Monday, November 17, 2014

Dear Friends and Farmers,

Over the summer, a handful of Historic Wagner Farm staff and volunteers took a field trip to visit our friends at Golden Oaks Farm in Wauconda, Illinois. Golden Oaks is a local, family-owned dairy farm dedicated to maintaining the integrity of agriculture in a suburban setting, and regularly provides the community an opportunity to see what it means to run a modern dairy farm.

Golden Oaks was founded in 1948 by John Crown as a suburban getaway for the well-known Chicago family. The property was purchased in the fall as the leaves were changing color, and had a number of Oak trees, inspiring the name "Golden Oaks".

John Crown had many pursuits in life. He graduated with a Bachelor's degree in economics from Stanford and received a law degree from Northwestern University. He spent many years practicing law before serving as a Cook County Circuit Court judge, and was a captain in the Air Force. But John also had a passion for dairy farming and genetics, and he spent almost every weekend on the farm, registering and caring for the Golden Oaks herd.

What started in 1948 as a small 200-acre dairy farm with a herd of 50 cows has now grown to a production with almost 2,000 acres and about 1500 animals. Taking a tour of the farm was an unforgettable experience, and it's easy to understand why its founder would want to spend so many weekends there. Our group happened to tour the farm on a brilliantly warm and sunny day, and it was beautiful to watch the wind blow dust and cotton fluffs across the fields. The birds were singing happily and loudly, and everywhere on the farm you're surrounded by earthy smells that are so hard to describe... something sweet, peppery, and the unmistakable scent of fermentation. Words can't do the experience justice.

During our tour, the president and farm manager, Tom Patterson, provided us with a wealth of information about their processes and work on the farm. My notes quickly became a jumbled mess of facts and figures as I tried to soak it all in. Here are a few of the fun things we learned about on our tour:
  • Holsteins are a very curious breed of cow. They will often come to the edge of their fence or barn to meet you - especially if they're young.
  • Modern technology offers incredible ways for monitoring the health of your herd. All of the cows at Golden Oaks are fed a "pill" that stays within the first chamber of their stomach. This pill monitors the cow's temperature and digestion to detect any changes that might indicate poor health.
  • Golden Oaks currently has about 1500 animals on the farm, but they only keep about 700 cows in the milking rotation at a time. 
  • The farm consists of almost 2,000 acres and produces much more than just dairy. In addition to their cattle and pastures, the team grows and produces about 70% of the feed needed for the herd which includes 1,100 acres of corn. 
  • The farm employees 21 staff members and hosts a fantastic internship program for young students interested in farming.
  • Farming is HARD WORK. During the summer, staff members work 66-72 hours a week and have a 6-day work week. Shifts are often 10 - 12 hours.
  • The farm is working hard to develop its sustainable practices. A section of the large farm is dedicated to composting organic materials both from the farm, and from the surrounding community. This compost is processed into a soil mulch and sold at Whole Foods in 7 states.

If you want to take your own tour of Golden Oaks, watch the video below or visit their website to learn about scheduling your visit. 

Until Next Time,