Many of us dream of doing something powerful with our lives, but may never realize those dreams. Husband and wife, Inga Witscher and Joe Maurer, though, have done a stellar job of coming up with a fantastic plan and bringing it to fruition. Inga, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and Joe, new to farming, have put their hearts and skills together to create a new series of half-hour television programs, Around the Farm Table, showcasing Wisconsin small farm businesses. The weekly show will be premiered on Wisconsin Public Television starting Thursday, November 7 at 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.
“I was looking for a way to add-value to our dairy farm, thinking about things to do with our bull calves,” Inga laughs. While researching what other people were doing, she became enamored with the many diversified small farms in the region. “We saw so many small-scale producers doing amazing things, we wanted to be the voice to highlight these great farmers, to introduce people to them.” And so, rather than do something with bull calves (which they now sell for someone else to raise), Inga and Joe decided to create a television series showcasing small-scale Wisconsin farmers.
Advertised as “dedicated to connecting consumers to small, thoughtful producers through storytelling, forgotten recipes and entertainment,” the show combines interesting and colorful photography of beautiful farm scenes with down-home recipes and Inga’s bright and entertaining commentary. Each episode focuses on a few tasty-sounding yet quirky recipes, such as Swiss Chard Tart, Steak and Ale Pie, and Rhubarb Rosemary Cocktail. As the recipes are explained, Inga travels to the farms that produce the ingredients, exploring the farmers’ everyday lives as well as their production activities and philosophies. “There are so many people out there doing great things,” Inga notes. “We want to promote these farms.”
At a recent house party celebrating the kickoff of the show, an introductory episode was shown, featuring the recipe for honey “Switzle,” or Haymaker’s Punch. During the show Inga receives compliments as she shares the thirst-quenching vinegar-and-honey brew with a hot crew experimenting with scything hay in her pastures. A visit to Honey Hill Apiary explores honey production; viewers learn that the disappearance of small diversified farms in the area means that farmer Douglas Sjostrom must now plant fields of buckwheat and clover as food for his bees. A stop at Wheatfield Hill Organics in Durand, Wis. highlights hay production and crop rotations, and the Kees family’s philosophies on soil fertility and organic production. There was lots of laughter and excitement in the room as the colorful and engaging scenes were viewed. All were anxious for more, and thrilled that this valuable and fun series will soon be available to all.
Although neither Inga nor Joe have a background in film or TV production, their excitement and passion for their goal drew them to the right partners and support to succeed in their dream. Joe’s background in design set him up as a quick study for film production, editing and scene design. Inga’s natural enthusiasm and passion for farming and cooking makes her the perfect host for the show.
The project began with the production of a series of short episodes, now available for viewing on the Around the Farm Table website. Inga and Joe sent copies of the shorts and their series proposal to Wisconsin Public Television to “get a read” on how their work would be received, and were thrilled in January 2013 to be asked to submit a 26-minute sample episode. WPT producers were very supportive of the work, and committed to the first four episodes. Farmers Inga and Joe are excited to now add “TV host” and “TV producer” to their resumes!
Although designed to connect consumers to the farmers involved with diverse small-farm production, Inga says that the show also will be valuable to farmers. “I always learn something new when I visit another farm–maybe it’s a kind of electric fencer I didn’t know about or a way to design a cow lane. The show will bring people onto a diversity of farms–there will be a lot to see and learn.” The show “isn’t just preaching to the converted,” Inga points out. “I had a viewer tell me that she was excited to learn about what a CSA [community supported agriculture] farm was. We are getting exposure to a broad audience.” WPT brings these farm stories into thousands of households that will be learning for the first time the joys and challenges of small farm production.
“Ultimately, we want more people to support small farms,” Inga concludes. “If our show can make this connection, then we have succeeded in our dream.”
Although now deep into finishing the milking season on their 15-cow organic seasonal dairy, Inga and Joe plan to get back to TV production in January once the cows dry up. WPT has committed to the first four episodes in November, and are open to running more if the show proves itself with viewers.
Watch Around the Farm Table on Wisconsin Public Television at 7:30 p.m. Thursday nights starting November 7. The shows also stream online at http://wpt.org. Visit the Around the Farm Table website at http://aroundthefarmtable.com to view several shorts and find recipes. If you find yourself as thrilled as this reviewer by Inga and Joe’s work, definitely call, email or write Wisconsin Public Television to let them know that the series should continue.
Review by Jody Padgham.