FALL RIVER (WKOW)-- Anyone who is a farmer or knows someone who is would probably agree that farming is a passion, not just a job. That is certainly true for the newest winners of the state's Conservation Farmers of the Year award.
It makes John and Dorothy Priske both 'Someone You Should Know.'
"We're self employed so we only work half-days," said John Priske. "12 hour days," said Dorothy laughing.
John and Dorothy Priske own Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms about 30 miles northeast of Madison.
They bought the farm in 1986 and tried to make the row-crop, mostly corn, work. But like many other farmers, they struggled.
"Conventional farming for me was very difficult because it seemed you had to get big or get out," said John.
So about 10 years ago, they made a change to care-takers of the land instead of just takers.
"We produce things because of the sun, the solar energy," said John. "And the best way to utilize the sun is with grass."
They opened a B&B and added a rather unique breed of cattle to the farm: Highland Beef.
"We tasted one and we thought oh, wow, this is just amazing meat," said Dorothy.
The Priske's started out with just 12 of the horned, long-haired cattle. Now, John and Dorothy have about 550.
There about 90 breeders of this heritage breed in Wisconsin.
"God gave animals legs and they prefer to move and he gave grass roots that prefers to stay in one place so we just let the cattle do the harvesting and fertilizing and we manage the grass through rotational grazing," said John.
It is a working farm. You never know when you will be put to work. Within 2 minutes of arriving, I was holding a gate while John unloaded cattle.
The Priske's farm is unlike a conventional farm in many ways. Their herd is smaller. And, because Highlands are a hardy breed, they stay outside year-round.
"What does it feel like to be out here with them? I asked.
Heaven, said John."
The herd is more than just cattle to the Priske's.
"We don't often in the winter, just come out and sit, but in the summer we'll just come out and sit and just watch them and they'll come up and get a scratch," said Dorothy.
"And part of farming is really spending time with your animals just because you want to," said John.
Their passion for sustainable agriculture hasn't gone unnoticed.
The Priske's were recently honored with the Wisconsin Conservation Farmers of the Year. The Priske's restored the wetland, redirected water away from the cattle, and returned the land to the way it was, prairie grass.
"We want to leave it in better shape than we found it and every decision we make will be made for 7 generations in the future," said John.
They also reached to the sky to be good land stewards. Thanks to a grant, the Priske's put up a wind turbine last fall. It will produce more energy than what they use on the farm. The electric company gets the extra.
"You love your job," I said to them. "Yes, if you love what you're doing it's not called work anymore," said John.
So, where can you get a taste of the Priske's hard work?
They sell to many Madison restaurants and directly to consumers. That's it. You can find them year-round the Dane County Farmer's Market.
"Eating locally, eating seasonally we also help our economy," said John. "If we support a farmer because he as something good to eat that dollar stays in the community."
John and Dorothy got some of their inspiration from Aldo Leopold. Leopold, of course, was among many things, a conservationist, leading the way in the early 1920's to a new appreciation for the land we live on.