When families come to Together Farms for dinner, they are literally enjoying a night out – outside, that is. The Mondovi farm, owned by Stephanie and Andy Schneider, is home to Burger Night, a casual event on the farm where guests can enjoy a gourmet burger meal, listen to a live band and relax by the bonfire.
Now in its second year of operation, Burger Night on the Farm has been a labor of love for the Schneiders, neither of whom grew up on a farm. “We knew we wanted to raise our children in a rural environment and bought the farm at the end of 2009,” Stephanie says. “We researched and took our time to consider what kind of an operation we wanted and decided to raise beef, pork and lamb.”
So when the Schneiders considered becoming an on-farm meal destination, they had a key ingredient right in their backyard – 100 percent grass-fed, organic beef. But taking Burger Night from an idea to a reality took extensive research, specialized equipment, helpful advice from chefs, and a lot of creativity and persistence.
Today, it’s paying off. The guests who visit Together Farms on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in the spring and summer rave about the food, the family atmosphere and activities, and the opportunity to enjoy time on the farm. For the Schneiders, it’s also an opportunity to share the beauty and the bounty of their farm with others.
“My mission goes way beyond burgers,” Stephanie says. “It’s all about connecting folks with the land and their farmer and understanding where our food comes from. A great-tasting burger helps get the conversation going, for sure.”
A Slice of Farm Life
Burgers aren’t the only item on the menu at on-farm meal destinations across Wisconsin. At Stoney Acres Farm in Athens and Suncrest Gardens Farm in Cochrane, visitors can choose from a wide variety of delicious pizzas with ingredients fresh from their on-site gardens.
For Tony Schultz, a third-generation farmer, Pizza Night on the Farm at Stoney Acres means firing up his pizza ovens to serve guests a family favorite. All the toppings, other than the cheese, come from his 13 acres of organic vegetables and his 60 pigs.
It also means sharing his farm with families who have been coming to pizza nights since he started in 2012. As Schultz found out himself, Pizza Night can even mean hosing mud off a child who wandered too close to a wallow.
“People really enjoy the food and coming out to a working farm,” Schultz says. “You can sit on my lawn near the pizza ovens, but beyond that you’ll see my fields, my pigs, my tractor and even my weeds. They like to be in a setting that represents a time-honored tradition of hard work, and they enjoy the healthy, authentic food experience.”
Heather Secrist agrees. She and her husband, Jason Schaffner, own Suncrest Gardens. “We offer seasonal pizzas that are inspired by what is abundant in the garden at that time. It gives us a chance to talk with guests about freshness and flavor and what’s in season. There’s an educational component that helps consumers connect to their food.”
Secrist explains that they add zesty asparagus to pizzas in May. “When guests return in July and want asparagus, we have the chance to share with them how we cycle our eating throughout the season – that just because they see asparagus in the grocery store in July doesn’t mean it’s fresh. At our pizza nights, it’s not unusual for guests to see us dash out to the garden to get basil for the next batch of pizzas.”
Both Schultz and Secrist point to the laid-back, family atmosphere on their farms’ pizza nights.
“Taking kids out to eat can be a stressful experience,” Secrist says. “But on the farm, the kids can enjoy the outdoors and the play area, and the parents can relax and enjoy time together and with other families.”
Schultz says while it’s a lot of work to make 200 or 300 pizzas a night, he really enjoys creating an experience for others. “Plus, I’m really grateful and excited to have people join me on my farm every Friday and Saturday night.”