Categories: CampingDestinations

Finding Peace at Willoway Farm

Some of us suffer from an almost clinical restlessness. For Lilly Ball and I—founders of LOST WKND, the new literary arts and culture magazine based in Minneapolis—this restlessness is not some echo of the pioneer’s vigor, the swashbuckler’s vim. It’s a feeling in the bones, a humming under the skin, treatable and self-diagnosed, annoying to friends and family. The Greeks called it akathisia, which means, roughly, “inability to sit.” The restless among us are the opposite of homebodies. This, we argue (vehemently), is connected to our sense of mortality, that here-today-gone-tomorrow FOMO; we could spend weekends at home, idling, but there’s an entire world ripe for the hashtagging.

Although we love it here in the Twin Cities, we’re always poised to hop in our car due east, into the wilds along the St. Croix. So when our friends at Hipcamp suggested we make the five-hour trip through the gut of Wisconsin to check out Willoway Farm, “a small family farm host to a diverse garden filled with Heirloom Vegetables, Fruits, Flowers and heritage rabbits and layer chickens north of Milwaukee,” we (vehemently) accepted.

We set off under a late-September sky the color of dryer lint. Unless you have a particular fondness for Wisconsin, the drive is pretty unremarkable. Once we traversed the suburbs barnacled around the Twin Cities, it was pretty much endless farmlands until we hit Hudson, WI (bar recommendation: Stone Tap). Beyond that, continuous ranks of Walmarts and Fleet Farms and Cracker Barrels.

There are interesting sites along the way, if you have the time (which we did not): Spring Valley’s Crystal Cave, Sparta’s FAST (Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks) Fiberglass Mold Graveyard, Middleton’s National Mustard Museum, and all the curiosities in Wisconsin Dells, that deep-fried riot of Dairyland bombast.

We reached Willoway Farm after dark. Jacqui Fulcomer, the farm’s gracious matriarch, met us in the grassy driveway and showed us to our campsite atop a hill overlooking the property.

We built a fire (wood provided in a campside wheelbarrow), set up our Poler tent, and then, finally, poured ourselves a drink. In times like this—listening to the pulse of insects and the scratch of nocturnal critters, those last seconds of sun quivering to the south—it’s almost as if you can feel the tidal pull of the earth’s rotation, the g-force of some seasonal change. The fall brings with it nostalgia, the syncing of your circadian clock with the natural watercourses that feed the earth. Marine biologist Rachel Carson said, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” That night, surrounded by so many weird invertebrate harmonies, we had to agree.

We woke up in a fairytale where roosters hitch rides on the backs of sheep and monarch butterflies hit you in the face. In daylight, Willoway Farm seemed straight out of a children’s book or a James Fenimore Cooper pastoral. There was something Hawthorne, Thoreau, about the rows of tilled produce and small crops, the geese honking 3,000 feet overhead, so many lazing bunnies throughout.

Willoway Farm is technically located in Fredonia, flanked by towns like Cheeseville and Gooseville and Young America. Lilly and I spent the day hiking in the Pike Lake Unit of Kettle Moraine, among deciduous leaves feeling their autumnal choke; not yet vibrant, but tinged with yellow xanthophylls and orange beta-carotenes—all that sweater-weather photosynthesis.

Later in the evening, we joined Willoway’s owners, Jacqui Fulcomer and Dan Bertram—who met while working on an organic farm in Whitefish, Montana—for beers in their garage.

“I’m from Fredonia,” Dan said, hooking his thumb, “which is about five miles that way.”

“And I was raised in Rahway, New Jersey,” Jacqui said, and then: “A lot of times when I say I’m from New Jersey, people are like, I’m sorry. But, you know, I think… New Jersey’s fine.”

For the duration of our garage visit, Jacqui and Dan’s two medium-sized dogs, Winnie and Moe, demanded consistent attention by way of unsubtly nudging our elbows.

“I was working with a timber framer [in Pennsylvania],” Dan said. “But we’re home for the holidays, for the Christmas season, and Jacqui notices a property for sale, and it happens to be this property. It wasn’t even listed yet. We make an offer. They took it pretty much straightaway. And now we’ve been here about a decade.”

To say the entire place is charming would be insultingly reductive; every structure—from this garage, to the various pole barns, to Jacqui and Dan’s stone house—looks like it was painstakingly built by hand.

“What’s the future hold for this place?” I asked.

Dan and Jacqui looked at each other.

“We’re always under, you know, how do we generate a livelihood off of this limited space?” Dan said.We’re always up against that. The only way we can really do it is to grow more profitable crops. There’s what you wanna’ do, like, the ideal; then there’s what you have to do. So, what is the future? I’d like to think it’s continuing to grow good food.”

Dan went on to explain Willoway’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) aspirations (delivering produce to customers, basically), and developing a mobile app in order to “meet the expectations of a newer market.”

“While at the same time,” Jacqui interjected, “helping organic farmers.”

The gist here is that there are folks on hobby farms all over the country, fighting the good fight. This is the inverse of agribusiness and nightmarish factory farms. People like Jacqui and Dan, they’re passionate about their work, about every onion and tomato and animal (when Jacqui mentioned that a few of their sheep had “passed away” over the years “from old age”, her eyes darkened). In the face of everything, this gives us hope.

Lilly and I said goodnight to Jacqui and Dan and Winnie and Moe, and climbed the hill to our spot overlooking Ozaukee County. The night was still and alive. We drank and talked, reflectively, feeling a little less cynical, a little less frenetic; our restlessness, for a moment, stilled.

Andrew Stark and Lilly Ball are the founders of LOST WKND, the new international literary arts and culture magazine based in Minneapolis. They’re at peace holding séances in the basements of haunted hotels, trailing bears through secluded woodlands, and exploring various middles of nowhere with their two small dogs, Gizmo and Barney.

Hipcamp is an online marketplace where you can list, discover, and book campsites and accommodations on private and public land. Hipcamp is your go-to guide to getting outside. If you’re a landowner, Hipcamp creates new revenue streams for your business, which can help conserve your land and keep it wild. #FindYourselfOutside #LeaveItBetter

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