A Grade II Listed Farm Comes to Life as a Community Education Center Focused on Healthy Eating – UpNorthNews | Team Cansler

The Sheboygan Falls area comes together to create a space to grow, cook, eat, learn – and get some fresh air.

In the mid-20th century, milkmen at Miley Dairy stopped at most homes in the Sheboygan Falls area, bringing glass bottles of milk and fresh farm eggs so everyone in town could have the ingredients for a healthy breakfast.

Today, the Miley family’s old farm on the outskirts of town has been reborn as Nourish Farms and still brings people together over healthy, local food. On a given day, kids from the elementary school next door are learning about pollinators in the garden, or the preschoolers from the 4K program are using “puppy knives” as they learn to cut fruit.

Kids from preschool through high school get their hands dirty, learn parts of their science curriculum and work in the culinary classroom at Nourish Farm. (Photos of children by Whitney Morales)

Once a month, Nourish hosts a communal dinner in the renovated hayloft, which has been converted into a 200-person function space. In October, people gathered over pizzas cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven set outside the barn amid raised beds of chard and herbs.

Guests at the October Community Dinner at Nourish Farm helped themselves to salad, beet and goat cheese pizza, and focaccia with tomato jam. (Photo by Susan Lampert Smith)

Nourish executive director Ryan Laswell says the farm fulfills many roles — from educating young children about healthy food to educating high schoolers for culinary careers. But he thinks one important purpose is to serve as a community gathering place.

“We’ve forgotten how to be polite to one another and how to come together to share a meal,” he said. “I know there are people here with different views who sit down and eat here every month.”

Old milk bottles from Miley Dairy make up a chandelier at Nourish Farms. (Photo by Susan Lampert Smith)

In December, Nourish Farm hosts a December 1st community event, “Pizza with a Purpose,” featuring a program from the Lakeshore Technical College Culinary Program. The Celebrating World Holidays December Fellowship Dinner is scheduled for December 7th. It includes brisket, latkes, collards, sweet potato pies, saffron buns, and a Christmas cookie decorating station.

On December 13th and 14th there are holiday cooking courses for adults and children.

The entrance to the farm is next to the Sheboygan Falls Public Schools. (Photo by Susan Lampert Smith)

Laswell says support for the Nourish farm was impartial. While the Obama administration launched the Farm to School food program, Nourish received grants from the US Department of Agriculture during the Trump and Biden administrations.

“USDA grant funding in our farm-to-school space started under Obama, funding has doubled under Trump, and has now nearly doubled from Trump to Biden administrations,” Laswell said.

Before that, however, the barn had to be saved and converted into what is now the Good Food Education Center. When Laswell first saw the old Miley barn, its windows were broken and its former milking parlor was filled with old manure. There was talk of demolishing the barn to make more athletic fields for the Sheboygan Falls middle and elementary schools that adjoin the property.

But local couple Richard and Kristin Bemis, of the plastics company that bears the family name, didn’t want the listed barn to be demolished. They funded a renovation program that put the old barn on new foundations and spent millions on the renovation. In 2018 they donated it to the non-profit organization.

From there, about 20 local businesses contributed to a capital drive to build the teaching kitchen and ripening house, and to purchase a tractor for the 13-acre farm. Nourish Farms opened to the public in 2021 and has grown dramatically since then.

In 2021, Nourish had 30,000 public engagements, which counts people either eating, growing, cooking, sharing or celebrating good food.

“It’s grown by over 500 percent,” Laswell said. “It’s growing so fast that it’s hard to keep track of it.”

Christina Singh, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Sheboygan, says Nourish fits perfectly with her organization’s goals of teaching healthy living. While the kids in the Sheboygan Falls after-school program can walk across, Nourish is taking his show to the road to the other six locations, including a youth club at the Sheboygan YMCA.

“Many of our teens are hungry because they don’t have reliable access to food,” Singh said. The Nourish program teaches them some healthy snacks that they can make themselves using minimal ingredients they might have at home.

Younger children, Singh said, benefit from being introduced to new foods.

“They’ll say they don’t like zucchini, but when you spiralize them into zoodles and they cook up a fresh tomato sauce to serve with them, they suddenly have a new favorite,” she said.

Principal Lynn Bub of Sheboygan Falls Elementary School (SFES) said teachers are developing a Nourish Farm curriculum for science classes.

“It will be targeted at specific times in their elementary education so that every student who goes through SFES experiences the full program,” she said.

Sheboygan Falls Superintendent Zach Pethan first experienced the school as Principal. He said working in the fresh air on the farm did wonders for children who were too overstimulated to sit well in a classroom.

“I would pick her up from class and say, ‘Hey, I have an important assignment for you,'” he recalls. “When they came outside and got dirt under their fingernails, it was like a switch was flipped and their entire behavior improved.”

The kids, Pethan said, take pride in their gardening, saying, “These are kids who aren’t used to getting good feedback about their work.”

In addition to inviting the community to the farm, Nourish also reaches out to local businesses such as For example, its “Lunch and Learn” wellbeing programs, which it made available to Kohler Co. employees. Other companies partner with Nourish for team building activities like cooking classes or volunteering in youth groups.

Such holdings likely would have pleased former farm owners Al and Marjorie Wiley, Laswell said.

Ryan Laswell is the managing director of Nourish Farm. A poem by former farm owner Majorie Miley adorns the pizza oven. (Photos by Susan Lampert Smith)

The Mileys were well known in the community. In addition to supplying milk, they hosted international students interested in the Wisconsin dairy industry. Marjorie Miley was a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and once appeared on national radio show Air’s Betty Crocker Magazine to promote Wisconsin cheese. Her poem about bread is inscribed on a ceramic tile on the outdoor pizza oven:

Bread is the warm sun of summer, the early morning dew, the rich earth.

It is the warm rain brought in by the east wind, the west wind, the south wind and the north wind, falling on a field of golden wheat.

Bread is as old as mankind. It’s elementary.

It is essential because a grain of wheat contains all life in its seed.

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