They are locally sourced. They are hand cut, hand breaded, and then hand deep-fried (just kidding...we do that last step with a tongs).
And then they are served up to you new this fall season: chicken strips!
Sure these are for kids. But more importantly, YES, it's socially acceptable to order off the kid's menu here at the farm.
For a lot of this off-season, Kyle and his food crew have been experimenting in the kitchen. The fruits of that labor are four delicious food and drink options that are new for fall season! And we're going to be featuring them right here on the blog. AND if you pop on over to our Facebook page, you could win a free meal or two...or in this case, a free drink!
Kyle's been making fresh-squeezed lemonade for Night on the Square and a lot of other events off the farm, but this year we're offering it during fall season. It'll be available in the Snack Shack, reopening this fall season in the comeback story of the year (for us at least...more on that in a few weeks). Chat with Judy or me (cause I'll be there on weekends sucking on lemon rinds and stealing donuts) while you watch us make this refreshing and delicious drink! And enjoy!
Looking at the bridal suite today, it - like so many things on the farm - does not reveal much about its previous down-and-out status. The bridal suite has come a long way from its previous incarnation as a home garage, set to be sold at auction or demolished, and it's shabby-to-chic story makes this little building all the more special to us.
The Bridal Room Then
While you were chasing down deals in department stores on Black Friday 2016, Kyle was securing this rough-looking garage. The local hospital in town owned this house and garage and wanted them removed to make room for their expansion. They put out an ad for sealed bids and when they were open, Kyle won this garage for $200.
Buying it was one thing; moving it was another.
In typical Kyle fashion, he was just going to move this building himself, but the state wouldn't grant him permits to move the building across the state highway. So instead he hired Heritage Movers out of Mt. Hope, who took only about 5 hours to load the garage, move it just over 2 miles, and deliver it to the farm. The garage sat on the farm over the winter while we figured out exactly what we were going to do with this thing. And let me tell you, I had my doubts. But like always, those doubts were unfounded. I still need to learn that this plucky farmer can really transform even the ugliest of things into useful and beautiful spaces.
In the beginning of this project, there wasn't even a plan to turn this garage into a bridal room. Kyle originally thought it would make a good food stand for fall season or even a good place for small groups to gather. But once we took a look at the building in the space, we knew what it should be used for.
The transformation is the result of easily hundreds of hours of labor: from pouring the footers and placing the building to all the shiplap and rebuilding the stairs to deciding how to furnish the space (still not done yet!). We finished the exterior in time for our 2017 wedding season and put a hold on all construction during the summer.
The interior construction and design has taken place over the last few months. We went all Joanna Gaines in there with white shiplap; painted trim and mirror frames during cold winter nights; and in the last few months have been refinishing and staining the floors, finding salvage furniture, and hanging up some of Bruce's wood artwork to give the space a personal touch.
We took out the old straight staircase and put in a new two-part staircase with a landing. This gave the first floor a little more footprint and, of course, it was really all for the photos.
There's just a little more furnishing left to do upstairs, but this room is ready for the girls.
The Bridal Room Now
To celebrate, we had some amazing people come out in July and we participated in a styled shoot of the bridal suite. It was such a fun day and we're so excited to share with you some photos from the day as we announce the opening of the bridal room, all dressed up and ready to party!
Hair and Make-Up: Tres Chic Salon
Photos: Christy Bee Photography
Dresses: David's Bridal
I'll answer your first question right off the bat: No, I'm not Kyle's dog. But he does love me (kind of). See?
I am the utterly spoiled pupper of our venue coordinator Morgan and our tractor driver/bartender/general handyman Eric. I live with my best friend and fearless leader Summit and my favorite person in the whole world: my tiny human Wakelin. And I spend most of my days sleeping on the couch, snagging table scraps from the baby, and enduring embarrassing photoshoot after embarrassing photoshoot.
Now I'll get to your second and third questions: Yes, I look like a boy dog, but I'm a girl (no matter how many times Kyle says otherwise)! And I have no idea what breed I am. I came up on a rescue bus from South Carolina when I was just a teeny pup. At about three years old now, I've since grown into my ears, but not my nose.
Best we can figure, I'm a little lab, a little boxer, and a little German shepherd. We know I'm for sure a lab in personality though, 'cause I'm a lover, a VERY loud barker, and I cannot stay out of any body of water larger than a postage stamp.
I love visiting with you guys every Monday, even though I'm not always the most cooperative when it comes to posing for my photos. Why should I sit around and do what they want when there are things to smell, goats to herd, and squirrels to chase? I LOVE the farm - there are good doggy things to do here - and I'll be coming back every Monday to show you my tricks and fill you in on what's happening on the farm.
