Kelsey has been around the farm for so long, even she's not exactly sure when she transitioned from being a guest to an employee. She thinks maybe it was seven or eight years ago that she started working strawberry season, picking berries for orders; driving people around in golf carts; and weighing buckets of berries, trying to operate the iPad cash register with dirt-covered fingers.
It's funny that she started working strawberry season, because strawberry season is when Kelsey first came to the farm as a guest to pick strawberries with her mom. She still lives three miles down the road in the home she grew up in, and since that inexact hiring date, she hasn't left the farm. But since then, she has done ALL the jobs, short of driving the tractors and supervising the zip line.
For Kelsey, this farm family has a special place in her heart.
"I LOVE THE VESPERMANS. Kyle, Bruce, and Judy are the BEST. They are the definition of hospitable – literally opening up their home to thousands of people throughout the year to make their own memories."
Kelsey has also been Kyle's partner in some of his more creative endeavors, including wrestling Christmas trees into some custom-built tree stands, selling kettle corn at Country on the River for a whole weekend of prime people watching, and helping to coordinate a surprise proposal at the farm!
Her newest title is the secret weapon behind Kyle's Instagram and Facebook posts. She not only "pesters" (in Kyle's words) him to remember to post things to keep our guests updated on farm goings-on, but she is also the secret editor behind the posts. If there's a typo, Kelsey is on it!
Kyle calls Kelsey his "Wikipedia" employee - if it needs fixing, she'll fix it.
For Kyle, it's been really fun to watch Kelsey go from a guest to an employee to a well-loved friend and co-worker. Kelsey, too, has transformed in those years, going from a college kid working summers to an adult with a child of her own.
After years wearing a Vesperman Farms bright yellow (now blue) shirt, green apron, and kitchen hat, Kelsey finally had the opportunity this fall to be a guest to the farm with her then 9-month-old daughter, Fiona. And it was a blast.
"It was so fun to watch my daughter pet the goats, play in the corn pit, and gobble down an apple cider donut. I am so excited that now it’s my turn to make my own family memories at this magical place – just like I’ve watched others do for years."
Kyle doesn't know it yet, but there will be another generation joining his farm family soon. "Fiona's first job will most definitely be scooping Vespermans’ ice cream or endlessly dunking apple cider donuts for six weekends every fall."
Because those cider donut roots run deep in these farm families.
There are a lot of iconic images at the farm: the big corncobs on the side of the corn box, the welcome sign above the ticket window, the "Picking Pumpkins" face-in-the-hole sign, the rocking horse. And the cows - those big Holsteins are a fall season staple. If you've been to the farm, you probably recognize these signs and animals, but you might not know the face behind them.
That face is Shea, sign painter and caramel apple artist.
Shea's painting began with an off-hand comment to Kyle from - of all people - her mom. While at the farm, Shea's mom mentioned that Shea was a great face painter. Shea said, well...I don't like face painting much, but I DO like to just paint. And few weeks and conversations later, Shea's painting career at Vesperman Farms began with a friendly little strawberry guy for berry season...and hasn't stopped since.
For the next couple of years, Shea added a lot of personality to the farm. She laughed, "I spent a couple winters with no furniture in my dining room and a dozen huge signs that I was working on during the offseason."
Like so many of our workers, though, Shea's talents run far past painting. She began working on the farm in 2014, manning the admission booth and snack counter on Sundays. Since then, she has added to her repertoire, learning to make all our fall season treats, working the pumpkin checkout, and helping out during our holiday breakfasts.
But Shea's absolute favorite job at the farm is making our caramel apples, which she is the hands-down champion. There's a lot of finesse that goes into making the perfect apple, but after making what has amounted to thousands of these treats over the years, Shea is a pro.
Shea has been around the farm for years and has witnessed a lot of growth and change since she first stepped into the admission booth. As she helped out more and more, she was witness to the year-round work and dedication of Kyle and his family and workers to create a fall season experience for our farm guests. She has always enjoyed being a part of people's fun days and helping them to make memories at the farm.
Although we don't see Shea as much as we'd like to now, she is still making the farm a better place. Her living room has more furniture now, but the signs are still there, getting a much-needed hand from much-loved farm artist.
On Caitlin's first day, this city girl from Lake in the Hills, Illinois, found herself doing a full day of fieldwork, furiously planting pumpkins during one of the early summer's brief dry spells.
