McCluskey Brothers Farm, Wisconsin

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Know Your Farmer | McCluskey Brothers Farm, Wisconsin

Patrick, Brian, and Mary Ellen McCluskey of McCluskey Brothers Farm, Wisconsin and Shillelagh Glen Farms share their perspective on what it means to survive as real organic farmers in today’s market. While they find their immediate customer base to be educated and supportive, there are concerns that well-meaning consumers don’t realize the difference between what they have to offer and the corporate brands that hide behind the USDA organic label beside them on the shelf.

Mary Ellen McCluskey: Being organic is important.

The problem we run into is the consumer wants the true organic – the small family farmer who’s doing what we’re doing. But they can’t differentiate it from people that are just hiding behind the organic label.

McCluskey Brothers Farm sign and barn

Certified Organic and Rotational Grazing at McCluskey Brothers Farm, Wisconsin

Patrick McCluskey: Everything we do is certified organic. We’ve been organic since, certified organic since, 1996.

We have approximately 800 acres here in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.

We just got into intensive rotational grazing this year. We’ve always grazed but this year we took it up a notch, or several notches. We’ve put about 180 acres of our crop land into permanent pastures.

We milk Holstein, Holstein-Normandy cross. Oh and Brian has 2 Jerseys!

Cows graze on pasture at McCluskey Brothers Farm Wisconsin

We cut that herd back too, this year. We were milking 60 and when we went into intensive rotational grazing, we went the opposite way of what everybody else is doing.

Everybody else is expanding their herds, we’re contracting.

We found we can do more with less.

When we’re making our cheese, we don’t need a huge volume of milk to make a great product.

Direct Marketing at McCluskey Brothers Farm, Wisconsin

We have cheeses that the only place you can buy them is at McCluskey Brothers Shillelagh Glen Farms or at our farmer’s market stand. Those are the only two places in the world, you can get them.

inside the dairy processing room at McCluskey Brothers Farm

We’ve got some cheeses that we’re really proud of; well all of our cheeses. And our beef, also. And our syrup is – we knock the socks off people with our maple syrup when they sample it at market!

We do a lot of direct marketing with our products and that’s really been a godsend for the farm. It’s the way to go, as far as we’re concerned. To get your name out there, and your face, and your products – and for making connections with people.

We have a lot of our “customers” who are now our friends. I mean, they bring us peaches from Colorado! So it’s just been a good experience.

And the beef, it’s definitely helped being organic, and grass-fed is equal or more than what the organic label is now.

Patrick McCluskey poses with reel of fencing as he rotates cows on pasture

Honestly, I would say it’s probably more important to people that we’re grass-fed than organic at this time. It just so happens that we’re both.

It really manifests itself in the dairy aspect of things. I mean, we ran into it this year where the factory wanted us to keep producing organically, but they had marketing issues of their own because of all the organic milk that was on the market.

Here we are producing organically, and naturally, you’ll take less. You’ll get less milk per cow, it’s just how it’s going to be. And we’re fine with that.

But you can’t take away my organic premium and expect me to… They can’t have the best of both worlds. So challenges do present themselves. I mean, it does stare us right in the face and it makes it hard.

Patrick and Brian McCluskey in their pasture, being interviewed by Real Organic Project

Organic Still Matters To Consumers, Even If It’s Harder To Find

Mary Ellen McCluskey: Just this week there were reports that Roundup is in the food system, is in the food chain, and that’s not good.

So, organic does really matter.

Customers that we see at farmer’s market want to support the small family farmer that’s practicing good stewardship, organic principles.

So a certification or some sort of designation that would help us educate the consumer and say, “Yes, our cows are out on pasture. Yes, our cows are eating grass” would be great.

If there’s a way that the consumer can learn the difference, see the difference, so they can support the true organic, it’ll be really helpful.

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