Business Spotlight: Pinehold Gardens

Fresh And Sustainably Grown

As more and more area residents embrace healthier eating, feel concern for the environment and become champions of local businesses, they are being drawn to Pinehold Gardens – a small, diversified 21-acre farm at 1807 E. Elm Rd. in Oak Creek. This local farming operation strives to provide healthier food, contribute to a healthier environment and help assure a healthier community.

The farm is owned by the husband-and-wife team of David Kozlowski and Sandra Raduenz who left the corporate world while in their 40s to take up farming. “We both wanted to make the world a little better place and we weren’t getting that kind of satisfaction from our jobs at the time,” says David, a former magazine editor. So the couple switched to a farming life.

They combined their love for growing food, their interest in protecting the environment and their commitment to fostering a sense of community into one of the area’s leading sustainable farms. This meant giving up paid vacations, good insurance plans and work they liked. They purchased Pinehold in 2004, and have made it their passion to grow and offer only the freshest and highest-quality fruits and vegetables ever since. They are deeply committed to continually improving the biodiversity of their land – a goal that fits well with their vision and mission.

Interestingly, neither David nor Sandy was born into a farming family. Yet, it appears they were born to farm. Starting with only a modest background in home gardening, they’ve learned the ropes from research, hands-on experience and guidance from others. They’ve spent countless hours reading books on farming, attending educational conferences and learning best practices through their close-knit network of organic farmers in Wisconsin. David admits that while every day on the farm is a learning experience, he and Sandy view it as a new challenge. “Fortunately, there’s an abundance of knowledge sharing, so very little ‘reinvention of the wheel’ has been needed,” he notes.

The use of solar energy for their farm is a perfect example of the couple’s willingness to apply what they’ve learned. They both are huge proponents of renewable energy. Early on, they installed the farm’s first solar panel – a 2.5-kilowatt photovoltaic, dual-axis tracker that converts sunlight into electricity. It worked so well that they added a second, larger (2.7 kilowatts) system to the roof of the tool shed. “We’re now running wells, walk-in coolers, and all of our household appliances off of solar power. By generating some of our own electricity, we’ve seen significant cost savings which have been a huge positive for the business,” David explains. Consequently, he and Sandy are constantly in search of other sustainable methods to improve their farm’s performance, their land and the produce they grow.

Along the way, they have divided some of the day to day responsibilities, with David doing more of the field work and Sandy managing the paperwork and the harvests – especially the harvest crew. They’ve found a rhythm in working together and they both like all aspects of their farming profession. According to David, producing organic food for the community is by far the most enjoyable and rewarding part of their lives as farmers. Pinehold currently grows more than 45 different fruits and vegetables during the season and has dozens of varieties of certain items.

In order to bring out the best taste of all their produce, they select and grow plant varieties best adapted to Wisconsin climate, soil and seasons. Then they grow them in healthy, biologically alive soil. While they make the most of their plants’ inherent vigor and the quality of particular hybrid vegetable varieties, they also strive to preserve the genetic diversity and often exquisite flavor of certain heirloom varieties.

Besides growing fruits and vegetables, Pinehold also raises poultry on its land. This includes free-range, heritage breed chickens such as Ameraucanas, Silver and Bronze Wyandottes, and a hybrid breed called Brownies – all raised in a pasture lined with fruit trees and black currant bushes. The chickens feast on an assortment of clover, grass and insects, and also are fed a nice supply of organic feed that consists of corn, soybean and flax. The flock produces a limited supply of eggs. The farm also has two hives of Carniolan honey bees for pollinating the many crops and for producing honey. Bee production varies by season, sometimes producing 100 pounds of honey per hive.

Pinehold’s approach to farming and the freshness of its produce and other farm products appeal to enthusiasts of the local food movement. These are people who prefer foods grown or farmed near where it is sold or prepared. This special group includes chefs and home cooks who value the fresher taste of the farm’s produce and the fact that it is grown on healthy farmland. Although Pinehold is not a certified organic farm, David and Sandy stress that they use only organic growing methods and organically approved fertilizer and minerals and organically approved, biologically-based pesticides. That’s why the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is such a big draw.

“Members” pay a flat fee to regularly receive an assorted box of freshly picked fruits and vegetables appropriate to the growing season. The CSA movement has rapidly increased as more and more people have started to accept, understand and appreciate the remarkable difference in taste between really fresh, locally grown produce and the produce they might buy in the grocery store. According to David, “Time matters when it comes to produce. The fresher it is, the tastier and more nutritious it is.”

An integral part of the CSA program is Pinehold’s “worker shares” that can are an exchange of labor for a CSA membership. Worker share participants receive a box of fruits and vegetables in exchange for four hours of work per week. The majority of the worker share hours are Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and according to Sandra, each worker share participant commits to a shift and works that shift for the entire season (18 weeks). The early season just began on May 15 and the late season begins July 10. (A part-time employee also helps David and Sandy work the farm.)

Other avenues for those interested in Pinehold’s farm-fresh produce are the Pinehold Farm Stand and area farmers markets where David and Sandy have a big following. Their farm stand, which is located right on the farm’s premises, is scheduled to be open 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays from July through mid-November. And they will have a produce stand at Oak Creek’s new Farmers’ Market at Drexel Town Square (see page 32). Both David and Sandy encourage anyone not familiar with their farm or its programs to stop by to see why customers come back season after season.

And if you can’t seem to get enough of their farm-fresh taste, you’ll be happy to know that the farm’s produce is also on the menu at many well-known area restaurants in Southeastern Wisconsin, including La Merenda, Engine Company No. 3, Sanford, dandan, Odd Duck, Goodkind, Amaranth Bakery & Café, Bavette, and MATC’s Cuisine. “We like working with the restaurants,” says Sandy. “It’s not so much the names of the restaurants or their popularity that matters to us – it’s their chefs,” she explains.  “We make it a point to bond with and understand them, and they us.

Pinehold Gardens also offers seasonal open house hours on Saturdays from 2-5 p.m. from July through October so people can just stop by. And you won’t want to mill the farm’s fall festival in September – the 2018 date has yet to be determined.

So hats off to David and Sandra for turning their passion into reality and for making a healthy difference in our world! “We wouldn’t trade it for anything,” David says. As stewards for the slow food movement and sustainable agriculture in Wisconsin, their commitment to providing the freshest, highest quality produce, and educating the public on healthy food options remains their top priority.

Visit Pinehold Gardens this season, sign up for a CSA share or purchase some freshly picked produce at their farm stand this summer.

Pinehold Gardens • 1807 E. Elm Rd.
Oak Creek • (414) 762-1301