“The whole idea behind this, in the simplest terms, is getting people to come out to the farm.”
Todd Fischer, along with his wife Julie, are prepping their farm at 10690 Maine Road between Bagley and Bloomington. The breakfast will take place this Sunday, going from 7 a.m. until noon, with a menu of pancakes, ham, cheese, applesauce, milk, coffee and more available. There will be viewing of the cows being milked from 7-10 a.m., tours of the calf barns, and machinery on display at the event.
If conditions remain dry, there will be parking at the farm in a field across the road from the Fischers. If there happens to be a deluge of rain before the big event, there will be buses running from River Ridge High School in Patch Grove, River Ridge Upper Elementary in Bloomington, as well as the Blake’s Prairie Fairgrounds to accommodate those wishing to attend.
And by all accounts, the crowd for this year’s dairy breakfast is probably going to be healthy, to say the least, that according to Andy Pink, who oversees the event for the Lancaster FFA Alumni Association. Pink has been around since the first county Dairy Breakfast in 1988 and he said that ever since the event shifted to the Grant County Fairgrounds, there has been a steady clamor from attendees of wanting to return to a farm.
Back in 2001 was the first year the event was moved to the fairgrounds, which was utilized because the rising concern of biosecurity, partly due to the concern over mad cow disease, and a hard time finding farm families to host the event. According to reports in the Herald Independent in 2001, attendance was also starting to dwindle, and having an easily accessible location were seen as positives for the move.
“It was hard to find a farm,” Pink recalled, adding that continued for several years, making the fairgrounds the defacto location for the breakfast. And with all of the amenities available - no worries about electricity, or parking, or restrooms - it was easy to setup, since they had been borrowing things like tables and chairs from the fair anyway.
But seeing the same location, year after year, also became a bit stale. And the numbers to the event proved that as crowds hovered just below 2,000 at the fairgrounds, compared to hovering around 3,000 during the farm site years.
“We had people say they were not going back to the breakfast until its out on the farm,” Pink relayed.
As for prepping for this year’s event, Pink said he wasn’t worried - parking and busing were the biggest issues. With Fischers having a shop that rivals the Eckstein Building, with paved floors and power, there will be signage around the buildings, and paved driveways, accessibility is great.
“This is a real modern farm,” Pink said, who added that they have volunteers for the next few years to host the breakfast.
And being able to have access to the farm is one of the reasons Fischer volunteered. “I hate when you go some where and ‘you can’t do this, you can’t go there,” Todd stated. “Everything will be accessible, I want it that way…..you can show them, this is what we do.”
To bring the dairy breakfast back to the farm, there are probably few better choices out there than the Fischer family, with Todd being a first-generation farmer who has been operating since 1990, and in this current location since 2007.
Todd had grandparents who “had a few pigs, had a few beef cows,” but his parents were not farmers, yet as long as he can remember he wanted this. “Ever since I was two years old, all I ever wanted to do is farm,” Todd said, pointing to his John Deere pedal tractor he received at that age. When asked what he would do with $1 million when he was in eighth grade, his response was simply to buy a farm.
While his parents are from Prairie du Chien originally, Todd grew up in Big Rock, Ill., near Aurora. Showing his love of farming, he recalled visiting a couple of uncles who were farmers and how when he came back home, he literally wanted the smell of the farm to linger with him.
“I wouldn’t let my mom wash the clothes,” Todd relayed, noting he kept those work clothes in a bag so he could get a whiff. “I would say, ‘mom, give me a couple of extra days with the smell of the farm’….there is something about it,” he said, joking that if someone could bottle that scent, he would buy it.
Growing up, Todd tried to get into farming however he could. He bought his first tractor at the age of 15, and worked for an area farmer through high school.
Todd said that working for that farmer was one of the best things he could have done because they were far from everything - an hour or more from a nutritionist, or veterinarian, or equipment maintenance.
“You learn to be a good electrician, a good plumber, a good veterinarian, everything,” Todd said, noting that when he was starting out, since he didn’t have any money, he had to do everything himself as well.
