“Everyone has a story and they will share it if you let them,” said Phil, a Sauk County Farm Bureau member. “I want to find out people’s stories. I find them so interesting.”
“Unless it is written down, a lot of information gets lost,” said the beef farmer and published author who has written 12 books over the last 20 years and is currently working on six more. Mary, who works in agri-marketing, helps him brainstorm book ideas and edits all of his work.
“I am very fortunate to have someone like Mary to make me look better,” he said smiling.
Both Phil and Mary’s stories began with their admiration of growing up on a farm. This led them to pursue agricultural majors (Phil, dairy science and Mary, dairy science/ag journalism) at UW-Madison where they met.
“We wanted our kids to enjoy the same rich experience that we both had while growing up,” Mary said. After being married a few years and experiencing life in the Twin Cities where Mary’s job brought them, in 1992 they moved back to the farm near Sauk City where Phil grew up.
They named their farm Honey Creek Heritage Farm. “The name reflects the heritage of everyone that has lived on this land. We are just the current stewards,” Mary said.
His Passion of Writing
It was in the early years of farming and raising children when Phil became more serious about his passion for writing. He became intrigued about the history of the church down the road and their family genealogies, so he wrote books about them.
“I realized it is more interesting to interview people and let them tell the story,” said Phil as he described how he interviewed 45 people for his book All Bottled Up: A History of Sauk Prairie Area Milk Delivery Routes.
Shortly after that book, Jerry Apps, a well known writer and UW-Madison professor, recommended Phil to Voyageur Press. Through that publisher Phil wrote a “how to raise” series on cattle, pigs and sheep, which Phil describes as “something for people to read before they jump in with both feet.”
Phil’s son, Marcus, was also highly involved in this “how to raise” series. “Marcus took all the pictures,” said Phil. “He was a published photographer at the age of 16.”
Phil has since written numerous free-lance articles, contributed chapters in multi-author books and completed more agriculturally related books including The Family Cow Handbook and The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making (which was among Voyageur Press’ best selling books last year).
“I don’t see the end result of my books, but because it is good, reliable information, whoever picks it up will have a good chance to be successful. I just try to help people develop skills,” Phil mentioned.
Phil now runs his own publishing house, Honey Creek Press, while Mary owns Galena, LLC, a marketing and communications business.
Their Farm Now
Phil has not only been a man of words, but also of farming. Over the years the family switched from dairy to beef, and now manage 35 head of Milking Shorthorn/Red Angus cross cattle on their 100 acre farm of pasture and woodland. They sell their beef directly to local consumers under their own farm label.
Along with working in agricultural marketing, Mary invests a lot of time and energy into her church, First United Methodist Church near the state capitol in Madison. She enjoys connecting rural and urban individuals by helping further its food ministry through its food pantry and CSA that links people directly to farmers to learn how their food is raised.
Farm Bureau is also a part of their story. Mary said, “Farm Bureau is in our family legacy; we are involved in furthering efforts that Farm Bureau stands for and we support organizations that Farm Bureau supports.” Phil added, “A lot of our interests are parallel with Farm Bureau.”
Story by Sheri Sutton. Original version appeared in the April/May 2012 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.