By Laurie Otis

The day after AppleFest, one of the busiest weekends for area apple growers, I found Jim "Fritz"Hauser Jr. already loading bags of fruit into the back of his truck. He would later haul those bags to local grocery stores. After a long season of pruning, spraying, and transplanting, the apple crop was almost complete at the family farm he runs with his wife, Ellen, and parents, Marilyn and Jim Sr.

Hauser's 120-acre Superior View Farm is is one of the oldest and most historic farms in the Chequamegon Bay region. Located on a hill at 600-feet above sea level, the farm provides a spectacular view of Lake Superior, the Apostle Islands and parts of upper Michigan.

Just northwest of Bayfield on County Trunk J, the Hausers have 36 acres producing eight varieties of apples and four acres planted with 150 kinds of perennial flowers.

Jim Jr. represents the fourth generation of Hausers at Superior View Farm, a unique but welcome trend at a time when America is experiencing the demise of the family farm. He didn't start out thinking he would take over operation of the apple orchard. After high school, he attended a diesel mechanic course at Wisconsin Western Technical College in LaCrosse and worked as a mechanic for a year in Wausau. When he found himself laid off from his job, he returned to Bayfield to work temporarily with his parents. That was 24 years ago.

His great-grandfather, John Dawson Hauser, settled in Bayfield in 1908 and originally grew strawberries and potatoes, gradually branching out into perennials. Being a gifted horticulturist, he suspected the sandy soil and climate would be good for growing apples: the warmth of Lake Superior in the fall extended the season, and the late spring delayed growth, eliminating the danger of frost nipping young buds.

In 1928, he acquired an orchard of Dudley apples from Bayfield lumberman-turned-fruit grower, Bill Knight, and proceeded to add to his acreage, expand the perennial business, and erect a Sears Roebuck barn, now a landmark in the Chequamegon Bay region.

Over the years, John Dawson Hauser's son, Dawson, and his son, Jim Sr. made Superior View Farm one of the largest producers of northern field-grown perennials in the country and expanded the original Dudley orchard to approximately 2,000 trees.

Apple buyers have to come to Bayfield, or within an 80-mile radius of it, to enjoy the Superior View Farm apples. They are only sold from the farm, at area fall festivals, or in local stores. Some by-products, such as juice, jams, and an array of apple wines are sold throughout the year, but the storage life of the fruit itself is very short.

During winter, this must be a pretty quiet place, right? I asked Hauser Jr.

"Not so," he replied.

With the sale of the last apple, the Hausers start planning for the spring perennial season. New varieties of flowers are researched and ordered along with supplies, bulbs, bare-root shrubs, and seeds. "Something new is always being developed, like the WAVE petunia. Everybody wants it, so we have to be ready with it," Hauser said.

About late February while northern winds still rattle the windows of the greenhouse, the Hausers start seeds for bedding plants, which will be blooming for the legendary Red Shed sale. During the month of May, bare-root perennials and small apple trees are dug from the fields and placed in bins in the big, red barn along with the potted annuals. It is a gardener's dream: to be able to get every variety of perennial possible for nominal prices. The announcement of the Red Shed sale marks the end of winter and the beginning of summer for myself and area residents.

Over the years the Hausers have adopted the best of new horticultural advances and kept some of the old "tried and true" farming methods adopted by the original Hauser. "We use improved fertilizers and insecticides, but just as my great-grandfather and grandfather did, in the early spring we still haul and spread ashes on the snow in the perennial fields to encourage melting and earlier access," Hauser Jr. said.

And, as for the fifth generation? Daughter Rebecca is a student at Michigan Technological University at Houghton; son Dane is a Bayfield High School student; and daughter Alyssa is a two-year-old "ball of fire." "You never know," said Hauser as we watched Alyssa turn somersaults across the living room floor. "Maybe by then it'll be time for a female farmer to take over."

In today's real estate market, any Bayfield farmer selling his land for development will likely turn a tidy profit from his investment. The unspoiled rural character of this Lake Superior peninsula is attracting land-hungry buyers. It seems as if everyone from everywhere wants a piece of paradise.
If cash for retirement is the concern, a land-rich local farmer is secure. Those of us who work the land must be as concerned for our inevitable retirement as our non-farming neighbors. And farmers are entitled to "market value" as much as any other landowner. Yet, the cash-value of our land is not the only issue -- certainly not for farming families, and not for the neighbors as well.

A large part of the attraction to this area -- a quality that gives value to life here -- is the presence of the farms and orchards with their open spaces, woodlands, and lake or valley vistas. Likewise, it is the rural industry of the farms that contributes to the diversity and vitality of a robust local economy. This raises several provocative questions: Where will our farmers retire with their money if their farms must be sold for development? What would the Bayfield community be without them? What will become of that open space and rural character that has drawn so many like us here? How can the farms be saved?

There is no single answer; many supportive efforts are needed. The long-sighted Land Use Plan adopted by Bayfield Township and the current City planning initiative provide a beginning and a vision. Educational efforts such as the community forums provided by Chautauqua and this newsletter should continue. A review and revision of the current county zoning ordinance would be helpful. Cooperative agricultural marketing initiatives and support for farm revitalization efforts are needed to strengthen area farm businesses. Most importantly, the Township should implement an adequately funded Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program.