Todd learned another valuable lesson, how to be there to help people when you can, to work with them. His senior year, Todd had planted 26 acres of corn on the local FFA plot, but he had nothing really to harvest it with. That farmer brought his equipment, they harvested it, dried it in his bins, and then sold it, giving Todd all of the proceeds.
After attending junior college, Todd decided that he should get a bachelor’s degree in case he couldn’t make his dream of being a farmer a reality, so at least he could work in the ag industry. That brought him to Wisconsin and UW-Platteville. When he was getting ready to graduate, he found a flier with an older couple from Wauzeka - Orly and Gussie Reuter from Wauzeka - who were looking for some help.
Todd began working with the Reuters, managing 34 head on their dairy farm, split between them.
“Everybody has to have somebody,” Todd noted about the Reuters giving him that chance.
Now Todd always dreamed of being a farmer, but practicality led him to dairy, as he knew starting out with nothing, he knew a steady stream of income would be needed, whereas the volatile market in beef and pork suavely means needing some capital to weather those low price years.
“Dairy farming was the only way I could start farming,” Todd stated.
After time with the Reuters, Todd got a farm in Boscobel. It was at this time he married Julie, who was the daughter of a farm family, and really helped out with the operation, like milking the cows when he was out chopping the fields. She also oversees the accounts, and does other things like running to get parts for equipment.
“If I don’t have her, I don’t know how I do it,” Todd recollected. “You never do anything by yourself.”
After two years in Boscobel, the Fischers buy the Staskal Farm outside Fennimore, where they were for 11 years, and still operate, milking pregnant heifers there.
Todd said that he really didn’t get it as a farmer, though, until 2010, after going through what took place in 2009-2010, when the prices for milk dropped as a result of the economic recession. Two years after buying the farm that is going to host the dairy breakfast and hundredweight prices plummeting, Todd said he had to reevaluate how they did everything.
“If everything was easy, everyone would farm, right?” Todd quipped, noting that those times of adversity are the “the best times, because that’s when you learn.”
“You could wake up in the morning, and no matter what you did, you were going to lose money, the goal was not to lose a lot,” Todd joked. “It was terrible, honestly.”
He said everything had to be looked at in order for them to survive. “You have to do some complete soul-searching on what you are doing, and what you are doing wrong.”
Feed is one of the largest and constant costs at a dairy farm, and Todd focused on that. Todd handled all of his nutritional work, hopping in the truck after a day of chores to go to Fairbank or Clinton, Iowa, where they load out 24 hours a day. He measured how much protein would increase his cows’ output, and bought on commodities to feed his animals, making up margins by reducing how much it cost to feed his cows.
“By really struggling, made me reevaluate everything we did up to that point, it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Todd stated.
He also said it made him really appreciate being a farmer in Grant County. He noted it is one of the best locations to farm, as the infrastructure is here, with places to sell milk, and plenty of businesses to work with, and the land cannot be beat.
He also said that the people he worked with were very understanding and worked with him during that recession. He talked about Roger Taylor and Economy Feed Mill. “They are one of the fairest, they are awesome to deal with,” he said.
Then there is Hermsen’s Hardware. “There isn’t a thing they can’t get.”
And what he said was between the businesses he worked with and the bankers he had borrowed from to buy the farm, they all worked with him as they readjusted and made themselves more efficient.
“You will never forget that - the people who help you out,” Todd stated.
The market rebounded, and with the efficiencies in place, the Fischers made a number of changes to the farm - 12 buildings built or redone, 3,000 yards of cement poured, and Todd’s hands a part of practically every project.
While he dismisses the word pride in describing how he feels about his farm, Todd isn’t shying away from showing off the farm as the dairy breakfast returns, and hopes those farmers who come get the same thing he gets out of visiting farms, to take away one thing.
“That’s what is cool about farming - you can make a lot of different things work,” he said.
As for those who have never been on a farm, or maybe a generation removed from farming, he hopes to show what most farmers do, provide a safe, clean environment for their animals in order to bring products to market.
What maybe will also be picked up is how much Todd really loves farming, so much so that even with the long days and nights, the adversity, he never considers it work.
“I’m 48 years old and I don’t think I have gone to work a day in my life.”