March 14, we had our first wedding of the year at the farm. It was a sweet little celebration of two very lovely people. We were not only thrilled to celebrate with them, but excited for the start of a new year at the farm. In the weeks before that wedding, we were pretty busy: we hosted a lunch and meeting for Nutrient Ag Solutions, visited Fennimore for their tasting with our ice cream, and made some food for the fireman's banquet.
But then....things got pretty quiet.
Between Friday, March 13 and Monday, March 16, the world shut down and so did our barn. We are closed indefinitely, and we're not sure when things will get back to normal.
Right now, we imagine our state of mind is very similar to many of yours. It's a pretty stressful mixture of fear and uncertainty. We are worried - for the world, for the people who love, and for our own business.
As a small business, we're used to operating with a level of uncertainty - there's really no guarantee and every month can bring something new, good or bad. But barring a major snowstorm or other unexpected problems, there was always previous history to rely on; always a new idea to funnel our energy into; and always the knowledge that people are drawn to the outdoors, to spend time with their families, to live their lives. There was some certainty despite the unpredictability.
But now, things seem completely uncertain. Things have gone very quickly from okay to worse and then to worse still, and as the news continued to show this downward curve of activity and upward curve of disease, we became more and more stressed. Stressed not just for us, but for the countless other businesses that were going to be affected by this nation-wide shutdown.
At some point, we reached a level of acceptance. We took action to make sure that our farm guests who have planned events here are taken care of as best as possible, but we mostly - like the rest of the world - hunkered down. Like many others, we've begun working on that project list, cleaning the shop and reworking our bar/checkout area. Like many others, our daily stops have dwindled to just a few, Kwik Trip and our homes and our work. Like many others, we are concerned for the people in our lives, for their continued health and happiness and prosperity. Like many others, we are taking things day by day.
We're optimistic that things will get better. There are parts of our lives that will never be the same, and this will affect people deeply. It has and will continue to change family dynamics, friendships, and working relationships. It has affected our level of security in crowds and gatherings, not only with strangers but even with the people we love. It has affected the businesses at the hearts of small towns like ours, and we hope the people who run those businesses will come through this. We hope that everyone will come through this.
Today as we write this, we are looking at another month of social distancing, but we are heartened by the passing of a few government stimulus packages. We have been having good conversations with people in our corner and we'll tell you that these conversation are probably the first bit of optimism we've had in the last ten days. Because now, even though we don't like a bailout as much as the next person, we are going to be able to keep our employees paid, we're going to be able to keep current on our bills, and we're going to keep some revenue coming in. We're going to get through this.
We can't go back to early March, but we need to keep money moving through our businesses and we need to keep supporting our businesses and keep our country going. We are excited that these new programs will help keep us afloat, that they'll help keep our awesome employees coming through our doors, and that they'll allow us to keep moving on some of our ideas.
There are things to look forward to: warmer weather and planting, ice cream (we can't WAIT for you to see our new truck), outside projects, happy wedding days, strawberries, and soon, fall season. Our troubles - like so many of your troubles - have not gone away. We don't feel the same excitement we normally feel during this time. We'll have to wait for things to pick up and for that excitement to come back. But we're hopeful. And we're heartened. And we're going to be here when things are brought back to normal.
Take care, everyone. Be well, be safe, be happy.
Many of our early guests remember the old red barn that stood next to where the goat pasture currently is.
Built in the 1920s, the red post-and-beam barn with a stone foundation was the staple barn on the farm when it was a working farm. In the bottom, it had two box stalls for the mules or horses. Next to those were a few stanchions for the milking cows and a little more space for pigs, sheep, or beef cattle. Above the livestock level was an area for loose hay, and a pulley and track system that was used to move and gather hay before hay balers were built. Another little room stored wheat and grain. In that one building was the heart of the farm.
Kyle always wanted to save this barn. It was getting a bit run down - foundation crumbling and wood rotting - and it was low on the project list and kept getting lower as the pumpkin patch and corn maze needed more and more attention and time. But it was a barn full of farm history, and a cool barn to boot, and the restoration of this building never quite left Kyle's mind.
