On The Farm With: Janet Kenealy

From Janet:  An article in the travel section of the Sunday Chicago Tribune piqued our interest in Southwest Wisconsin.  It touted rolling hills dotted with cows and sheep, charming towns filled with antiques and artisans, and–of course–cheese!  Dave and I planned a weekend in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and we were quickly smitten with the area.  Soon afterward, we were working with a realtor to find a little place in the country for weekend getaways for ourselves and our family.  A check list was created (our family is famous for its list-making), noting all of the features we would like in a second home: a bit of green space in a quiet spot, a simple house with a screened porch, and a location not too far away from civilization and our year round home in Oak Park, Illinois.  We saw plenty of houses during our search but most weren’t quite what we were looking for.

After a full day of house hunting, our realtor showed us one final listing that she said met most of our parameters but was a bit farther away and slightly larger than what we were looking for.  She also warned us it had been on the market awhile and was “a little dated.”  She also called it a hobby farm.  We were intrigued.  Hidden behind a white picket fence and a tall stand of Arborvitaes stood a charming little red brick home built in 1858 with several farm buildings, including an old wire corn crib, and the loveliest assortment of trees – including a little apple orchard!  The property was now 3 ½ acres but had been part of a larger farm years ago.We were immediately enamored with the expanse of grass, the assortment of trees – several varieties of pine, maple, and a mighty oak just outside the front door. But what really struck us was the silence except for the birds and rustling tree leaves.  We could hear cows mooing on the neighbor’s farm and birds were darting through the trees to the feeders by the kitchen window.  The interior of the home was indeed dated – yellow shag carpeting, indoor/outdoor carpeting in the kitchen (!), and 1970s wallpaper on every wall.  The rooms weren’t large but they were light-filled.  There was a good feeling in that house.  So we bought the farm!We set out on a major renovation to make it safe (updated electrical/plumbing) and to make it our own (new kitchen/bath).  We also took a strange little room off the back of the house and added windows to create a lovely little porch which looks out onto the garden.  New windows were installed, the carpeting was removed and the original oak floors were revealed.  Wallpaper was taken down and fresh paint rolled on all the walls.Once the work on the inside was completed it was time to turn our attention to the garden.  The previous owner had an expansive garden.  Starting small, we rototilled a 30 by 60 plot and set out planting.  We learned rather quickly we should never have rototilled the soil, as it churned up centuries of dormant weed seeds the likes of which we had never seen before!  We learn something about our garden (and ourselves) every year.  Lavender, zinnias, pumpkins, black-eyed susans, sunflowers and cat mint all grow very well without needing too much help from us.  We’ve planted hydrangeas around the foundation of the house and have added to our little arboretum by planting a few small trees. In the spring, we plan to add two Asian pear trees and a row of raspberry bushes to our little garden plot.Our next project is to turn a small parcel of our property back to its origins as a prairie.  We took a class on prairie restoration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and have read books and blogs on the subject.  We’ve also consulted with experts and learned that we have some very stubborn invasive species that have taken over much of the space.  Some of these plants have been on the property for years and will require heavy machinery to uproot them.  It will take tremendous sweat equity and an investment of funds to make it happen, but we hope to someday return the land to its original beauty.When I’m not busy on the farm, the area has some nice little antique shops and thrift stores in which to poke around. I also enjoy browsing the aisles of the local Farm and Fleet.  A neighboring town has an emerging artisan community with galleries, shops, and a few nice restaurants. There’s even a brewery nearby. I continue to learn lessons from our little farm – lessons of patience, mostly.  I am learning to be patient with the land and with the rhythms of the seasons.  The biggest adjustment I must learn to make is to balance the hard work of the farm with its many joys and pleasures.  Now if I would only park the wheel barrel for a moment I will experience them!

What an inspiring story, Janet!  Thank you for sharing your exciting journey.

Note: all photos were taken by Janet Kenealy.

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7 thoughts on “On The Farm With: Janet Kenealy

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