When Louis Vesperman purchased a 160-acre farm outside of Lancaster, Wisconsin, in 1900, he probably didn't know that more than 100 years later, the farm would still be in the Vesperman family. And he almost certainly couldn't have predicted that today, five Vesperman generations later in the hands of his great-great grandson Kyle, that same farm would become a fall fun destination for thousands of people every year. To Louis, this land was good land, farming was a good way to provide for his family, and, as so many people say when buying a farmstead, the house wasn't bad either.
On this very day—February 26—in 1900, the history of Vesperman Farms began when Louis purchased the farm for $62.50/acre, a price that is shocking by today's standards. Today, in their 118th year of farming and 15th year of fall season, the Vesperman family has a lot to celebrate, and we're doing so with a series called "15 Years on the Farm." Over the next months, we will share a lot of stories from the farm, but we need to begin with the most important: the beginning of the farm itself and the history that brought Vesperman Farms to its present day.
The beginning of the farm was one that was pretty typical of the day. “Back then, you just lived off the farm. You had one or two cows to feed the family, some chickens, a big orchard behind the house, and a small crop operation,” said Kyle, Louis’ great-great grandson and the current operator of Vesperman Farms.
It was during the first 20 years that Louis established his farmstead and built the original red barn, a two-story traditional post and beam barn that first housed the family’s mules, horses, and milking cow and later took in the family’s pigs and kept hay and straw dry in the second-story loft. This red barn stood on the property for decades until 2012 when straight-line winds all but flattened the structure. Today, the barn still stands on the property, but in a different form: many of the beams, posts, boards, and even the original stone is built into the design of the new red barn, which was built in 2015 to accommodate the crowds during fall season and serve as the event venue.
It was also in the 1920s that Louis’ son Earl began to become much more involved with the farming. In that decade the farm was passed down to Earl, who farmed the property for about 20 more years until his only son Donald became a third-generation owner when he returned from serving as a dental assistant in World War II. Over the years, “well, they grew pretty much everything,” said Kyle. From harvesting crops like soybeans, corn, wheat, and peas to raising a variety of livestock, including beef cattle, chickens—even sheep!—the Vespermans were never shy about undertaking new projects and trying new things, a family legacy that to this day drives the energy and life on the farm. In fact, in the 15 years since Kyle has operated the farm, it has grown from a small family pumpkin stand to a thriving agro-tourism and events business, growth that has a lot to do with the family’s enduring experimental and can-do attitude.
It was after the war that Donald and his wife Margaret also began a family, eventually having seven children in the height of the Baby Boomer generation. It was his middle son, Bruce, who became the fourth-generation owner and operator of the Vesperman farm in the 1970s. In the early days, Bruce and his wife Judy raised hogs and beef cattle and farmed about 500 acres of cropland, but in the late 1980s, they paid close attention to a growing farm-to-table and local farming trend and began to diversify. They started a large garden and began to sell produce directly to the customer in the front yard of Donald and Margaret’s home on the Lancaster main street. “Truck farming, we call it,” says Kyle. Over the years, they sold more than produce: they raised chickens and sold eggs; planted a strawberry patch and sold pre-picked berries; sold sweet corn; and, probably most importantly, Kyle (then a high school student) started a pumpkin patch and began selling pumpkins in his grandparent’s front yard.
“It was a hit,” he says. “It was a fun creative outlet for me and my family really enjoyed it, especially my grandpa and grandma—they loved selling pumpkins.” Kyle credits his parents’ decision to “truck farm” as the beginning of the road that eventually led the farm into the agro-tourism business. Through their direct sales, he began to see how people could experience farm life without actually living on a farm, something that was growing in popularity throughout the state. Kyle paid close attention as agro-tourism began to grow while he finished school and continued his small pumpkin business.
In 1995, Bruce got out of farming full-time, selling the animals and minimizing his crop business, and it was a few years later that Kyle became the fifth generation Vesperman to run the family farm. His vision for the place, however, was entirely different from any of his ancestors. He took his pumpkin business back to the farm in 2002, offering his customers the opportunity to spend a few hours on the farm, take a hay wagon ride, and pick their own pumpkins. And in 2003, the first official fall season opened with its very own corn maze, leading the Vesperman family down a new path and establishing a new history for the farm.
