The Farmers Behind the Food: Paul Ehrhardt and Kay Jensen, JenEhr Family Farm

Written by Jamie Ferschinger
    Friday, 15 February 2013

JenEhr Family Farm has been offering CSA shares for 15 years along with sales at farmers markets, to natural food cooperatives and area restaurants. As Wisconsin natives and growing up on farms, owners Paul Ehrhardt and Kay Jensen understand the soil and infrastructure needs in growing healthy organic produce year round. Everything in their CSA share is grown at the farm, from early summer strawberries and blueberries to late fall broccoli and spinach. Using early season hoop houses, deep well irrigation and complimented with an incredible farm crew, JenEhr offers organic, sustainable and nutritious produce from April to December with informative weekly email newsletters. Every pickup site is staffed by someone from the farm to answer any questions about the items in the share.

Running an organic CSA farm takes a lot of people. And while it's easy to talk about Kay and Farmer Paul from JenEhr Family Farm, they'd prefer to talk about the folks doing the hard work involved in bringing produce to members each week.

The full time seasonal crew is comprised of six key players who show up every day, regardless of the weather, to plant, harvest, weed and water the 25 acres of organic produce at JenEhr. Nicolas leads the work crew into the field, list in hand of everything that needs to be done that day. “You'll have to see him darting around the farm, checking on irrigation, wrangling produce back to the packshed or running equipment or seedlings out to the fields,” said Kay. He, Miquel, Pasquel, Pedro and Pancho set a mighty pace in working through the day's work list.

In the packshed, Adrianne hustles to wash, pack and organize the produce that comes in during the day. He's often assisted by one of the farm interns or will occasionally pull other part-time farm staff into the packshed to wash carrots or pack broccoli.

That part time seasonal staff is made up of former and current interns, area high schoolers and a few neighbors and friends. They show up each morning ready to weed, sort tomatoes or anything else that Farmer Paul assigns for the day. Sun Prairie high school senior Laura is most happy when leading a weeding crew, especially into the challenging carrots. Megan, Sarah and Joey need only little prompting to jump into the work fray, picking strawberries, trellising tomatoes and cucumbers or moving chickens from brooder house to field.

While most of the farm work is hand-work, tractor driver Holly can be found in the fields, cultivating weeds with the as old-as-her-grandfather Allis G, hooking up the transplanter or scouting the fields for insects and weeds.

Oh, Farmer Paul and Kay are putting in their hours too, working alongside the crew and making sure that they and their CSA members have what they need. But JenEhr is a farm of cooperation, where everyone works together to produce the most beautiful weekly CSA shares possible.

JenEhr farm is 110 acres and located just outside of Sun Prairie in Dane County. The crop and livestock diversity found on the farm is one of the reasons it is so unique. Farmer Paul has been quoted as saying an animal component is needed for a successful vegetable farm. In JenEhr’s case, chickens and turkeys play an important role in the farm’s sustainability and business models.

The couple, their two children and their staff raise around 25 acres of fresh market vegetables, four acres of strawberries and an acre of blueberries on their farm. Livestock pasture for their 5,000 chickens and 250 turkeys takes up another 20 acres. The rest of the farm is in wetlands, woodlands and streams.

The farm is certified organic, but the poultry receive some conventional feed and therefore are not organic.

Vegetables at JenEhr are grown under a variety of conditions and situations that the couple has developed over the years.

A series of four-season hoop houses enable almost year round growing.

Fifteen three season hoop houses, each 24 feet by 270 feet covering 2.1 acres, are used starting in March to grow a wide variety of vegetables including peas, carrots, lettuce, spinach, onions fennel, chard and more.

And finally there are the 20 acres of farm fields, which require cultivation, fertilization and harvesting. All of these activities are very labor intensive.

Paul and Kay divide the management into their respective areas of expertise.

Paul has a passion for growing things and handles production. For Kay, who admits to having a love for managing and marketing, handles the marketing and business management.

Both Paul and Kay are graduates of University of Wisconsin-Madison; she has a degree in ag journalism/rural sociology and he in Animal Science/Ag Education. And both have Masters degrees: Kay has an MBA from Edgewood College, Paul in Soil Science from UW-Madison.

2013 LFOH logoYou can meet these farmers and many others at the Local Farmer Open House on March 9th 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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