From the Bronx to the Barn
I'm a Latina baby boomer who grew up in the tenements of the south Bronx. My school year was spent on crowded streets, noisy subways, and suffocating bus exhaust. But in the summer, in the summer I breathed.
Thanks to the sacrifice of my grandparents, my sisters and I spent every warm weekend and most of the summer in a tar-paper bungalow on Staten Island. There was no indoor plumbing, no television, and cold outdoor showers but to me it was a wonderland, a quiet refuge from the press, noise and intrusion of the city. That was the 1950s and 1960s, a time when Staten Island was pock-marked with market gardens, small farms and grass-strip airports. In those years, it took three hours to make the subway-ferry-bus trip from Manhattan to the bungalow. There were no express buses, and the Verazanno Bridge was just a set of blue prints.
It was that summer place, in a tiny villege called Spanish Camp, that imprinted country values into my mind and heart. It planted a deep yearning for open skies, the sound of wind through grass, the soft scent of herbs on a hot day, and the sound of bees hovering over flowers.
I acted on this pull right after college when I transplanted myself to Duluth, Minnesota as a novice television/radio reporter. I love Duluth. I now was in a setting that felt right.
I eventually moved from journalism to public relations, serving higher education, healthcare and sustainable agriculture. That's where the farming picture took shape.
Flash forward: I've had a career in communications, raised children, and married a country boy who wanted get back to the farm. As they say, the planets aligned. Today, Dave and I are taking lessons learned from our respective careers and applying them to our sustainable grass-fed beef farm. Bull Brook Keep is a place that not only demonstrates our commitment to high nutrition, environmental stewardship and financial stability, but which may also be a refuge for our children and friends.
Bull Brook Keep is all about reconnecting to basic values: real food, farming that heals and protects, and, ultimately, living a more grounded life.
Dave and I work to make solid links between what we eat and how its grown so that you can purchase beef that
- Tastes great
- Delivers high-nutrition
- Helps protect the environment
- Promotes happy cattle
- Helps revive local economies
We raise our cattle on 72 acres of rolling pasture. We don't feed grain, spray pesticides, use hormones or lace feed with antibiotics.
Our fields offer diverse grasses and clovers, wild flowers and herbs: a mix our cattle thrive on. We provide bales of hay - dried grasses and alfalfa - during the winter months. We don't feed grain or corn because cattle are designed to digest grasses best.
Bull Brook Keep is located on the western edge of north central Wisconsin. Although we're just an hour-and-a-half's drive from the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota metro area, our farm is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The drive to our farm winds through green fields and along tree-lined streams. It's a geography blessed with hundreds of clear blue lakes.
We're part of the St. Croix River Foodshed, an area that includes several wineries, numbers of artisan cow- and sheep-cheese operations, dozens of small-family vegetable farms, and vast fields of corn and soybeans. There are alpaca and bison ranches, and a draft horse operation just minutes from our farm.
We named our farm for the creek that runs across its southeastern corner, and for the idea that we will be a "keep" or safeguard for a handful of key values: living in thanksgiving to God, producing great-tasting food, practicing environmental stewardship and good animal husbandry, making a sustainable living, and serving family, friends and community.
Connecting People, Ideas and Resources
chronicles the steps and stumbles Dave and I are experiencing as we establish our farm. The website offers links to helpful resources as you continue your search for great food and better farming practices.
I also host Deep Roots Radio every Saturday morning, 9:00-9:30 a.m. Central Time on WPCA Radio, 93.1 FM, and streamed live at www.wpcaradio.org.
Download or listen live as I chat with ranchers, authors, chefs, film makers, educators, scientists, veterinarians, farmers and marketers from across the Midwest and around the country. Podcasts of these interviews can be found on this website.
Sylvia: I'm a Latina baby boomer from New York City. My family's apartment in the South Bronx was a third-storey walk-up in a brick tenement building. It was one of thousands. The smells and sounds of a dozen nations spilled into the streets where my friends and I played soldier, stick-bat baseball, hop-scotch and tag. Young boys would sometimes do battle with hand-made kites, their long tails affixed with razors and broken glass - perfect for arial competitions. And when a kite was sliced free and begin to spiral to the ground, kids would yell "Ahh-hooo-tah" as they scrambled for the falling trophy.
After college, I became a television reporter in Duluth, Minnesota. That was in the early 1970's. During my 40-year career in public relations, I've served public and private organizations in health care, sustainable agriculture, manufacturing, law enforcement and education. I am currently working for a private foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota.
David: My husband David Toftness has been a chiropractor for over 30 years, serving families from throughout Polk County, Wisc. and the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn. metro area. He is also certified by the State of Wisconsin in nutritional counseling.
A respectful hunter, David plants ground cover and berry bushes for game birds and other wild life. He works to nurture and protect the land, water and animals placed on this earth for our careful stewardship.