This has been a random winter month at the farm!
We started off making dozen and dozens of donuts for our Friends of Winskill friends, who then had their pick up at the barn. We then invited our 2020 couples and their families to the barn for our yearly tasting, where all booked couples try everything on our menu, from our appetizers to our ice cream!
We then hosted the annual Chamber banquet where our fearless leader Boss Kyle was awarded "Business Leader of the Year" along with a fantastic group of other business leaders (and educators)! Way to go, everyone!
And we continued to make progress on our ice cream truck, starting by drilling the first hole (and then cutting a big hole) in the side of the truck so we could put in the service window! Pretty soon we're going to be serving up ice cream from that window!
Not as cool but just as important is Kyle scoped out the right spot to put in the big tanks so we can have water in the truck and be completely compliant with food and beverage service rules. We'll take you on a tour of the inside of the truck very soon - it's shaping up very well!
AND on the subject of ice cream, Kyle visited the Lancaster High School technology education shop, where the students are currently making us a bunch of FREE CONE chips that we're excited to hand out to our ice cream enthusiasts. The high school students are pretty excited, too, as once they are finished with this project, they get their very own ice cream party!
We unveiled our ice cream desserts, tested out at both the Chamber event and our tasting, which includes a delicious cider donut sundae, which of course is something I'm going to be eating all the time. We'll talk more on that later - I'll be doing a full tour of our ice cream in the next couple of months!
Lastly, we hired an intern, Bridget from UW-Platteville (you'll hear more about her later), made some improvements to the barn by having Judy sew some drapery to cover the barn doors, and - oh, yeah - Kyle got a hair cut.
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.
We were super excited to learn that Kyle was named Business Leader of the Year by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce! He was honored in February at the annual Chamber banquet, held right at the farm. And even though Kyle whipped up some delicious cider donut sundaes for the event, we still got some cake to celebrate this great boss!
Congratulations, Kyle! We're super proud of all you're doing and really excited and happy to be a part of it all!
Some days when I walk into the barn, it's in full wedding make-up, beautiful and floral and gorgeous. Other days it's an explosion of fall: pumpkins, happy families, and the smell of donuts. And then there are other days, when I walk in the barn to see a tractor parked there, or a truck, or giant piles of torn-apart equipment.
The constantly changing landscape of the barn was the inspiration for us to add a new "monthly round-up" about the farm to the blog. Because every month - every day, really - there is something new going on, and while these things aren't always the most Instagram-able things we do, they are always interesting and always in service of bringing you a better experience here at the farm.
We're a little last posting our January wrap-up because, to be honest, these first months of 2020 have gotten away from us. But in the month of January, we've been busy making a mess out of the barn.
The first project on Kyle's 2020 maintenance agenda was to refurbish the wagons on the kiddie train. We built the original green wagons back in 2015 and then built the red ones in 2016. The green ones - being our first experiment with a wagon build - weren't as strongly constructed as the red ones and they've needed quite a bit of upkeep and maintenance throughout the years.
So the first thing I walked into when I came back from a little Christmas break was wagons piled high all over the barn and the VERY strong smell of paint. Kyle and Q, one of our favorite multipurpose guys, rebuilt all the green wagon frames and replaced wheels and other parts so they matched the construction of the red ones, which have been virtually maintenance-free since they were built. Then they all got a new coat of paint and were sent out of the barn, all ready for next fall.
Next on Kyle's list for maintenance are the big pumpkin patch wagons, which means that the next time we have a few weeks with nothing scheduled, I might be working from home!
But the thing that has been taking most of Kyle's energy and time has been ice cream. A few months ago, Kyle bought an old cable repair truck and we here at the farm were...confused. But much like the barn itself and in true Kyle form, the vision he sees that has us all scratching our heads at first is becoming a reality...and a cool one at that because this funky vehicle is going to become our new ice cream truck!
He's been gutting the truck, has ordered and received the new window (which we almost tripped over), ordered essential tanks and equipment, talked about rewiring, and has been chatting with the State about the licensing requirements. Add to that installing back-up cameras and other safety equipment, working with a designer to spruce up the outside, and working with a welder to fix it up to our requirements, and you can see why this month has flew by!
