I recently discovered a great new source of delicious Wisconsin produce. I was looking for some potatoes to oven roast and serve as a side with a strata I was making (from a recipe at Epicurious) when I came across organic baby reds from Igl Farms of Antigo at the Willy Street Co-op. The potatoes were delicious, so I thought I’d try to learn a bit more about the farm—especially since the bag label sported the encouraging motto, “know your food, know your farmer.”
As their Savor Wisconsin profile describes,
Igl Farms is a truly family-owned and -operated certified organic biological farm. We have been in business since the 1930’s and certified organic since 1997. We grow and sell certified organic red, gold and russet potatoes, oats and field pea seed. We also direct market beef from our small beef herd.
As detailed in their producer bio at the Willy Street Co-op website,
They farm biologically following the program and biological farming principles of Midwestern Bio-Ag of Blue Mounds, WI. This consists mainly of balancing the soil minerals, increasing soil biology and improving soil tilth and structure to create healthier soil, plants and food for animals and people.
“We are not a large or fancy operation, but we do the best we can to grow and sell the best quality food products we can. We face constant challenges from weather, pests, equipment problems and industrial agriculture. Although we have learned a lot since we have been farming organically, we still have a long way to go in our journey of trying to understand how this whole system works. We hope you are satisfied with the fruits of our labors, and we greatly appreciate the support you give us by purchasing our products….“
The website of Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks provides more background on the family’s transition from conventional to organic farming:
Brad [Igl] says the decision to switch to organic farming was both a personal and professional decision. After watching numerous family members and friends struggle with serious health problems, the Igls realized the importance of raising their crops free of harmful chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Brad notes that better prices in the organic market were also a major factor. He credits an environmentalist uncle with convincing them of the importance of sustainable farming practices to ensure healthy soil which in turn produces healthier food….
The switch to organic farming has come with its fair share of challenges. Brad points out that while the farm is one of the largest organic potato farms in the Midwest, it is also one of the smallest producers of potatoes in the region, as conventional farming practices allow for greater yields with less labor. The Igl brothers also face stiff competition from larger organic farms out west, where the land is more favorable for growing potatoes. But they have found their niche in the market as a local family farm that serves its valued customers here in the Midwest.
As their profile at Family Farmed describes,
We try to work with natural systems as much as possible to establish the healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals and people chain, rather than using chemicals, harsh fertilizers, and unsustainable, soil-damaging practices to try to push for top yields by trying to control and manipulate nature to our exclusive benefit
Our philosophy is that healthful, nutritious food can only be grown on healthy, balanced soils that are biologically alive and have good structure. The best way to achieve this is under a well-managed organic farming system. This must work with natural systems, must be kept sustainable through conscientious production management and a strong sense of land stewardship, and it must be profitable for the farmer in order for him or her to continue to produce the kind of food people want. We do not use or promote the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic agricultural chemicals, harsh commercial fertilizers, synthetic growth hormones, or subtherapeutic antibiotics.
That same profile notes that “We sell our products directly at our farm, and they are at times available from CSAs. Most sales are wholesale, or retail can be found at Willy Street Co-op in Madison and some Twin Cities’ co-ops (supplied by Roots & Fruits).”