How far will the apples fall from the tree farm? 
Family farms thinking about tomorrows
Part 5 of 5
Growing into the future: The modern farm

By Josh Perttunen - Enterprise Staff

Sept. 11, 2014

The five generation of Koepkes, John and Kim, stand with two of their three sons, August “Auggie,” 13, left, and Colton, 10, who could represent the sixth generation if they decide to. The choice is all theirs, John Koepke said, stressing that the boys must pursue further education and spend some time away from the farm first.    
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff

TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC - For a multigenerational farm to continue its trend of one generation taking over from the next, the passion must be present in the younger generation. That is why Oconomowoc-area farmers take an approach of letting their children decide for themselves whether they want to take on that mantle. 

The Oconomowoc Enterprise talked with individuals on both sides of that decision.

“I would love nothing better than to focus on the farm as my sole income; it’s the best office in the world,” he said. “You get to go outside and have 200 acres that need to be maintained. It’s hard to explain. People look at it and say, ‘It’s so much hard work, how can you enjoy it?’ But it’s in my blood.”
-Nate Kummrow, Battle Creek Beef & Bison in Oconomowoc

Back to the farm

Kyle Zwieg, 27, owns Zwieg’s Maple Acres dairy farm in Ashippun with his father, Joe.

When he went away to post-secondary school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he wasn’t sure that he would be the sixth generation to carry on the family business.

“I grew up around the farming scene,” he said. “As a farm kid, you tend to diverge for a little while, thinking you’ll find something else.”

 Kyle Zwieg, far right, came back to the family farm after some time away to be part of the immediately family's team effort. They are, from left to right, brother Kevin,
father Joe and mother Lisa.    

Submitted photo

He only knew that farming was a day-to-day grind, that animals required care 24/7 and that he wanted a job off the farm. But, by the time he had earned his two-year associate’s degree in soil science, he was ready to go back.

The legacy of the farm, Zwieg said, did factor into the decision.

“Nobody says it or pressures you,” he said, “but you do think, ‘Do I want to be the one who lets this end?’ You think of the challenges that previous generations faced, like the Civil War and the Great Depression, and that puts the challenges you’re facing in perspective.”

But Zwieg believes that legacy can’t be the only factor.

“My dad says that the current generation can’t worry about whether the next generation will take over,” he said. “Their job is to create a viable business that the younger generation may want to come back to.”

The appeal of being his own boss, the love of animals and the necessity of farming all weighed upon his decision, Zwieg said.

“There are a lot of issues that make farming as important, if not more so, than it was in the past. The task of feeding the world’s growing population is an example of this.”


Education beyond the farm

John and Kim Koepke of Koepke Family Farms in the Town of Oconomowoc know that their three sons will have to make the decision whether they will be the sixth generation to farm the land, but also agree that they shouldn’t be pressured into that role.

“They have to make up their own mind about what they’re doing in life,” John Koepke said. “We stress that they need to get a good education and get away from the farm before making a decision.”

He and Kim were permitted the same luxury, he said, when they pursued degrees in agriculture from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Though their eldest son, August “Auggie” Koepke, says he wants to be a farmer now, the Koepkes want their children to be free to pursue whatever dreams they may develop along the way. College degrees are a necessary part of success for modern-day farming or pursuing other ventures, John Koepke said.

Zwieg concurred with the necessity of a degree.

“It’s pretty standard now for farmers my age to have a two- to four-year college degree,” he said. “It’s difficult to be viable without one.”


The future generation lends a hand

Nate Kummrow, 31, of Battle Creek Beef & Bison in Oconomowoc, said his family will not let the five-generation farm falter during any future transitions. Though transitions are not on the immediate horizon, Nate Kummrow is already working with his father, Greg, to maximize efficiencies and profits.

To that end, he is responsible for the raising of heritage pork, utilizing land that is not used by the beef or bison. The idea seizes upon a market that is quickly growing, he said.

“Pork is making a comeback,” he noted. “And people want it locally grown. This portion of the business is growing every day.”

Other additions are sweet corn and pumpkins that aren’t genetically modified, also known as non-GMO.

“Every chance we get, we try to do something more,” Nate Kummrow said.

Part of this is to make the farm viable into the future. Currently, Nate Kummrow’s involvement in the farm requires the supplemental income of his lawn maintenance business, Lawn Wranglers.

“I would love nothing better than to focus on the farm as my sole income; it’s the best office in the world,” he said. “You get to go outside and have 200 acres that need to be maintained. It’s hard to explain. People look at it and say, ‘It’s so much hard work, how can you enjoy it?’ But it’s in my blood.”

If a younger generation truly desires to keep a multigenerational farm going, it can be done, Nate Kummrow added.

“When the next generation doesn’t want to put in the work, it’s heartbreaking to see those old farms broken up,” he said. “A lot of the time it’s because they didn’t see it as viable. But if it’s not working the way it is now, you have to and can find a way to adapt.”