The Victory Garden Farm

The Victory Garden Farm, An Unanticipated Call to Farming

Sandra Yerges

Little did Vanessa Wallock know that a hometown wedding connection would not only lead her to husband, Andrew, but also to the beginning of The Victory Garden Farm. However, her dream to work with food production was rooted long before this event and the startup of her business. Vanessa has always been an outdoor enthusiast and athlete, so she knew from an early age that her future required this type of lifestyle. “Nutrition and knowing where your food comes from was always very, very important to me,” Vanessa expressed.

Although she grew up in rural Wisconsin and had grandparents who ran their own small-scale hobby farm, a career in agriculture was not her original plan. Being that she loved animals and nature, Vanessa strived to become a veterinarian. After landing a job in massage therapy, her passion for what was put into the food we eat daily had flourished. She explained, “The only way you can really trust where your food comes from is if you grow it yourself.”

This thought catapulted her life in a way she never expected: a life surrounding farming. “I was never set out to be a farmer,” she said. “It called me.”

Her first step into this new endeavor was to find a place to learn about the agricultural process. As an avid traveler, she wanted to move abroad to obtain this knowledge. Feeling the call back home to care for her mother, however, Vanessa was introduced to a summer farming opportunity in Osceola through an agricultural internship website. This was the first of three internships Vanessa completed over the span of three years.

While continuing her career as a massage therapist in Colorado in the winters and spending her summers immersed in agricultural learning in Wisconsin, Vanessa was able to obtain the hands-on skills she needed to connect to her farming aspirations.

Throughout each of these internship experiences, Vanessa felt connected to the various farming tasks she completed. “It just felt like I was part of something bigger than me,” she remembered. Being that each internship was different, it allowed her to discover which facets she wanted to pursue in her own farm one day: a dream closer than she thought.

As mentioned before, Vanessa was reunited with Andrew at a hometown wedding 22 years after graduating high school with one another. Ever since then, they formed a relationship built on love and support. “He encouraged my farm dreams, and he bought me a farm,” Vanessa stated.

In 2015, when The Victory Garden Farm land was purchased in Fredonia, Wisconsin, the next step was to figure out which type of agricultural avenue the business should take. Vanessa developed an attachment to event-based farming from her hospitality background and second internship experience, but after hosting a few events on their farm, she and Andrew knew it was not the path for them. They also experimented with selling their produce and poultry products at farmers markets and through CSA offerings, but they knew there was a more fitting environment out there for them.

These discoveries led them to their current operation with a narrow focus of ten heirloom vegetable varieties, including peppers and tomatoes, along with some herbs and flowers. Animal production also became a large focus of the business as they prioritized their work with their laying hens, broilers, turkeys, and hogs. With eggs being the most popular of The Victory Garden Farm’s offerings, the chickens are highly profitable for the company.

Many customers also gravitate toward their heritage breed mix chicken meat as it offers a different flavor profile than other poultry on the market. With the high demand, meat processing has been another focus for the business. With the off-farm processor being two and a half hours away, stocking their freezer for the winter while keeping up with the customer interest has been a challenge for the past year.

On the other hand, the growing and harvesting of their high quality produce has become a productive process for the farm. Within their three hoop houses, the vegetables and herbs are grown under a controlled environment. This not only helps them to grow in a uniform way, but also allows them to be protected from the direct cold weather in early spring. Being that five of their acres are now being leased to expand animal production, the existing five acres are utilized for the farming of their flowers, kale, and garlic.

As one of the founders of the Ozaukee Area REKO Ring, an online farmer’s market, Vanessa utilizes this service to sell the company’s products to those in the surrounding community. On top of this endeavor, their offerings supply two Wisconsin-based restaurants and a few grocery outlets as well. With kale being a highly sought after product for a local juice bar, The Victory Garden Farm diligently works to wash, pack, and deliver their kale so it can be freshly offered the same day it is harvested. This quick process is supported and sustained by the employed help Vanessa has on the farm.

“It’s always amazing to me how much more I can get done with just one extra set of hands,” Vanessa admitted. These helpful hands are one of the many Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) funded additions to The Victory Garden Farm.

Their VAPG story began with a fellow farmer friend of Vanessa’s, Sarah, whose husband was a previous recipient of the grant. After being encouraged to apply, Vanessa remained hesitant as she knew it was going to be a difficult process for someone who was more adept with outdoor work. Although she had some grant writing experience in the past, the reimbursement aspect of the grant was both new and daunting to her.

Knowing this and having experience working for a grant writer, Sarah offered to write the smaller version of the grant for her while being there for Vanessa to answer any questions. With the paperwork requirements looming on Vanessa’s mind, Sarah was a great resource in encouraging her that it is simple after being acquainted with the process.

Vanessa expressed the importance of obtaining help in the application stage of the VAPG. It is easy to become overwhelmed over the end goal as opposed to taking it one step at a time. Hiring someone as a guide throughout this time can help make a long-term grant opportunity feel within reach.

The assistance Vanessa received was imperative to her accessing the reimbursement funds in 2020. Over the past three years, the company has worked to hire more employees along with updating and enhancing their marketing for the brand. With a redesigned website and online farm store for further sales, there has been movement toward gaining recognition as a brand. These efforts coupled with updated egg cartons allowed the company to move forward in a way they could not before.

“People know the farm now,” Vanessa shared. “That’s all because of the VAPG.”

From an unanticipated call to farming to the current business expansion efforts from the VAPG, Vanessa has seen the immense growth a company can go through over the years. With existing grant funds available to her through October 2023, there are still opportunities for business and brand growth for The Victory Garden Farm.