Erica Mills writing on farmers markets…

Chris Holman has no background in farming. Nor does he come from farming stock. Seven years ago, he was working as a college professor.

But these days, he is raising chickens, producing eggs, and growing fruits and vegetables with his wife, Maria, on a 41-acre farm in Wisconsin. And they spend their Saturdays in the community atmosphere of the Downtown Appleton farmers market.

“There’s 150-plus vendors, prepared food, crafts, and thousands of people come through each week,” says Chris. “There’s often music and the street is closed to traffic, with market tents lining each side. People mill about and move through the market. There’s a mix of people coming to shop for food and people who view it more like a fair.”

Chris and Maria raise a few thousand broiler chickens and several hundred turkeys and ducks per year. They sell free-range eggs and grow fruits and vegetables. The latter now constitutes 15% to 20% of their operation.

“We really enjoy going to a market,” says Chris. “We decided we would always be part of one because it gets us off the farm. We interact with a lot of people, and we widen our circle of friends through vendors and customers alike.”

What Chris earns from the farm — almost $50,000 — is roughly similar to what he earned working at the University of Wisconsin…but his life is very different.

The idea of having a small, hobby farm came when Chris and Maria decided — almost on a whim — to raise some chickens. The restaurant where Maria worked decided to buy a few chickens from the couple for Sunday dinner. Then, another restaurant decided to follow suit.

At the farmers market, people who know their story seek out their stall and their products.

Back on the farm, each day is different from the last. Some days, Chris may be making hay; other days, he might be rotating poultry to a different part of the five-acre pasture where they live.

For the first few years, there is a need to reinvest profits in the growth of the farm. But, like a lot of things in the farming life, Chris says it’s just another trade-off — one that he’s happy to make.

“I have friends who make money,” he says, “but they hate their jobs, hate their lives, and hate their houses. They are just miserable.

“It’s not like I worked less hard when I was working for other people. But on the farm, you know that those long hours are all going toward something you created. It’s going toward something for you, for your family, and for your customers.

“Farming is mostly fun because of the community of farmers we are in. I guess I’d say that the fun for me is in learning since there’s always so much more to know.”

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