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From Cows to Sprouts: Why this Organic Family Farm Went Veg

by Rootstock Editor

Nov. 7, 2018

by Rootstock Editor

Joe, Mike and Keith Langmeier have a big vision for the way they want to farm. Building from the organic principles they learned at their parents’, Jim and Sabrina’s, knees, they’re expanding from organic dairying to include organic produce. In 2018, they began with 50 acres of Brussels sprouts.

Joe Langmeier explained that as the family continued to evolve how they farmed, which included joining Organic Valley in 2003 and transitioning to a 100% grass-based dairy, they started thinking about trees. “Cows should have trees for shade throughout their pasture area. But what kind of trees? Should we plant trees that also produce something we can eat, like nuts or fruits?”

As the family considered options, they saw the demand for organic produce increasing at a rate that wasn’t being met. And they see it as a long-term trend.

“Everybody knows we need to start eating more vegetables,” Joe explained. “Over the course of that thinking and researching process, our family’s beliefs on nutrition and what we should be eating have changed to a more plant-based diet. Along with all that, we set out to identify what we love to do and what we want out of life. We all love farming, and we want to farm in a way that supports our families and provides quality of life.”

Suddenly, the single acre planted to asparagus the Langmeiers grow for Organic Valley became a focal point and melded into the conversation about planting trees in the pastures. The upshot of all that thinking and research? The family decided to expand their produce production from one acre of asparagus to 50 additional acres of Brussels sprouts. They even began packaging the sprouts right on the farm to reduce the time between picking and packaging, preserving the freshness. 
And that’s just for starters!

Joe, Mike and Keith plan to morph as much of the farm as possible into a holistic, whole-systems design that starts with and remains organic and incorporates permaculture methods as well.

“We see our growing process as an integrated system, where you have a row of trees, and they act as a windblock for the next row of hazelnuts,” Joe said. “Then you have a couple of rows of Brussels sprouts followed by a row of flowers that beneficial insects can feed on. And then you repeat that structure.” 
Joe explained that beneficial bug species need a certain kind of habitat to thrive, one they don’t get in modern agriculture, which favors planting a single row-crop like corn, soy or wheat over tens, hundreds, or thousands of acres (this is called “monoculture”). 

“It doesn’t help to have a little spot off in a corner that’s good habitat for beneficial insects because they may only fly a quarter mile and can’t get to wherever else you need them to help with your other crops,” Joe explained. “You need to provide them the habitat they need all over the farm in patches located next to a row of crops that can benefit from the presence of those bugs.” Joe pointed out that they also consider what these beneficial insects need to survive their harsh Wisconsin winters. 

“On organic farms, it’s way better, but we still tend to create a monoculture,” Joe said. “It’s nowhere near what it could or should be. When you eliminate that monoculture, you create resilient, healthier land. We see it as a way of farming that can ease the bad bug/good bug equation we’ve brought on ourselves by farming that old way.”

One of the essential principles of permaculture is to “creatively use and respond to change.” The Langmeier family lives this principle daily. As Joe said, “It fits us in every way. So does Organic Valley. We are so grateful the co-op is right there with us to support our growth plans and bring our products to people who care about what they eat.” 

He added, “Our mom passed away in 2015, so she’s not here to work through this with us, but we know she would be on board 100 percent.”