The family has come a long way since those early days, and Margaret, who is now 98, often comes and visits during fall season, watching all the families interact with and enjoy the farm her family started all those years ago.
This is the first story of our 15 Year Features to celebrate 15 years of Vesperman Farms' fall season. If you'd like to read more, click on the "15 Year Features" category!
Things I never thought I'd need to know: Nine hundred dozen donuts will fit into a 12-passenger van...if you squeeze 'em in just a bit.
But that's exactly what we learned last Saturday when we had our baking day for the Friends of Winskill donut fundraiser. In total, we made 930 dozen batches--over 11,000 donuts! With both of our donut machines running, it took us 11 hours to bake and sugar all those delicious rings.
This is our second year fundraising with the Friends of Winskill, and we were happy not only to work with the community members again but also to see this fundraiser grow. We made almost 300 dozen more donuts this year, and in all, helped raise almost $3,000 for the organization. All those donuts will help fund an update to classroom libraries and possibly help purchase a large projector for the Winskill school gymnasium.
Even though we've done fundraisers here and there for local organizations in the past, this is the first year we are offering the chance to bite into an apple cider donut year-round for everyone. Not only will we bake these delicious treats, but we will also take care of the ordering and advertising forms (customized to your liking and with your information) and delivery to your desired pick-up site. As Jim Muench, treasurer for Friends of Winskill, says, "it's an easy, simple, and straightforward fundraiser"—something that is manageable for any school, daycare, organization, or business!
If you're interested in learning more, check out the details below, visit our fundraising website, and get in touch with Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org!
They say rain on your wedding day is good luck, and Tiffany and Adam had quite a bit of it on theirs. With a forecast of over 10 inches of rain, there was little chance for an outdoor ceremony, so we moved the celebrations completely indoors. This couple took the luck that Mother Nature was giving them with grace and humor, and we didn't need all that rain to tell us that this marriage was going to last a lifetime.
There was a brief clearing in the weather for some amazing outdoor shots, Along with luck, rain gives us dramatic skies and happy flowers (plus adorable umbrellas), which created stunning photo opportunities for this couple, their family, and their wedding party.
Photos by the amazing Ann Gorgen Photography.
The romantic color palette was lovely and Tiffany's dress was beautiful, both in original and in miniature. This mother and daughter duo made all our hearts melt.
The rain did nothing to dampen spirits indoors, and the party was full of laughter and love.
And the best part about rain on your wedding day? At the end, you might see a rainbow. Congratulations, Tiffany and Adam!
This January, Kyle got off the farm and in front of an audience for two ag-tourism conferences.
His first speech was at the Wisconsin Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference in the Dells, where he gave a presentation titled "Success: It's More Than Just Growing." His talk focused on expanding business outside of the fields, finding new experiences, and trying out new ideas to keep adapting to a changing customer base and a rapidly moving industry. As Kyle says, in this industry, you have to be willing to completely adjust your whole mindset to keep being successful, a message he passed on to all attending.
At the same conference, he also partnered with Marshfield Farm Safety Institution to talk about crisis and disaster management. They specifically focused on a real-life event that happened here last year, when a tornado siren went off during one of our weddings. Luckily, the tornado did not come anywhere near our guests, but it made for a valuable workshop on how to create plans for unknown or crisis situations and how to plan and prepare for the worst.
Photos by the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association.
Kyle then turned around and headed to Iowa for their Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference, where he was the keynote speaker. On Thursday, he gave a presentation about our wedding and events business, chatting with other ag-tourism professionals about all the things we've learned in the past three years, our system and processes, and how to manage a catering and beverage business. At his keynote address on Friday, he talked about our Farm's history and where that history will take us in the future.
Although Kyle really enjoys the opportunity to share our story, he's now happily back on the farm in his yellow t-shirt, planning to get back to where it all started: those sweet Wisconsin fields.
Fun on the farm...in blog form!