Thanks for getting to know me a little better! If you have any doggo buddies, drop their photo in the comments - I love meeting new friends. Gotta go for now...it looks like they're setting up for a buffet...
For our intern, Kyla, life is really all about the goats.
"Who doesn't like an animal that has rectangular pupils?" She asks, and we have to say, that's a pretty good point. If Kyla weren't here to learn as part of her internship through UW-Platteville, we're pretty sure she would post up as an animal attendant permanently. Because this animal lover has found her niche here at Vesperman Farms.
Kyla is from Wauwautosa, WI, and she's in her third year at UW-Platteville studying business administration, marketing, and communication. She's minoring in entrepreneurship, too. She plans to graduate this May but before she does, she needs to complete an internship for her program. And that's how she came to us.
She's been here a few months now, and has done just about everything. As someone who is looking into either starting her own business or going into small business, Kyla is getting some serious experience here at the farm, where we wear multiple hats in the day (and sometimes in just an hour).
Since she's been here, Kyla has (take a deep breath) run Facebook contests (including our new "how tall is the corn?" posts); painted our bridal suite; bartended, driven golf carts, and helped with food service for our weddings and events; created some training documents for our staff; organized the mess of photos in our Dropbox; made some cool videos for our blog and social media sites; and worked our strawberry season.
And what does she think of all this?
"I like everything about it. It's just a really cool operation. When I write my internship evaluations, they ask you to make connections between your classes and the work you're doing, and I feel I've learned a lot about concepts they teach you in class and how those concepts work in real business."
She pauses: "....and there's the goats."
So far, Kyla's loved running the "how tall is the corn post" and interacting with our customers best. So far, we've loved everything about her. Especially her 15 minutes of fame as the photobombing chillest intern ever in the background of this lovely couple's photo.
Basically, we're going to find a way to keep this intern around. We like her too much to let her go fulfill her dreams. :) Thank you, Kyla, for all your help and for just being you!
The corn maze at Vesperman Farms came about because of the sesquicentennial.
The very first corn maze that Kyle is aware of was in East Central Pennsylvania back in 1993. Five years later, in 1998, corn mazes came to Wisconsin in the form of Wisconsin. For the state's 150-year celebration, a farm in Janesville offered a maze in the shape of our cheesehead state. There was no pumpkin patch or activities or food accompanying this first maze, but the novelty of it attracted 50,000 people.
And this got Kyle thinking. At that time, he was selling pumpkins in Lancaster, but was already having ideas to bring a bigger version of his hobby 4H project back to the farm.
A New Idea Crops Up
Back in the 90's and early 2000's, farms like ours were very basic. They had pumpkin patches - and sometimes wagon rides to them - where you could buy pumpkins. Orchards sold apples. And maybe there were some jams and jellies and even some apple cider to purchase while you were there. At that time, "farm tourism" was a wholesomely new concept and people in the biz were just beginning to form ideas for activities, food options, and big attractions like corn mazes.
So in 2002, with the mutterings of this farm tourism concept developing, Kyle visited a couple of farms to look into the idea of moving his pumpkins back to the farm. He started to really like the idea of a "farm destination," so we opened for our first season on the farm that fall. The first year was just "take a ride to the pumpkin patch" and little else, but the plans for the life-sized twists and turns in the corn maze were in place for the next year.
Mazed and Confused
Now, I didn't know this, but even 20 years ago there were companies that designed corn mazes. And when Kyle decided to forge ahead with the maze idea, he really swung for the fences. He didn't hire just any maze designer - he hired the guy who designed the very first corn maze, a man who has set multiple Guinness world records and is world-renowned for his craft, England-based designer Adrian Fisher.
Keep in mind that Kyle was 20 years old, a junior in college at this point, just starting out his business, trying to keep up with classes and life. I mean, he's basically still a kid. And he calls a world-renowned designer to help a tiny up-start farm in Southwest Wisconsin add a maze.
So one day Kyle was in class and his phone rang. And he could tell it was a call from Europe but he couldn't answer - he was in class. He checked the voicemail after and it was Adrian Fisher, telling him that he'd love to do a corn maze for the farm. And Kyle called him back and they started work.
I asked, "Kyle, how did you get the nerve to call this guy up and negotiate terms and work with designers and do all these very adult things when you were still at the point where you wouldn't even answer your phone for a big business opportunity while you were in class!?" And he responded with great simplicity - for this is Kyle after all - "Anything worth doing is never simple. I wanted people to really be wowed by the maze."
After phone calls and emails over the ocean, the company delivered their design: a giant Jack-o-Lantern. Then Kyle, his parents, and his friend Matt spent four days and about 70 hours on the 5-acre plot cutting out the pathways, taking this concept design....