"I thought Kyle was a little crazy for making a city girl plant pumpkins on her very first day, especially because the internship job description didn't say anything about farm work," she says. "But it was fun seeing and being involved in the prep work for fall season."
After that first day, Caitlin kew she would be doing pretty much anything and everything that was needed, something that this UW-Platteville business administration major adapted to very quickly and is totally okay with. She started in our internship program this summer after spending 4 ½ months studying in London and touring Europe (she visited 9 countries during her trip!), and immediately felt at home on the farm.
"I love the people," says Caitlin, who applied to the farm because she had some really fun times here visiting during fall season with her friends. "I felt like family from the first day I came to work and that has grown every day since. Everyone is so welcoming and it's so nice to see a work community all be involved in anything that's needed to do what's best for the company."
"Everyone here pitches in and helps this business succeed," Caitlin added, stating that this is one of the most important things she's learned on the farm so far.
In Caitlin's free time (when she has it), she helps manage the UW-Platteville soccer team (she used to play but now manages due to an injury). She also loves to cook, watch movies, and hang out with friends. And she especially loves being outside and interacting with people, which has made this internship a perfect fit for her.
The very last thing this friendly and bubbly person wants to do in the future is sit in an office all day - which is exactly what she's NOT been doing here! So far, Caitlin has been involved in starting our ice cream business - she's been the primary person at our tastings, serving up ice cream - and has staffed our strawberry tent. She's planted pumpkins, helped with events, worked with Kyle on some social media projects and contests, and has been learning the general ropes of running a small business that has its hands in about fifteen different pots at once. She'll be sticking around throughout the summer and will help us during fall season, which she's really excited about.
One of her favorite things has been interacting with the farm guests. "Everyone has their own unique stories about the farm and it's been so fun to hear why they enjoy the farm," she says. Your feedback and conversation with Caitlin has been a great learning experience for her - "It helps me to learn what people value in a business, which I'll take with me in my future endeavors!"
For life after college, Caitlin has big plans. Her dream job is to work in a non-profit that benefits children, but she would be happy working for a small company that makes a difference in some way within their community. At the farm, she's been learning all about being involved in a small business, gaining leadership skills and developing planning/organizational skills to work projects from their original conception to the final project. She's excited to keep learning skills and gaining experience during this internship that will help her towards her future dreams.
Overall, Caitlin really likes the Platteville/southern Wisconsin area because it is so different from her home, where there is a lot going on all the time. When she came to school, she says she slowed down and felt less rushed. We hope that this city girl loves the country so much she sticks around for awhile, because we love her at the farm and are basically not letting her go!
Thanks so much Caitlin for everything that you're doing!
This year we hired on a new person, and her name is McKenna. She's from Fennimore and is super awesome at graphics and things, but the most important thing is that she's a redhead, which means we're best friends on principle.
McKenna is from the farm so she likes farm stuff, but this type of farm is a whole new ball of wax for her.
"I used to come during fall season when I was younger and have some really good memories of going through the corn maze with friends and spending time with my now-husband," says McKenna. But working here isn't anything like she expected!
Her first reaction when she came to interview for the job was that she was waaay overdressed. She was in formal interview attire while Kyle was in his ripped yellow t-shirt and farm jeans. Even though she felt uncomfortable in her heels, McKenna felt like part of the crew right away. And now that she's been here a few months, she's grown accustomed to the relaxed farm dress code. And she's learned and figured out all the weirdness of the farm: the strange hours, the weird projects, and all the bizarre things we get involved in. Plus, she's put in quite a bid to have Bruce teach her to run the catapult!
McKenna has made a lot of the graphics and videos and fun marketing things that you might have seen on the Facebook page lately, and she's been working really hard with Kyle to get our new ice cream business off the ground. She even spent an entire day with my (very grumpy) child taking photographs and arranging sets so we could get some fun pictures of our ice cream! She's really been enjoying bringing the farm into more visibility and testing out her creative chops.
In her free time, McKenna enjoys crafting; hunting in the fall; fishing on the boat in the summer; and dirt biking and four-wheeling. But in the last few months, she's been super preoccupied with wedding planning and traveling! She didn't get married on the farm (we're not holding that against her), but her wedding was Saturday, June 29th and she just got back from her honeymoon in Punta Cana. She's super excited to not only be married, but buy a house, and settle down in the area with her new husband, Kyle (not our Kyle; diesel mechanic Kyle Richard whom she's been dating for the past few years).
