The Farmers Behind the Food: Jeff and Kelly, Three Sisters Community Farm

Written by Jamie Ferschinger
    Wednesday, 06 February 2013
Jeff and Kelly in their hoop house Jeff and Kelly in their hoop house

Farmers Kelly Kiefer and Jeff Schreiber met while working at Outpost Natural Foods in Wauwatosa. Jeff was in the city for the winter after working as manager of the CSA at Wellspring, a non-profit farm-based education organization. Kelly had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Sociology and was off to pursue a five month internship as a farm-based educator in New York State. She was delighted to learn about Wellspring – who knew there was such a place so close to where she grew up? It worked out that Kelly went to work with Jeff at Wellspring when she returned from her internship in New York. There, over the next three years, their love for farming and each other grew. "In 2011 we started Three Sisters on Kelly's family's land. The name has a double-meaning. Kelly does, in fact, have two sisters, but they currently live elsewhere. At farmers’ markets, I am often asked if I am the ‘fourth sister’!  The other meaning is a nod to the ‘three sisters’ planting of the Native Americans. In this planting, corn, beans and squash worked together harmoniously: the squash sprawled along the ground, crowding out weeds; corn popped up through this "mulch;" and the beans used the cornstalks as a trellis. It is a simple and elegant example of working with nature, rather than against it. While we don't necessarily plant our corn, beans and squash in this way, we take the ‘three sisters’ as a metaphor for how to go about the work we do,” says Jeff.

"Working with the Farm Service Agency (FSA), we were able to secure additional land and buildings just next door in early April 2012," says Kelly. “One aspect of farming that is not well understood by most is just how difficult it is to get started, particularly if you want to avoid huge amounts of debt. We tried to take a balanced approach by purchasing, with the help of the FSA, the small property adjacent to Kelly's family's land. On the two properties, we have perhaps five acres of land that can be used to grow crops. Important to our decision to purchase was that we simply wanted to get started, and that we believe we have the skills to make a living farming on this property. That being said, we already have an eye out for nearby land to rent in the event we need it,” he continued.

“We are both very idealistic, and so it makes sense for us to do this kind of work. To us farming is not just about growing really good food—although this is certainly important! There is an element of social renewal that appeals to us,” says Kelly.  “A well-organized farm can be a great place to explore how we work together with our fellow humans and also interrelate to the animal, plant, and mineral worlds”.
Although they are still working to establish their farm systems and infrastructure they have decided that this year (2013) they would welcome any of their members to the farm to help with the harvest.

“We believe that a farm can be a new type of community or social ‘center’ -- a place where people can come together to experience the natural world and work together to create something greater than the ‘sum of the parts.’ Such a community has to arise organically out of the choices of individuals, but we are constantly engaged in thinking about how we can create the conditions for this ‘center’ to arise. In that sense we view ourselves as not only orchestrators of the forces of nature, but as ‘social orchestrators’ of a sort too. We are trying to ‘prepare the soil’ in which a new kind of community -- appropriate for our time and place -- might take root and grow. This was the impulse behind the original CSA farms in the US, and we see ourselves as trying to carry on that tradition in what is a different time, with its own challenges,” says Jeff.

Three Sisters Community Farm uses the following principles to guide their work:

  • Freely exercise our talents and skills to excel at the co-creation of a resilient, holistic farm center that produces an abundance of high quality and nourishing food.
  • Have and maintain a high quality of life, meeting our material needs and remaining financially secure while also meeting our need for balance, for personal and collective growth, and for happiness, health and vitality.
  • Steward a farm center that is aesthetically beautiful -- colorful, refreshing and alive. This place is a quiet and magical sanctuary where all can connect with and reverentially experience the beauty and rhythms of nature.
  • Do work that is positive and meaningful for others, and engage in fair, equitable, collaborative relationships.

 This blog post was written by Theresa Lins. Theresa is a Milwaukee-based writer and Urban Ecology Center “groupie”.  She has been active in promoting the Center and its programs for over 14 years.  Other than eating farm-fresh food, her favorite thing is to write about it and the people who produce it.

2013 LFOH logoYou can meet these farmers and many others at the Local Farmer Open House on Saturday, March 8th at our Riverside Park branch. Meet and sign up with farmers, learn how you can join a CSA farm (purchase a share of the harvest) and get a box of fresh produce each week during the season. Join us for this free event!

Jamie Ferschinger

Jamie Ferschinger

With a Bachelor's degree in Biology and Communications and a Master's degree in Conservation Biology, Jamie brings a wealth of experiences and deep passion to her work at the Urban Ecology Center. As Branch Manager of the Riverside Park Branch, she helps to ensure that things are running smoothly and everybody is happy! Outside of work, Jamie enjoys running when the sun is coming up, spending time outside, cooking, listening to music and traveling to new places.


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