Terry Parisi worked for 25 years as a K-12 special ed teacher. Her husband Renaldo was a nurse. Neither of them grew up in farming families, but the land called them home.
At their son Franco’s prodding, they began to grow vegetables. Over time, gently touching the earth, creating a farm community, drawing people to their farm and learning to work with nature as they grew fruits and vegetables consumed them. They operated an organic produce farm near Stoughton, Wisconsin called Parisi Family Farm.
Terry retired in 2012 when Renaldo was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Renaldo was the “powerhorse and the heart of the farm,” Terry said. “We fought the good fight for 5 years.” The last few weeks of Renaldo’s life, in summer 2014, their friends and neighbors, and the community behind their CSA, came to the rescue.
“I was in the hospital with Renaldo those last few weeks,” recalled Terry. “I never left his side. I didn’t know what was happening at the farm. Someone sent me a photo one day. There were about 15 cars in our driveway. People were giving shots to our goats, trimming their hooves, planting, weeding, hoeing, mowing. People we didn’t even know came out to help.
“That’s the thing, more than anything, that I love about doing this,” she continued. “It’s the community and having a place for people to come and experience living on a farm. It’s a working farm, but small enough to where you can actually touch the earth.”
Franco and Terry continued to farm without Renaldo. But instead of delivering CSA boxes (Renaldo’s old job), their members come to the farm to pick up their food. They sell to restaurants in Madison and Stoughton and at the Stoughton Farmers’ Market, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.
They’re raising about 40 laying hens and keep a small herd of goats – for companionship and a little milk for cheese and soap making.
This spring, they are transitioning the last of their arable land to organic farming methods, restoring prairie and creating pollinator habitat. They’d been wanting to stop conventional grain farming but weren’t sure how to afford it. The USDA’s new Conservation Reserve Program will help. They’re planting prairie to nurture pollinators like bees and butterflies, and putting in pasture to raise grass-fed beef.
About 10 years ago, Terry restored a small patch of prairie near her barn. Today, about 70 apples trees are intermingled with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. They mow between the trees, but not between the rows. They’re packed with native plants. A big, overgrown, beautiful mess.
“We do not have any problems with worms or bugs eating these apples, and we do not spray. We have a little organic secret here on the farm. You don’t need sprays. You just need to find the right plants to live together to help each other.”
5 Minutes on the Farm was recently awarded a silver 2016 Excellence in Journalism award from the Milwaukee Press Club for Best Long Form Feature Story in the Audio category.
Photographs by Julie Garrett. Banjo by Cathryn Herlihey. Logo by Katie Hess.