Vic and Kay Vifian have had a lifetime in education. He is a teacher in Garnavillo. She is a nurse leading Lamaze and breastfeeding classes, as well as having served as a school nurse, and eventually as the first coordinator for the Family Resource Center in Guttenberg.
“When you think back, all of the things that you’re involved in are part of your journey in finding out your unique path. All of the things I learned are very useful here,” Kay says of Nature Haven Farm, which is owned and operated by she and her husband Vic. “Setting up the Family Resource Center is very similar to setting up all of this-- formulating the ideas and then making the connections to make it happen.”
They purchased their 28-acre property in 1984, built their home in 1985, and began planting. “There was nothing here other than the timber and an oak tree. We have planted almost everything on this property since then.” When she retired in 2005, Kay and Vic bought the first greenhouse for their farm on Great River Road.
Kay planned to start a small garden center, filling her greenhouse with perennials, but a conference in La Crosse changed her vision completely. “We learned about growing crops in these high tunnels that are not heated. You can grow year-round in this climate.” The Vifians attended a class taught by expert Eliot Coleman, who quickly became their role model for growing. “He says that for winter vegetable crops, temperature is not the principal deciding factor – the amount of sunlight available is. Latitude determines day length and quantity of potential sunlight available to a winter gardener,” Kay explained. “We’ve utilized his methods for crops that are able to be grown without heat and without any artificial fertilizer or pesticides. The growing practices that he recommends are to enhance the health of the plant by building up the health of the soil.”
According to Coleman, every layer of protection puts growers one to 1.5 zones farther south. The Vifians have two layers of plastic on their two high tunnels, plus row cover after December. “That, plus growing crops that like the cold allow us to harvest all winter. It is truly amazing. It’s like working with nature instead of against nature,” said Kay. “We feel committed to being caretakers of this property and trying to build the health and maintain the future of it, and also we feel really strongly about helping build the health of the community.”
Many heirloom salad greens are grown and sold year-round, and the Vifians also grow kale, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, sugar snap peas, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Asian greens, radishes, carrots, green beans, winter and summer squash, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and rhubarb, raspberries, and apple, pear trees, and plum trees – just for starters.
Kay subscribes to the old adage, “You are what you eat.” She and Vic eat well from what they grow themselves. “What you put in does have a definite affect on your health, and the same with the animals and what they eat, so avoiding chemicals in the food that our animals eat is important to us.” The Vifians raise egg-laying chickens, ducks, and sheep for meat.
The animals on the farm are an important part of its success. The ducks eat slugs, protecting the gardens, and the cats hunt mice. The dog, Bandit, keeps the property free from deer, coyotes, moles and rabbits. The animals’ manure is composted for the gardens.
Last year, Nature Haven Farm earned Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification from the USDA. GAP consists of voluntary audits (Nature Haven underwent four in the first year alone) that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards. GAP audits verify adherence to the recommendations made in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and industry recognized food safety practices. With GAP certification, the Vifians can sell their produce to the Guttenberg Care Center and other businesses with similar purchasing standards.
Consumers can purchase from Nature Haven Farm at Sodes Green Acre Country Market in Guttenberg. Kay emails out a list of available produce each week. To get on that list, contact her at Vickay@alpinecom.net or by calling 563-880-6522. The couple now has a kitchen ready at their farm, located at 23784 Great River Road, Garnavillo-- where they will be selling produce, homemade bread, and other items on Thursdays from 1-7 p.m. and Fridays 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Photo by author