Under a PDR program, the Town would purchase the farmers' rights to develop the land in an effort to preserve the farmland. These development rights would be "locked-up," keeping the land open for the benefit of future generations. The sales would be voluntary. Applications would be accepted, as funding became available, according to criteria established by the Town.

Farmers who need to retire would receive full value for their investment -- in part from the sale of development rights, and in part from the sale of the farm business to a younger farmer. Active farmers struggling to prosper could sell development rights to pay down debt or make improvements. Young people who want to buy-in would be more able to afford the devalued farmland. The value of neighboring residential property would be enhanced by the retention of open space. The local economy would be strengthened. The rural character of the community would be preserved for all.

A nine-member citizen committee appointed by the Bayfield Town Board of Supervisors is currently drafting PDR criteria for a Bayfield Township Farmland Preservation Program. We welcome your comments and input to the process and will keep you advised of our progress.
--- Rick Dale

During a "listening session" last summer, Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis), left, told Rick Dale of Highland Valley Berry Farm that he would visit his farm. The Senator kept his promise, touring Dale's berry farm and discussing farmland preservation. Senator Feingold viewed the new blueberry plantings and the harvest and fruit packing operations. He discussed the need for protecting agricultural lands in the Bayfield area vital to fruit producing family-farm enterprises. Feingold will be debating the latest farm bill in early December.

When businessman William Knight addressed the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society in 1908, he promoted the Bayfield peninsula as the "golden fruit belt" of Lake Superior. Even then, he and people like John Dawson Hauser understood that there was something unique about the climate of the region. After all, Native people grew gardens pre-dating European contact, Jesuit priests raised cherry trees on the Apostle Islands and wild blueberries grew in abundance.

Knight didn't use the word microclimate to explain how such a cold region could grow the most delicate fruit. But, microclimate -- small-scale interactions between the air, water, solar radiation, soil and vegetation -- is exactly what allows fruit to thrive this far north. Because, when temperatures fall at critical times in the growing cycle, the difference between one orchard surviving and the other dying is a matter of microclimate.

The proximity of the lake, the elevation of the peninsula and the soils of the region combine to create a microclimate found only in rare pockets around the country, like Door County. Mimicking that of a maritime coastal climate, "the peninsula is the closest thing to western Oregon we have in the Upper-Midwest," said Rick Dale who owns and operates Highland Valley Berry Farm.

It's difficult to identify the exact amount of acres in the microclimate. In subtle degrees, this localized weather pattern includes the Apostle Islands and the Bayfield peninsula. In general the closer to Lake Superior, the better the growing season. Because of its massive surface, the lake helps delay spring, extend autumn and moderate winter and summer. The peninsula juts out into the lake, catching predominant breezes from the west that blow across the lake for about 90 miles. By the time the breeze reaches Bayfield it has moderated one way or another.

In the spring, the lake cools air temperatures, retarding biological development until true spring arrives. "The lake sets the bloom period back about 10 days," said Eric Carlson, who owns and operates Blue Vista Farm. This protects plants from false springs and late frost.

In summer, the lake helps cool the region - keeping temperatures within a range that fruit adore. Most fruit crops don't like excessively hot climates. They need moisture, not high heat. In fact, it's the cool weather that makes the fruit taste better. Fruit respires at night, but it does not produce sugar. So, if it's hot, it respires the sugars. If it's cooler, the rate of respiration decreases, and the fruit tastes sweeter. "When temps exceed high 70s, raspberries shut down and stop growing," said Dale. An uncharacteristic streak of hot days this past July depleted two-thirds of the usual raspberry crop, he said.

In fall, the lake is warmer than the land and helps prolong the growing season. This gives the peninsula a longer growing season by delaying the first killing frost. And in winter, the lake warms subzero winds blowing from the Dakotas, accounting for "a 20 degree difference between here and Minnesota at almost the same latitude," Dale said. The wind also picks up moisture, carries it over the backbone of the peninsula, and predictably drops it in the peninsula area. The deep snow buries the fruit and protects the root systems.

But within this fruit-growing pocket, land with suitable soils is rare. It's mostly farms along County Trunk J -- an area referred to as the "Fruit Loop" -- that have good enough soil to take advantage of the growing conditions. "That's why it is critical we don't develop that land," said Carlson. "If you develop it, what do you have? We're not talking thousands of acres here."


Bayfield teacher Kathy Noteboom asked her students to respond in an essay to the question: Why is farmland important? The following is the response of 11-year-old Zach Boutin, who lives with his parents Jeff and Karen on a farm on Star Route near Bayfield.

I think that farmland is important because it is very beautiful and you get most of your food from farms. For example beef, corn, pork, apples, etc. I know how important it is to have farmland because I live on a beef farm. Also, I think it's important because some people are born on farms and I think it would be nice if their kids were born on that same farm and it would be heart breaking if you destroyed them. My grandpa is 76 and he was born on his farm and so was my mother and so was I and I'm 11. I like our farm because I always learn something about it and it would be sad if it was destroyed.