Witte’s thinks about writing next chapter
Farm-to-table events, product production spur permit request

By Laurie Arendt - News Graphic Staff

Nov. 28, 2017

 Witte’s vegetable stand on Bridge Street in the town of Cedarburg would like to incorporate a kitchen for canning operations in its business plan.
Photos by Mark Justesen

CEDARBURG — Each growing season, local residents have driven past their favorite grocery store and out into the town of Cedarburg for fresh produce from Witte’s Vegetable Farm. Though much of what Witte’s grows ends up on local tables, in freezers and in jars, some of it doesn’t, and that’s why fourth-generation farmer Scott Witte found himself before the town of Cedarburg Plan Commission requesting a conditional use permit.

“The whole idea of installing a kitchen is to take products that aren’t No. 1 grade or that are extra and do something with them,” he said. “We want to be able to cut that bad spot out and still use that produce by canning and freezing it.”

Witte was requesting a conditional use permit to process and can agricultural products, bake and sell retail goods and operate a restaurant on the vegetable farm located at 10006 Bridge St.

“As for the restaurant, my sister and I wanted to say everything in our dreams,” he said. “She’s thinking a farm-to-table dinner, maybe with a guest chef a few times a year. We went above and beyond on the kitchen idea for the guest chef. But really, what we want to do is 99-percent value-added vegetables.”

“As for the baking, it would be my sister wanting to make rhubarb kuchen and zucchini bread to sell from produce we’ve grown,” he said.

“The problem is that baking doesn’t fit into one of our buckets the way our zoning is written,” said Town Chairman Dave Salvaggio.

Witte’s request was before the Plan Commission because the proposed uses are not allowed in agricultural zoning.

“What you are requesting, the canning and processing, is allowed in a business district,” Salvaggio said. “The issue is that if we make this text amendment to allow this on your property, it will also be allowed on all 274 agriculturally zoned properties in the town.”

The Plan Commission also noted that rezoning Witte’s parcel to business would also not be in keeping with the town’s long-range plans, which would put a single business parcel in the midst of agricultural zoning.

“The town spent years putting that together,” said Plan Commissioner Edward Downey. “We’ve really resisted this type of change, but we’re not opposed to it. Times are changing, but the things we do set a precedent and whatever we do we have to look at the long-range effect.”

“We get this pretty regularly,” Salvaggio said. “People look at the town and they see all this open land and what they could possibly do with it. But really, in regards to the canning, are you somewhere between Grandma and Del Monte? You have to decide.”

“How does the Plan Commission feel about canning your own local produce?” asked Tim Rhode. “If you do it, it does it for every operation in ag zoning – if it’s good for the Wittes, then it’s good for the Polzins and for the guy with the apple orchard …” “I don’t have a problem with canning; the orchard down the road from me sells honey and honey sticks,” said Plan Commissioner Rick Goeckner. “I don’t see it being much of a difference. I think we should look at how other local operations handle this, like Wellspring in the town of Trenton and Riveredge in Saukville.”

Witte explained that his family’s operation was only concerned with processing their own produce for sale onsite or possibly at farmer’s markets. They had no interest in becoming a commercial producer.

Plan Commissioners decided to table the request, noting that they were not necessarily opposed to supporting Witte’s plans, but were not quite sure how to accommodate the request within the town’s existing zoning framework.