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Farmers Grow Food for Thought: Marathon County

Tony Schultz and Kat Becker are trying to help Marathon County eat better.

Tony Schultz and Kat Becker

As a farmer at Stoney Acres, UW–Madison alumnus Tony Schultz ’04 was invited to a panel discussion where he and others — including a Nobel Prize winner — were asked to answer one question: What does it mean to eat well?

The essay Schultz wrote in response is posted at the Stoney Acres website, but more directly, he and his wife, Kat Becker MS’06 (also a fellow UW–Madison alumna), are answering the question for the community every day at their farm in Marathon County.

Together, they turned a conventional farm near Athens, Wisconsin, into a highly diversified, certified organic farm that warmly welcomes all around them. Kat and Tony started with a community-supported agriculture program, but soon offered farm-to-table pizzas every Friday night from May to November. For Becker, who grew up in Manhattan and brought her mother to live on the farm, the pizzas have some elements of home: the dough is thin and bubbles in the heat of the oven.

Eating bonds us. It helps to break down barriers in the act of sharing a common human need.

“We use a wood-fired oven, and in New York, they use coal,” Becker says, “We use whole wheat crust, they don’t. But we both use Wisconsin cheese.”

Becker came to the state for graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she met Schultz, who grew up on the farm in Marathon County. Becker says that they didn’t view themselves as entrepreneurs or business owners, but that they wanted to apply what they had learned about agriculture to offer the community fresh, seasonal food.

Their efforts to transform the farm coincided with a growing awareness of food, aided in part by the writing of Michael Pollan. His book The Omnivore’s Dilemma had recently been published, and Becker says that Pollan’s ideas took hold in Wausau as they had elsewhere. With Marathon County’s population, they figured there would be enough people to support their efforts. The land under their care soon produced maple syrup, grass-fed beef, pastured pork, vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers.

“Eating bonds us,” Schultz says. “It helps to break down barriers in the act of sharing a common human need.” Much like in the same way the Wisconsin Idea bonds fellow alumni through the pursuit of making a difference beyond the classrooms at UW–Madison.

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