Sue's grandparents and parents, now also Organic Valley dairy farmer/owners, created America's first biodynamic farm, in East Troy, Wisconsin. (Biodynamic is a chemical-free method of farming introduced by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924.) Sue recalls her childhood farm as being a perpetual magnet to travelers from all parts of the world. "I had a wonderful childhood. My parents welcomed apprentices, visitors, educators, everyone speaking different languages…most of our food came directly from the farm…my mother was a talented gardener, and also taught us the art of making jams and sauces, cheeses, butter, bread. We led a very simple and natural life."
Having attended some high school in Germany, Sue decided to return there to apprentice on a farm after graduation. As destiny would have it, just before she left, she met Altfrid, who was apprenticing down the road from her home farm.
Though raised as a city kid in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of a Salesman and a Homemaker/Librarian, Altfrid set his sights on exploring alternative agriculture early on. With a degree in Animal Science from Giessen University, he headed to an experimental farm in Wisconsin to apprentice in 1983, where his path crossed with Sue's briefly, before she headed to Germany.
Suffice it to say that after many trans-Atlantic flights and long distance calls, Altfrid and Sue found their way back to each other, and decided to work together on a German farm. They shared stories of the days they spent working in the castle dairy for 'Herr Red Baron' of Kulmbach—who, naturally, flew a red plane—before they returned to America to marry and start their own farm.
By the time they found their own farm in 1990, not far from Sue's childhood home, both were seasoned farmers with strong ideas. They had their work cut out for them: their new land had been farmed conventionally for 40+ years. The soils were depleted after having been chemically treated for weeds and insects, and pastures were non-existent. Aided by their participation in a case study with the University of Wisconsin Agronomy Department, the couple set about the task of converting the farm to organic. Slowly, they shifted the farm from a traditional soybean and corn rotation to the most important crop for an organic dairy farm: grass.
Where there is grass, there is romance.