We're super happy for her and wish her the best! And we are excited for her return to the farm to hang out with us!
Eric is another "jack of all trades, master of none" (his words, not ours!) employee at the farm. He started as a tractor driver in the fall of 2015 (the first year we opened in the new barn) driving the kiddie wagon and out to the pumpkin patch.
Since then, he's used his jack of all trades status to help with a variety of projects and jobs on the farm, like helping transform the old garage Kyle bought at auction into our bridal suite; cleaning and setting up for events; bartending during weddings; the person behind our (shhhhhhh...) Easter Bunny and Santa Claus; and even shooting off a few pumpkins during fall season every now and then! With the exception of helping in the kitchen, he's pretty much done it all. Even though his job description doesn't always match what he really ends up doing on his shift, Eric rolls with the punches and enjoys his time out at the farm. "Maybe that's the secret of Vesperman Farms," he laughs, "Everyone is willing to do anything we can to help make our customer experience a good one."
In his non-farm life, this employee is a homebody and a town loyal. He grew up in Lancaster and currently teaches tech ed at the high school, a position he's dreamt about since he was in college at UW-Platteville. He's happy in this town, loves teaching at his old high school, and spends a lot of time with his family, wife and kid (the "kid" part is soon to be plural, with his second on the way this July!), and dogs. You may recognize the brown dog - Maret makes frequent appearances on our Facebook page and Eric is often responsible for persuading her to pose for our never-ending photos.
In his free time, Eric is a woodworker who loves to create anything from cutting boards to kid's toys to built-in bookshelves. He's an experimenter more than an expert (he says he's made things that make great firewood), but he enjoys the challenges and rewards and lessons learned from every project. Much like his attitude out here on the farm, when it comes to his hobbies, the experience is just as rewarding as the end result.
Eric truly enjoys his many roles out on the farm, especially because he gets to share their excitement about a family trip to the pumpkin patch or a big celebration like a wedding. "Being able to be a part of their experiences is what I love most about working at Vesperman Farms," he says. His enthusiasm and love for our customers makes us happy to have Eric "wood chip" in - in any role!
A year ago, Jane Henkel saw an ad for work on the farm and she thought, "hmmm...that sounds interesting." Today, this former food service director for Fennimore schools has a fall and a wedding season under her belt and is back in her "happy place."
Jane retired from 30 years' of food services last year, bought a place in Florida, and started looking for a part-time job that had a lot of flexibility and was something that she enjoyed. Food service in the schools is a lot of hard work, but here at the farm, Jane doesn't have to worry about the paperwork. She gets to do her favorite thing: be on the floor, prepping and cooking food.
The best thing about Jane is her sweet personality, but she also knows her way around the kitchen. During fall season, she comes in and helps prepare food for the busy weekends and make donuts. During our wedding and events season, she's here most Fridays getting our kitchen prepared for event menus. She loves to prep food. And like so many others, her favorite part of farm work is making donuts. "Seeing those kids with their noses against the windows watching us making donuts - It's just a real treat," she says.
Outside of the kitchen, Jane has a rich and wonderful life. She and her husband, Navarre, travel to Florida in the winter months and enjoy the beautiful sunsets, weather, and beaches. She loves to go up North, where she rents a cabin with her whole family in the summer, too. She has a daughter and son and two grandchildren who she adores and spends as much time with as possible. And her grandchildren LOVE to visit them in Florida!
For Jane, it seems that one of her happiest pleasures is visiting with others. Now that she's retired, her walks with her 11-year-old dog Maggie are frequently punctuated by chats with neighbors and friends. At the farm we get to enjoy her fantastic company and great conversation while she's dicing, chopping, slicing, and boiling. Any day on the farm with Jane is a really good day, and we're so happy that she chooses to spend her time with us!
Quinten Kreul's first years on the farm can be summed up by a blank white wall. He started, like many of our employees do, sugaring donuts in the old white barn when he was a sophomore in high school. It was a tedious job.
"For sure not my favorite," says Quinten, who goes by Q.
Since then, Q's broken out of the white-wall monotony. He's done everything on the farm: bartending weddings, setting up and tearing down from events, mowing the endless lawns, painting barns, building random structures and signs, even cleaning out the store room in the spring.
