Farming in Waukesha County often means there is little available land to expand a farm. Yet Tom Oberhaus and his family have found a way to creatively expand from within to earn a profit.
Born and raised on an Ohio cash grain operation, Tom graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in dairy science before working as an AI sire analyst, where he traveled the world working with dairies. Tom married Joan Wendt and in 1985 they came back to work on Joan’s family’s Cozy Nook Farm outside of Waukesha. When her parents, Jim and Kathy Wendt, retired in 1991, Tom and Joan took over the operation with their son Charlie.
The heart of their farm remains their herd of 65 registered Brown Swiss and Guernsey cows. Yet over the years, they have been creative with approaches to expand with the 175 acres they have, including raising over 50 different varieties of pumpkins, gourds, squash and Indian corn on 30 acres. On a nice autumn afternoon their farm’s driveway and front yard resemble a parking lot as their annual Fall Market attracts hundreds of Waukesha County residents and tourists. Building upon the Fall Market’s good reputation, the Oberhaus’ started selling Wisconsin Christmas trees at their farm and now sell over 1,300 trees annually.
“There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, now I’m obviously not talking about really skinning a cat, but there are a lot of ways to make it in the agricultural business,” he said. “What works for one person does not work for another. You do what works for you.”
When hosting the public on their farm, the Oberhaus’ take the opportunity to educate and share positive messages about agriculture. Every fall, over 1,000 kids and many parents take a field trip to tour the Oberhaus’ farm where they see calves, learn about how a cow is milked, feed hay to the heifers, see the crops in the field, and more.
Off the farm, Tom has taken on several leadership roles. He is a director on the Waukesha County Farm Bureau and Frontier FS boards, the Vice President of the National Brown Swiss Association and chairman of his local planning commission. Tom is also involved with the Waukesha County Dairy Committee, his local church and area 4-H programs.
On top of it all, Tom has started a hands-on project with urban children in Waukesha County. Currently, he has 16 teenagers from non-farm backgrounds that pick a heifer on his farm and come throughout the year to work with her. Tom teaches them how to feed, clip, and raise their calf before showing it at the Waukesha County Fair and other shows around Wisconsin. Ten of them traveled with Tom’s son Charlie to Louisville, Kentucky to compete at a national show. The Oberhaus’ have seen kids with no dairy or farm background go through this informal program on their farm and come out wanting to pursue degrees in dairy science and other agricultural programs.
Tom also values the experiences he’s been offered as an active Farm Bureau member since the late 1980s: From sitting in the chairs of the State Assembly chambers in the State Capitol as a Young Farmer debating issues with his fellow Farm Bureau members, to educating fourth graders in elementary schools as part of Waukesha County’s Ag in the Classroom program.
“Farm Bureau’s legislative side is extremely important because we need to let the legislators know what our needs and concerns are,” he said. “We also need to promote the positives of agriculture and continue to portray this to kids because some of those kids will sit in the Legislature in the future and maybe something we said back then will help us out.”
You can see learn more about Tom and Cozy Nook Farm at their website: www.cozynookfarms.com.
Story by Sheri Sutton. Original version appeared in the October/November 2010 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.