Call Dan and Kris Paape the accidental farmers: They purchased the Wisconsin land that would eventually become BeefnBeaks Farm in 1989 with the goal of raising their family in the country, and they rented the land out to a conventional farmer. They had their sights on a smaller plot, but it fell through at the last minute, which caused them to settle on the farmland option.
But in 2008, the couple watched Food Inc., the seminal agricultural documentary that shows how a highly mechanized handful of corporations run most of the nation’s food industry, and everything changed.
“We realized we were part of the problem, not part of the solution, and this made us do an immediate about-face,” Kris Paape says. “We slowly started buying old farm equipment and began implementing more sustainable farming practices.”
The couple has always kept laying hens, but after buying several Hereford cow/calf pairs, BeefnBeaks Farm was truly born. Dan fenced paddocks for the cattle and also built eggmobiles for the laying hens. They had been raising small batches of meat birds for themselves, but they started offering broilers to the public, as well.
“We felt that other people might like to eat chicken raised the way it should be: on pasture and in sunshine,” Kris says.
The Paapes now aim to continue broadening the farm’s offerings, including educational workshops, farm dinners and plant walks.
“We are hoping to add a winter chicken condo and a pig forest to the farm, too,” Kris says.
The condo will be an addition to the cow barn, which will make cleanup much easier in the winter months, and the pigs will help clean up a patch of forest in need of some attention.
“Our current cow barn with a lean-to houses our cows in the winter and serves as a screened-in porch in the summer for our broilers,” Kris says. “NPR plays on the radio 24/7 and helps keep the predators away.”
Farmers: Dan and Kris Paape
Location: Waterloo, Wisconsin
Specialties: Grassfed cattle, pastured poultry
Biggest Success: We love educating people about the way we farm and giving tours about the innovative way Dan has designed our farm, from our gravity-fed watering system for the paddocks and the walk-in freezer to his newest invention, the “Frankenbein,” a haybine-turned-planter that allows us to no-till seed a cover crop to help to heal the soil. I’m also a teacher and love to give farm camps for kids where they learn about the gardens and the animals, and get the chance to help cook farm-to-table meals, including pizzas, apple pies, pickles and egg salad. The average kid today is three generations away from the farm, so our goal is to bring them back to farming and nature: We call our campers sprouting chefs.
Biggest Challenge: Having the wherewithal to keep going and not give up. It’s not easy, but having all of this activity sure keeps you young and active.
Firsthand Advice: Take advantage of the unique characteristics of your farm. Ask for help when you need it. Be creative, and use social media. Expect to work hard, and if you’re truly committed to your beliefs and goals, you can do it. Being a producer of healthy food has many rewards.
— Kris Paape, as told to Cory Hershberger