Jessica & Sara Ecker, Young Growers from Trempealeau, Wisconsin
TJ Mullinax // September 30, 2014
ages / (Jess, on left in photo) 33, (Sara, on right in photo) 30 crops / Apples, blueberries, and peaches education / Jessica graduated from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in architecture and Sara graduated from University of Wisconsin, Madison with an education degree titles / (Jess) Marketing manager, (Sara) Orchard manager business / Ecker’s Apple Farm
Q: What was your path to farming? Jess: We are both fourth-generation farmers living on our family farm that we are lucky enough to have inherited. Neither of us pursued a degree in agriculture, which at times is unfortunate — it makes the learning curve a bit steep. We feel that coming back to the farm allows us to bring a more diversified skill set to our farm, and that helps us out in a variety of ways.
Q: What are you planning for your farm? Sara: On our farm, we have apples and we are testing other fruits like peaches and cherries. Jessica has a trial with 1,000 blueberry plants. We are also looking to get into hops and start our own brewery. So there will be a brewery on site and potentially a cidery. We want to use as many of the 35 acres worth of apples we grow right on site.
Jess: Using those apples also includes different ways for us to create value-added products. We have a great carmel that we use in our farm market shop, for carmel apples and carmel apple pies. We don’t have a fresh, sweet apple cider operation now, but we’ve planted European cider varieties in the hope of using them with some of our dessert apples to make a hard cider. It would help us utilize the crop we have and expand our farm-made products.
Q: What do you see for your generation? Jess: There is definitely a new breed of farmer coming up. They are business savvy, young people — women included. It’s really going to change the industry, I hope, for the better.
Q: What would you say to younger growers? Sara: Both my sister and I didn’t feel like we were going to take over the farm when we were in high school. So we didn’t learn some of the machinery aspects — we didn’t drive tractor with our father — and I don’t know why we didn’t take that opportunity. I would say to anyone growing up in a family farm operation, even if you don’t think you’re going to take it over, to learn as much as you can. Drive tractor with the best driver you have. Watch your best mechanic and learn when you have that opportunity. This is a wonderful lifestyle where you can be outside and have some control over your business opportunities.
TJ Mullinax joined Good Fruit Grower as digital producer and photojournalist in 2013. He photographs and edits visual stories for the print magazine and online publishing spaces. Along with editorial production, TJ develops and maintains the magazine’s digital products. -- Follow the author: Phone: (509) 853-3519 -- Email