Right now, the truck still doesn't look like much, but quite a lot of the time-intensive work is almost behind us, and we hope that the remaining parts will come together quickly and we'll have our truck up and running in a month or six weeks. And we can't wait to bring you more stories about ice cream, which we will feature a lot here on the blog in the next months as we get more going on with our new fun farm treat - and it's new fun farm wheels.
Fifteen years ago, Kyle was a high school student, planting pumpkins and toting them to his grandmother's yard to sell, sometimes by himself and sometimes with his mom and dad, Judy and Bruce.
And a few days ago, while we were reflecting on the last few years since building the barn, the thing Kyle kept coming back to is how much his role in his business has changed in those fifteen years, and how many people have gathered around him during that time, including and especially his fantastic staff.
After the initial years, the fall season moved to the farm, and then it was Kyle, Bruce, and Judy all the time. There originally was just one counter, which Judy worked, and where you would pay for admission, get sodas or water or pre-packaged candy from a cooler, and get your corn maze maps. If you wanted to go out to the patch, Bruce would drive you. And Kyle would be there for anything else anyone needed.
As Kyle started to add more things and the crowds got bigger, Kyle and his parents couldn't do it all any longer. It was then that he hired another person to help at the counter, and the next year another, and then after a few years and adding food, five or ten more people joined the farm crew.
But in those early years on those busy weekend days, some staff would work LONG days, sometimes 12-14 hours. Kyle remembers clearly an employee who worked a long shift on Saturday, and then Sunday - without him asking - she came in early to help restock from the day before and worked a full day after that. After that weekend, Kyle realized that more staff was needed!
Today at the farm, we have a few year-round employees and almost 60 seasonal employees. We have high school kids and retirees and an amazing variety of people and we learn something from each and every one of them. Sometimes the farm is a person's first-ever job; other times they've been working their whole lives and are looking for something to keep them busy in retirement. Most of our employees have full-time jobs themselves and lend us their time at nights and on weekends. No matter their situation, every person at the farm brings something new and different and interesting to our table.
All this has come with its challenges and growth. All of us, including Kyle, have learned to communicate better. There have been pretty massive changes in how Kyle does things. Everything now has more structure and more organization. Even though people still cross train in almost everything, there are more defined roles and schedules. There is a lot less chaos...well, SOME less chaos in some ways!
More importantly than the growing pains are the amazing things that these employees have brought to the farm. Every day and every fall season, Kyle is humbled at how his staff makes things happen. His employees show up and do any kind of work he asks them to do and they stay late if they are needed to complete the job or task. They care about the farm and they care about our guests and they make our days a lot of fun.
This great team of people who enjoy the farm, are committed to taking care of guests, and are invested in people having a great time at the farm. Everyone at the farm takes care of our farm guests in the way that Kyle and his mom and dad envisioned they would be cared for, something that Kyle is always grateful for.
In the next few months, we'll continue to feature our awesome staff on this blog, because some of the most fun we have is giving credit back to these great people who have come together to make all this happen.
We've stepped away from the blog for awhile and we've missed you all very much! We found ourselves quite busy with weddings, fall season, and I (your friendly neighborhood blog writer) welcomed a new family member who's been just a little demanding of my time.
My daughter Theo is now 6 months and super excited to start hanging out at the farm (she's already been eyeing up the donuts), and I am super excited and now ready to revisit our blog space and bring you more stories from the farm. And I wanted to start with a look back on our blog - and our growth as a family farm - since we built the big red barn almost five years ago now.
The reasons behind building the new barn were primarily focused on fall season - we wanted to make guests more comfortable, to provide them with more food options, and to overall give them a better fall season experience. Building the barn was quite the undertaking, and required all of Kyle's time and effort. For a good while he was covered in construction dust and every time I came to the farm, there was something new to see. It was an exciting, but exhausting, time for everyone. And while in the thick of it we were mostly just focused on finishing what seemed like a monumental task, what came out of this red barn was something that a straightforward pumpkin farmer couldn't have even dreamed of.
