In her undergrad days, Stephanie (Krohn) Schneider ‘03 studied natural resources but had little time for “frivolous electives” like Storytelling.
Today, she realizes that organic chemistry is doing little to help sell the organically raised and pastured beef, pork, and lamb she and her husband, Andy Schneider, produce on their farm but that everyone loves a good story. She and Andy are raising two young daughters on a 160-acre farm, called Together Farms, just south of Eau Claire in Buffalo County.
“I’m kicking myself for allowing myself to fit into a narrow curriculum box,” Schneider concedes. “Storytelling is marketing. And that’s something Andy and I need to do well if we are to succeed at our goal of working full time on our farm.”
Stephanie earned a masters from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in environmental science and policy and now works as a nutrient management specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
Andy, a self-employed carpenter, does most of the “dirty” farm work (infrastructure saving/building, all things tractor related) and daily hands-on activity with their herd of British White Park cattle, mix of heritage hogs, and flock of Tunis sheep. Stephanie tends to most of the “clean” farm work like marketing and delivery.
“Environmental schooling makes you want to recycle, but children are the best catalyst to make you question and change the food you eat. If you can’t find that food and have no experience farming, you may even think it’s a great idea to just buy a farm and do it yourself.”
They bought a farm in 2009. They didn’t know it at the time, but they had moved in next door to alumna Kari (Van Den Heuvel) Jehn ’90, who has served as a “surrogate grandma” to their girls. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without her,” Stephanie said. “We all benefit from the small yet connected world of NC alumni.”
Their first year of farming, Stephanie and Andy, faced extreme weather problems. So they learned about permaculture—a type of farming that works with nature and creates a resilient farm that can withstand weather extremes much more gracefully.
“Most Wisconsin farms are designed, for example, to get rid of excess water,” she explains. “Our farm is being set up to capture every drop of water we receive. Without water it doesn’t really matter what perfect balance of nutrients you have, so to us, on our sandy soils, water is our most precious resource, we would be fools to watch it go flowing off to the Mississippi.”
While they work on capturing all of their water via networks of ponds, berms, and swales, they are also planting the perennial crops that want to grow on their land already—including wild hazelnuts, elderberries, mulberries, apples and plums. Rows and rows of this food forest could be harvested and sold to the public but until full-time farming becomes a reality, they can let the animals do the harvesting and not be reliant on outside feed sources.
“What you eat has a tremendous impact on the environment and your community —especially meat.” But, Stephanie doesn’t recommend running out and buying a farm. They know a lot of like-minded farmers that have quit because of the sacrifices that are required. “Andy and I have both wanted to quit more than once, but never on the same day.”