By MaryBeth Matzek, for Peninsula Farmer
A trip to the Madison area several years ago to learn more about Yahara Pride Farms was an eye-opener for Mike Vandenhouten.
Vandenhouten went along with Don Niles and seven other farmers to hear what the leaders of the farmer-led sustainability initiative had to say. He not only learned a lot from those leaders, but also his fellow travelers.
“On the way there and back I enjoyed the conversations and their knowledge and expertise in different areas of agriculture,” Vandenhouten said. “I realized I could learn a lot more from them, and together we started forming a vision of how to make agriculture better in our area.”
That vision led to the formation three years ago of Peninsula Pride Farms, a nonprofit environmental stewardship coalition led by farmers and whose members voluntarily participate. The goal of the organization, which has dairy and crop farmers and corporate members, is to leverage the ingenuity of the agricultural community, university research and scientists to meet water quality challenges.
While most of its dozens of members are dairy farmers, Vandenhouten owns 340 acres of land where he grows alfalfa hay in Brussels in Door County. He also has eight steers he raises for family and friends.
Vandenhouten, who is a board member for Peninsula Pride Farms, said the best part of being in the organization is the amount of knowledge members share with each other as well as the information that experts share with the group.
“They have had excellent field day presenters and great demonstrations. Plus, the knowledge from other members,” he said.
On his own farm, Vandenhouten focuses on how to improve soil health, which has been a key topic for the conservation-minded group.
Vandenhouten did not start out planning to farm full time. After going to college and working as a loan officer for a few years, he had the opportunity to take over the family farm in Brussels. He took it.
“There are a lot of challenges in agriculture, but I enjoy the idea of being in charge of your own destiny,” he said.
For example, Vandenhouten said some of the farming practices used 30 years ago are no longer recommended from either a business standpoint or sustainability standpoint. That’s where Peninsula Pride helps by exploring new methods that will benefit not just its members but all farmers.
“As we look ahead, we’re going to discover new farming practices to help improve our environment,” Vandenhouten said. “I believe Peninsula Pride members will be a part of the solution going forward for agriculture in Door and Kewaunee counties.”