In many ways, the barn is not just a barn. In the last five years, we've hosted weddings and anniversary parties and business meetings and Christmas church services. We've invited the Easter Bunny and Santa to enjoy breakfast with the kids that love them. We've enjoyed supporting community organizations with pizza nights and baked up donuts to help raise funds for schools. We've even shared in a celebration of someone's well-lived and well-loved life. The beams and posts and boards that once held up the mule barn of years ago and now clad the walls in this modern barn have been witness to so many happy days.
So this barn that was just a barn when we began this journey has become so much more significant: it's become a place for people to gather, to visit with their loved ones, to celebrate good times in their lives, to enjoy time with family and friends. It's become a community, and we feel so thankful for our small role in this family.
In this newfound community, we're humbled by the friendships we've forged along the way. We're grateful for the wonderful people we've been able to meet. When we first met some of the couples getting married in the barn, they were two young people in love and just starting their lives. Now we see them at pizza nights or during fall season, and some of them have children and others have bought houses and they are all living beautiful lives and we feel warmly and happy for the small chapter we helped write in their life story.
In this newfound community, we've worked with multiple schools and organizations - many of them for years now - and we're proud of their partnership and their effort and energy to bring good things to their groups, from football gear to abroad trips to materials for prom decorating. We are thrilled to see our sweet little donuts make so many people happy but also to help make such a positive change for these organizations.
In this newfound community, we've seen families - sometimes for years and years - visit our fall season and fully give themselves to their children's happiness, to watch them experience feeding goats from their hands, to hold them securely as they whiz down the zip line, to help them problem-solve as they find their way out of the maze. We see only happy faces smushed up against the window to watch us make donuts; we see only smiles as the pigs oink or the chickens chase bugs; we hear only laughs as families lunch in the red barn.
And in this past five years, I have started my own family and if I didn't understand the magic of fall season before, I do now as I watch my first child ride the kiddie train, scamper around the pumpkin patch, and devour a donut in one minute flat. This community is one that I not only work for, but belong to, and as much as I try to describe the joy I feel for the experiences I have at the farm and for the people I now get to call my family, I feel I'll always fall short. It is a wonderful place.
In just countless ways, we are so proud and grateful of how we've been able to influence good change and bring happiness to people. Here at the farm, we don't bring the family, we don't bring the love, we don't even bring the fun. You do that. You make it real. But we love that there is a place for you to do this, and we love that the farm is here for you.
We love that you choose us for your happy days. We love that you are here. And we hope to see you soon.
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!
Kyle may run the farm, but he is not in control. The weather is.
"It's kind of amazing to me how many decisions I make based on what the weather is doing," he says.
Essentially from the time that the ground thaws in the spring to when it freezes in the winter, Kyle has his eyes on the forecast. He's watching for the fieldwork, of course, but weather also influences our weddings/events, our berry season, and our fall season. What Kyle looks for varies from week-to-week but also from type of work-to-type of work!
In the springtime, Kyle is immediately looking for when the snow will melt and when the frost will come out of the ground. A lot of his work is driven by how wet the ground is. When we have springtime weddings, he looks at how wet the ground is to make sure we don't leave ruts when bringing our ceremony benches out of storage. This often means comes in very early in the morning - when the ground is still frozen - to transport the benches without tearing up the lawn. Mowing is also another farm activity that is driven by the weather - the wetness of the ground drives when and where we can mow. Sometimes Kyle or one of our staff can mow all day - other times it's just for a couple hours in the afternoon after working on other projects waiting for things to dry out.
The fieldwork, however, is the most pressing and the most weather-dependent. Strawberries are the first thing on the springtime list, and we usually plant sometime in April. Because we get small berry plants from a company in Massachusetts, Kyle pays close attention to the weekly forecast so he can get the berries shipped to him within the right window. If it's going to rain, he'll hold off on delivery for another week or so to keep the berry plants in cold storage as long as possible.