Then the year 2012 rolled around. If you're a farmer, you remember that year. That was the year of the region's last major drought. There was not much - if any - rain. The ground was dry. After we planted the maze, there was a tiny storm, but then not much else fell. The corn was pretty short. The pumpkins were thirsty.
At the end of June, Kyle bought 20,000 feet of drip tape to irrigate the pumpkins, planning for more hot and dry conditions. Then the first storm in about 2 months came through...and it was pretty darn violent.
Around 10 p.m., the winds whipped and the rain fell. There was no real proof of a tornado in the county, but there were incredibly powerful straight-line winds, hail, lightening, and RAIN. A lot of rain, coming in sideways and coming in hard.
The broadside of the old red barn faced the West. Kyle and Bruce, who were standing out on the porch stoop watching the lightening and commenting on the rain, could see the barn from their post. The light on the barn was one of the only bright spots on the farm, except for all the lightening.
While they were out on the porch, Judy yelled from inside the house. Kyle and Bruce raced into the living room to find a branch had broken off a tree in the backyard and tipped in one of their windows, bringing all that rain inside. The window wasn't broken, just displaced, so the three of them wrestled the window back into place, and then Kyle returned to the porch to continue to watch the storm. He saw that the light on the red barn had gone out.
Not very curious initially as the barn light was light-sensitive, Kyle didn't pay much attention during the next couple of lightening flashes. But after a few minutes, he felt there was something, not quite sure, but SOMETHING wrong about his view. The next couple flashes revealed a gaping hole where the massive barn once stood. In the struggle to fix the window and in the cacophony of the storm, the Vespermans hadn't heard a thing, but the barn had come down. All that was left - revealed in the lightening - were a couple of lonely broken beams and a pile of wood and stone.
The storm blew through quickly, and not long after the barn had collapsed, Kyle called his cousin Eric to bring out a spotlight. There were a few sheep, the horses, and some other animals that used the backside of the barn for shelter, and with the power lines down and the electricity out, they needed a hand-held torch to check on the animals.
In the dark, they could see that some of the sheep had been trapped in the collapse, but most of the animals were alive...but frightened. The Vespermans scrambled around in the dark, rearranging fences and creating temporary barriers to keep the surviving animals safe for the night.
In the morning light, the storm's power and destruction revealed itself. Not only was the barn down, but the catapult was flipped, the roof on the white barn had been filleted, and the maze bridge was toppled. On top of a bad summer, this was pretty devastating to an already frustrated Kyle.
But he really didn't have a lot of time to wallow. There was an incredible amount of work to be done.
Some time in the night, Kyle had called his neighbor, Darrell Crapp (he was awake...everyone was at that point), and at 6 a.m., Darrell and a group of guys brought out a bulldozer, some chainsaws, and a positive attitude and began freeing some of the trapped animals (removing them from the property as the heat returned in full force that morning) and moving some of the rubble.
Over the next few weeks, the Vespermans and a group of people slowly dismantled the barn and righted all the damage they could. In a brilliant stroke of foresight - or just because of the family's "save it all" attitude - Kyle salvaged as much as he could from the wreckage, sorting through to keep as many of the planks, beams, posts, and rock he could. Heavy equipment was brought in later to fill in the hole where the barn once stood, dig a new one to bury the concrete foundation, and get rid of all the remaining pieces that couldn't be saved.
Years later, as Kyle was building the new red barn, he was glad he had listened to his inner hoarder. Inside the new red barn, you'll see many pieces of the old: a good part of the siding and paneling, the beams and posts, and all the stonework is from that old building. The arbor we use for weddings came from that old barn's framework. And many of the signs you see around the farm in fall season is from the old barn wood that survived the wreckage.
Although it was a shame that the barn in its originality couldn't be saved, it's great that it can still live on in the new red barn, no longer bearing witness not to livestock and haywork, but to the memories that families and friends make when they visit our farm.
For our very first newsletter, we thought we'd answer the obvious question:
What connects a Ukrainian graphic designer to a small rural Wisconsin farm?
Fun on the farm...in blog form!