Though his job duties run deep here, Q's favorite things to do are driving the hay wagons to the pumpkin patch and bartending. He's a people person, after all, and he loves talking and hanging out with our farm guests.
Q is also Kyle's right-hand guy for a lot of off-the-wall requests. For example, when we were building the barn, after the trenches for the foundation had been dug, there was a heavy, heavy rain and all the trenches filled up with mud and muck. They couldn't pour any concrete until that was cleaned up, so Kyle called up Q and the guys spent a full day digging out sludge from the trenches. And while that may sound like a miserable job to many of us, to Q that's just a regular day on the farm. Plus, he has a low bar for misery.
"Really anything is better than staring at those white walls all day," he laughs.
Q is now a college student at UW-Whitewater studying cell biology. He plans to go on to chiropractor school after he's done at Whitewater and then hopefully land a job working with a sports team in Wisconsin. In his free time, he likes to do regular stuff - you know, watching sports and playing video games and hanging with his friends. But he's also a happy baker of delicious treats, a talent he picked up from his mom (also an employee here!), who made cakes on the side when he was growing up.
Even though Q isn't going to be the chef he wanted to be as a child, he's going to do great things with his future. How do we know? Well, anyone who can do anything from digging out muddy trenches to baking a mean batch of blueberry muffins is a force to be reckoned with.
Thanks, Q, for just being you and for all that you do for us at the farm. You're an absolute treasure...but we would like it if you brought us in some baked good every now and then. :)
Self-styled Donut Girl and Fry Gal, Ashley Cray has been working for us for years. She started making donuts during fall season, and although she still enjoys firing up the donut machine every now and then, she now helps us out with catering and food service, retail checkout during fall season, and is currently training to be a coordinator for our weddings and events.
Although she works late nights now with events, Ashley started with early mornings. When we only had one donut machine, we had to start super early in the morning to keep up with the donut demand throughout the day. She remembers slogging into the barn at 4 or 5 in the morning, working 10-hour days, and still feeling like they barely kept up with the donuts flying off the shelves. Now, we have two donut machines, so Ashley's days (thankfully) don't start as early as they used to.
Professional Photo by S. Kelly Photography.
Ashley's motto for life is that it's too short, so we need to make memories and cherish time with each other at every opportunity. This philosophy makes her work here at the farm very meaningful to her. She loves meeting people and helping them celebrate the big and small days of their lives, whether it's a family fun day on the farm or a wedding - to Ashley, each day is as important as the next, and each day is a treasure. Any time she leaves a shift, Ashley feels good about the impact she's made on others' lives, even if it's just in a small way, like a donut for a happy kid. And when she's making donuts, she has the best seat in the house:
"Probably my other favorite part of the farm is making donuts during fall season and seeing kids' noses smooshed up against the glass with their wide eyes and their caramel-apple fingers," she says. "It's fall season at its best."
Ashley's feel-good attitude towards the Farm and our purpose is exactly why we do what we do: we want everyone, even and especially our employees, to enjoy their time with family and friends on the farm.
Like most of our employees, the Farm is a second job for Ashley. By day, her professional title is a legal assistant for a law firm in Lancaster. But her personal nickname for her day-life is much different than all the hats she wears at either of her jobs. An avid hiker and biker, Ashely loves to get outdoors, and one of the ways she does this is to geocache, during which she goes by the moniker Backroads Ninja.
If you're wondering what geocaching is, don't worry - I had no clue either. But it's awesome! Geocaching is an outdoor scavenger hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices. Participants use GPS to locate items hidden in specific locations and logged by other geocachers. The app or the web-based site provides hints and descriptions to these hidden treasures, making it the perfect outdoor activity for someone who loves silly adventures - exactly our girl, Ashley.
So far, Ashley has found 84 caches. Her favorite find was a rubber duck trackable (similar to the Where's George? dollar bills). This duck had a little log and a code and had been all over the United States. But she's found other things, like kid's trinkets in a box or even sometimes pieces of trash. All these little treasures are stuck in dead tree stumps or in a fencepost or shoved into broken concrete - no matter what you find, Ashley says geocaching is always an adventure!
To us, this local farm girl is an absolute geocache treasure - we always love when she's on the schedule. She's an uplifting, happy-go-lucky friend to all she meets, and we couldn't be happier that she spends her time with us.
Fun on the farm...in blog form!