This year, he went through a shipping issue week after week after week because of all the wet weather. There ended up being no good time to ship the berries, so they ended up in our cooler for about three weeks before we were able to get enough dry weather to get them into the ground. It wasn't the best for the berries, but the sheer determination of the rain necessitated this unique situation. Unfortunately, this was a theme for berries this year: the continual wet weather and absence of heat made it difficult for the berries to ripen evenly, and we experienced problems over and over with our berries because the weather simply didn't do what the berries needed it to do.
In the spring, we also plant pumpkins, which are not nearly as bad because they are seeds (not small plants) and they are generally planted later in the season, in late May. This year, however, it was still delayed because of the wet weather, and we didn't get them in the ground until mid-June. In fact, our business/marketing intern spent her first day on the job planting pumpkins because it was go-time and we needed an extra hand - not something she expected when she signed up for this internship!
Speaking of farm hands, weather even influences how many people Kyle has around to help him out! Most of our employees are in school or work another full-time job, so may of them aren't able ability come in on short notice on a weekday. When it's crunch time to get berries or pumpkins in the ground, Kyle can spend a few hours on the phone trying to find a few people to fill in round-the-clock shifts to get things planted. A lot of times when planting is in full swing, both the weather and our employee's schedules can mean some really wonky days for Kyle and the gang. Early mornings to get paperwork or scheduling done; then off for a full day of fieldwork; and then at night, a few hours of working in other things, like necessary projects (we had a few very late nights during our bridal suite construction) or setting up the barn for an upcoming event.
Once we're fully into summer and berry season is over, Kyle watches the weather to ensure things are done in time for our weddings and events, but also for windows of time to get projects done around the farm. Rain can often delay work on buildings, building new activities, or setting up for outdoor events. Summer is the time that Kyle can prioritize these projects, but if the weather doesn't hold up, they can be significantly delayed or canceled. Oftentimes, it's a matter of fitting these things in around the other daily things that need to be completed...when the weather allows, which again, can mean an abrupt change in Kyle's whole plan for the day based on what the weather throws at him.
During our fall season, Kyle's attention to the weather drives how many supplies he orders week-to-week, how he schedules our staff to cover the shifts, and how he plans picking pumpkins from the field for our retail area. He's constantly asking questions like, "Is the weather going to be hot so I might need more water? Or cooler and nice so I need more cups for hot chocolate? Will the weather exclude many people from coming to the farm so I need a smaller staff?" Every day is a question of what the weather will do and how will it affect fall season attendance and therefore affect Kyle's daily decisions.
Finally, when we close for fall and head into winter, Kyle scrambles to not only keep up with our private events and weddings, but also to get the fall tillage done, work on the berries, and take down and store all the things we use during fall season before winter fully hits and the ground freezes over. He needs a good few weeks of okay weather to get these things done, but last year, winter did not allow that. It froze over so quickly that some things were left out and a lot of the maintenance on the strawberries didn't get done. These things were left undone because of the weather, which can mean problems for the berries in the coming year and, of course, more work in the spring.
From April to November, Kyle's days are fully driven by weather. It affects his fieldwork, his scheduling, his meetings with people for the business end of his farm, and how many people are able to enjoy the things our farm has to offer. Over and over, Kyle asks himself "What is the weather going to allow me to do?" The answer to that question affects not only his day, but his employees, and his guests, so the answer is important for so many reasons and therefore one of the most significant - and stressful - things he does here on the farm.
It felt like winter at Derri and Ryan's December reception, but it was a blast at the barn. This fun couple and their super fun family and friends kept us laughing all night. All the beautiful winter details were perfect: the greenery and the gold, and the love this couple has for each other, warmed up the barn on a chilly - but happy - winter night.
Congratulations, Derri and Ryan!
Photos by Fitz Photography
These two had been married for fifteen years before coming to the Farm to celebrate their vow renewal, and let me tell you, they were no less in love than any newlyweds. This intimate vow renewal and reception was lovely to be a part of, and the guests made us feel as welcome as we hope we did for them - they even included us in their photos (and let us taste the delicious cake)!
Congratulations, Cindy and Tim! We wish you and your beautiful little family many more years of happiness!
Photos by Sunrise Photography
Cake by Steph Halverson
Fun on the farm...in blog form!