...to this backbreaking labor....
...and finally to this reality.
A Field of Ears
For the first five years, Fisher and his company designed the corn maze at the farm. And for those first five years, Kyle and his friends cut out the rows to bring it to life. After Fisher stopped working in the U.S., Kyle began working with the MAiZE company out of Utah and hired another company (again, I did not know companies like this existed) that specializes in cutting maze designs to shape the rows.
In the second or third year, Kyle also began designing and cutting a mini maze for kiddos and school groups. This process is a little less exact than the main event, but no less fun!
Come Ear Often?
It takes most people an hour or two to navigate the winding rows of the corn maze at Vesperman Farms. But for those involved in bringing this unique experience to the public, it's a year-long effort of creativity, watching the weather, agricultural know-how, and, yeah, a lot of passion.
The maze has taken a variety of forms in the last 15 years. From the first Jack-o-Lantern, it's been a crop circle, a big catfish, a steamboat, a flag and eagle, farm sceneries, and a scarecrow. Every year has brought different challenges and experiences to both the people responsible for the maze and for the people enjoying the fruits of this particular harvest.
For almost everyone, the maze fulfills a need for odd diversions or for simpler pleasures. Ann Dolan, a retired teacher who guides our school groups through the mini maze, believes that a corn maze represents a challenge and a joy to people who participate. "The kids love to make decisions and problem solve. They feel so accomplished when they make it through to the end," she says.
The maze - as with everything we do - is also about spending time on the farm. Navigating through the maze isn't just a walk through the cornfield. It's about sharing ideas and thoughts with your companions; about going down the wrong path and laughing about it; and it's about your relationships, with each other, with us, and with the farm. To us, the maze is really just another way people can enjoy life on the farm.
This year's corn maze is already cut and shaping up for you fall goers, and as always, we're counting the days until we open it up for the public. This year we'll send you off into the maze with some well wishes from Ann, who always tells her school group kids before they enter:
We enjoyed getting to know you guys. And we really want you to know that. You know...in case we never see you again.
He's been doing this since high school, been living here all his life, so Kyle has a lot of memories of life at the farm. Today he shared with me some of his favorites.
This was in 1999, one of the first years Kyle sold pumpkins at his grandparent's house in Lancaster. Check out high-schooler Kyle unloading pumpkins! This first memory is really where it all began.
The first news article, published in the Herald Independent, written about the farm.
These were taken in 2013 on some of the busier days of the fall season. Kyle remembers being amazed at the crowds on these days, and to this day he is humbled by and takes inspiration from the people who come to support him and enjoy the farm experiences he's spent his life building.
Not many people can say they've canoed their farmground, but Kyle can. In the spring of 2014, a warm day and a frozen culvert created a huge pond near the animal barn. Kyle - being Kyle - dropped in his canoe and took a casual row around the land.
Most people haul their big pumpkins in trucks, but these four college students loaded theirs up in a car and then snuggled in around it to take it home. Look how happy she is (peep the top right corner)!
A great snap from a visitor to the farm. This is what fall season is all about.
One of Kyle's favorite photos from the farm has a lot of meaning. Not only is that goat just perfect, but these guys are both college friends who helped Kyle when fall season had just begun. Now they come back with their families to enjoy the fall season.
The first day breaking ground on the red barn in June 2015.
First fall season in the barn before we finished any of the interior. It looks so different now!
The first shipment of apple cider and apples for our 2016 fall season. In 2012 when Kyle started making donuts and selling cider, he would get maybe 30 gallons per order, which would get him through a couple weekends. This shipment was about 600 apples and just under 400 gallons of cider - and this is just one of many throughout the fall season today!
Our first engagement on the farm! All masterminded by the groom-to-be, who contacted Kyle to set up what was a complete surprise for his future bride!
Christmas on the farm in December 2016. This was an amazing night.
After the red barn was built, Kyle began assembling a little community of sorts on the farm. This day they moved what is now our Windmill Shed from a neighboring farm up to our ceremony site. This little shed serves many purposes on the farm, from a backdrop for wedding ceremonies to a great hang-out spot for fall season birthday groups.
This was in 2017 when Bruce grew a bunch of giant pumpkins. This great photo of Farmer Bruce made him Famous Farmer Bruce, as three news channels picked up the story of his hard work and the photo and story ran throughout the tri-state area.
There are a few things that I love about this place. First, I work with amazing people, both employees and clients, who make my days at the farm wonderful. Second, I get to bring my dog (and always give her a bath after our visit). And third, there is always something new to do. Kyle just can't help himself - he always needs a project.
