Q&A: Dan Wegmueller, owner of Wegmueller Dairy Farm, talks ‘Around the Farm Table Celebrates Small Farms’
November 20, 2023 Leave a Comment
In the all-new special premiering 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, host Inga Witscher takes a journey around the state to visit farmers and producers who are finding new ways to preserve traditional agricultural practices. Along the way she meets with a sheep farmer, a maple syrup producer, a beekeeper and several small family farms before hosting a community celebration on her own farm.
One of those individuals is Dan Wegmueller, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and owner of Wegmueller Dairy Farm in Monroe, who has successfully turned his working dairy farm into one that also hosts farmstays, interactive farm tours, horse experiences, workshops, classes and events.
Ahead of the premiere, PBS Wisconsin spoke with Wegmueller about his life as a dairy farmer, agritourism and what it’s like to host visitors on a working dairy farm.
How has the approach to being a dairy farmer changed in your lifetime?
In my lifetime, dairy farming has changed from being very much a hands-on, sort of a micro operation. Very localized. When I was in grade school, we were considered a large farm. We were kind of an outlier because we milked 60 cows. Now here we are in the 2020s – one generation later – we’re an outlier because we’re a very small farm. The average sized dairy farm in Wisconsin is over 200 cows.
What does keeping your farm small allow you to do?
Staying small keeps us rooted in the community and it keeps us grounded, not only with the individuality of the animals that we care for but also the individuality of the land and the environment – these tremendous resources that should not be taken for granted.
Why did you make the transition to agritourism?
Our transition into direct-to-consumer relationships happened as a result of my parents passing away before their time. The farmhouse was sitting empty and we recognized we needed to do something different. About the time my parents passed away, I spent a lot of time walking around the farm, recognizing that things were about to change, recognizing that this isn’t my childhood home anymore, this is something much deeper than that. I wanted to do something with the farm that celebrated the farm and shared the farm. I didn’t want to squeeze every single drop of productivity out of the land, out of the environment, out of the animals. I felt like it was crucial to do something that shared what we had and shared the concept of localized agriculture.
What is it like to have people constantly around while you’re working on your farm?
Any farmer, anybody that works in production agriculture will understand what I mean when I say there are a lot of days that I walk around the corner and whatever is going on in the farm, I do not want to host anybody. But, even our bad days, our challenging days, we talk about it with the people who come through. If we have a veterinary call or a sick call, we invite the guests out to see what’s happening, to show them how we care for animals. Not everyday is good, life is not always easy and life is certainly not always fair but once you put it into the context of what we’re managing and what we’re dealing with, out here is no different than the concerns that parents have or that people have who are caring for loved ones or pets or anything like that.
How did you come to be on the Around the Farm Table special?
We hosted the premiere of the Soil Sisters episode on our farm in July 2022. I met producer Colin Crowley at the premiere and at that time, we were bringing in a new dairy herd manager, a young lady named Kalee Schaefer. I said, “Hey, you know, our story is not just something that exists on a hilltop on a dead end road three miles southeast of Monroe in Green County, Wisconsin. This is a concept that deserves to be applied on a much larger scale and at least talked about.”
We’ve spent zero dollars on marketing, we’ve spent no money on advertising. People have found us and come to us because there’s something substantive here and something that’s authentic about this experience. It’s bigger than just us. It’s bigger than this story, so I was very grateful when Inga showed an interest in what we were doing. She had a great conversation with Kalee Schaefer, our dairy herd manager, and Inga came down to the farm, we went out on horseback, and days like that make me take a step back and say, “Wow, we’ve created something here that’s really special.”