Drive about forty-five minutes northeast from Madison Wisconsin to the town of Columbus. Then go northwest out of town on State Highway 16 and you’ll come to Fountain Prairie farm. Pull into the driveway and park between the house and the barn, step out of your car, and take a look around.
You will quickly realize that this place is different from other farms. You have been driving through farmland for an hour – mile after mile of rows of corn and acres of soybeans. Here you are standing on grass. Grass pasture and prairie stretches from border to border. And you’re looking at some of the most interesting – and beautiful – cows in the state of Wisconsin.You’re not actually seeing a farm. Well, yes, you are – but you are seeing more than that. “When you see our farm, you can see our souls,” is how John and Dorothy Priske explain their relationship to their land.
Fountain Prairie used to be just one more farm like all the others. Corn at 200 bushels to the acre – no problem. But something didn’t feel right. All that corn required tons of chemicals – fertilizer, pesticide, who knows what. When two family dogs died of cancer, farm chemicals being a likely source, John and Dorothy decided there must be a different way of caring for their land that would still allow them to live on it and make a living from it.
So they read and studied – a lot. (Watching John and Dorothy I’ve decided I probably don’t have enough brains to be a farmer.) They decided the best use of their land for its own health and their own would be to put the land back into grass. Grass pasture. Restored native Wisconsin prairie. But how could they live on grass? And how would the grass itself stay healthy? The answer turned out to be Scottish Highland cattle – those beautiful beasts you’ve been admiring on your walk around the farm. The cattle would harvest the grass, and fertilize it at the same time. John and Dorothy would harvest the cattle. As John told me, “I picked this breed because they would be good for the land – and then discovered they produce some of the best tasting meat I’ve ever had.” Good for the land, good to eat – it’s been a winning combination.
You can find Fountain Prairie beef at the finest restaurants in Madison – or buy your own at the nation’s number one Farmer’s Market in downtown Madison. You can even order it from their website. And they have helped several other farmers start their own herds of Scottish Highlands in the area. They aren’t rich – at least not in money – but Fountain Prairie farm is doing very well. Even dealing with neighboring farmers who just don’t get it, I don’t think John or Dorothy regret the path they’ve chosen for themselves and for their land.
But this is a column about “Godly and Green” – have I wandered from the topic?
Not as much as you might think. John and Dorothy admit that they don’t go to church much. [And they aren’t afraid to tell you why, but that’s up to them, not me.] But I’ve known them for more than a year now, and I see in them a “green godliness” that is hard to match. The first time we talked – at the Farmer’s Market – John had tears in his eyes as he flipped through an album of pictures from the farm. John cares deeply about his land, his cattle, the farm God has asked him to care for. He cares about what God cares about. That’s green. And it’s godly.
“When you see my farm, you are looking at my soul.”
I’ve seen his farm.
[cross posted from SustainLane]
Find Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms at www.fountainprairie.com . If you visit the farm or see them at the Madison Farmer’s market, be sure to tell them Ed sent you!