Which brings me to the reason I'm blogging: We're now offering catering! To learn more about what it is we're doing here, I did a little Q & A with the boss. Check out his responses and our new catering menu below!
Q: What kind of events are you catering?
A: We're doing everything from business meetings, family/class reunions, parties, and company picnics to funerals and wakes to weddings.
Q: How long have you been in the food business?
A: About 10 years. Kyle started with a coffee shop in Lancaster and then moved to the farm, offering food during fall season. We're in our third summer of catering weddings and events on the farm. We serve parties of 20 people up to 300!
Q: What kind of food options do you have?
A: We have appetizers, pizza, and a variety of buffet options. Our most popular menu is our slow-smoked buffet. Texan barbecue-style pulled pork, brisket, and sausage with two sides - it's a hearty and delicious meal! You can check out all our menu options by clicking on the document below.
Q: What does your service look like?
A: We do drop-off service or staff attendants - depending on the type of your event and the size of your crowd. You can also elect to pick up. We have service options for all!
Q: How do I get more information/get in touch?
A: Check out our website or send Morgan an email at email@example.com.
There's a lot that happens behind the scenes at Vesperman Farms.
Fifteen years ago, the faces behind the farm numbered three: Bruce, Judy, and Kyle. During fall season, Bruce drove the tractor out to the pumpkin patch, Judy ran the ticket/retail counter, and Kyle bounced around as general handyman and do-anything guy. During those early years, the crowds were smaller, things ran a bit slower, and fall season had a very different feel than it does today.
It wasn't until 2007, about four years after fall season started, that the farm added its first non-family staff, whom Kyle calls their first "real" employee. A few years later when the farm hit its 10-year anniversary, Kyle added made-to-order food to the fall season experience, and the crowds - and the staff - got bigger. And just a few years ago with the construction of the new barn, the farm started operating year-round as an events venue.
Today the farm has about 60 fall season staff and 10 year-round employees. And our staff is amazing. They are all talented, hard-working, and fun people, and many of them work weekends and nights on top of school, other jobs, and family commitments. They care a lot about our customers and do everything in their power to make sure everyone a great day at the farm.
At this farm, we do a lot of what people call cross training. The staff here wears multiple hats on a daily basis: they work weddings and events; bake and deliver donuts and kettle corn for our fundraising program; drive folks out to the pumpkin patch, help plant strawberries and pumpkins; and work on various construction projects, like re-siding and painting old buildings and putting up windmills. This staff is always up for anything!
We ask a lot of our employees some days, especially when we have multiple events in the barn on one weekend. In just a couple of hours, a group of our staff transitioned the space from a ceremony to dining seating for our Pig Gig - check out the process below!
Although many of our last names aren't Vesperman, we are all a part of the Vesperman Farms family, and these friendly faces make the farm a fantastic place to work and enjoy.
This is a delicious snack that (shh...) I've even eaten for breakfast because it's almost like a scone and I'm a grown-up and can do what I want. :)
For the shortcake
2 Egg Yolks (hard boiled)
1⅓ c Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1¼ c Kosher Salt
3 Tbs Granulated Sugar
6 Tbs Butter (chilled)
⅔ c Heavy Cream
2 Tbs Sanding Sugar or Granulated Sugar (for sprinkling)
For the filling
1½ lbs Fresh Strawberries
¼ c Granulated Sugar
1 tsp Lemon Zest
1 pinch Kosher Salt
2 tsp Lemon Juice (divided)
1 c Heavy Cream
2 Tbs Powdered Sugar
For the shortcake
Preheat the oven to 300° (on low).
Combine the egg yolks, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in food processor and pulse until combined. Pulse in small chunks of the chilled butter until butter pieces are about pea-sized and incorporated throughout.
Add the cream and pulse 2 or 3 times to incorporate.
Remove dough from food processor and gently fold dough together to combine and mix in any dry spots. Do not over knead.
Using a ¼ scoop make 6 balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Don't flatten the dough.
Chill in the fridge until cold (about 20-25 minutes).
Take shortcakes out of fridge and brush with cream. Sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake about 20-28 minutes until golden and sides are firm to the touch. Cool before serving.
For the filling
Toss strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and salt together in a medium bowl.
Put half of strawberries in sauce pan and add 1 tablespoon of water. Simmer over low heat until berries start to break down and become jammy and liquid is syrupy (about 12-18 minutes).
Cool. Once mixture is cool, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the berries still left in the bowl.
Combine heavy cream, powdered sugar, and pinch of salt in blender. Beat cream until soft peaks form.
Cut shortcakes in half. Add cooked strawberries, then raw strawberries, then the whipped cream to the bottom layer of cake. Top off with top layer of cake.
Fun on the farm...in blog form!