In Edible-Alpha® podcast #114, Andy chats with Chaz Self, owner of Grassway Organics in southeastern Wisconsin. This regenerative, certified-organic farm raises 100% grass-based dairy, beef, and poultry; operates a farm store; and hosts Pizza on the Farm.
California-born Chaz grew up passionate about animal welfare but had never set foot on a farm. Then, after moving to Wisconsin as a teen, he became curious about ag and enrolled in a farm management program at a local technical college. Through that, he got a job milking cows at a CAFO and loved it. “It was not the way I chose to farm, but it taught me everything I didn’t want to do,” Chaz says. “It opened my eyes to how big the ag world really is.”
From there, Chaz and his wife, Megan, worked at a few smaller farms, including in Norway. There, as part of the Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farms (WWOOF) program, they milked 14 grass-fed cows at a biodynamic farm and fell in love with the sustainable, community-focused agricultural principles.
Back in Wisconsin in 2016, they met a ready-to-retire farming couple in New Holstein who wanted to pass on their land and business. Excited about mentorship and succession, Chaz began working for the couple full-time. With an FSA loan, the Selfs bought the business, cows, equipment, store, and inventory—everything but the land and buildings. They also purchased a food truck to make and sell pizzas for extra revenue.
After a year in business, the Selfs made an offer on the land but were outbid, forcing them to find a new location. Chaz called up the Yggdrasil Land Foundation, which buys up organic and biodynamic farmland to lease to young farmers. In “a serendipitous moment,” there was land available near East Troy. Fifty-eight semi loads later, Grassway Organics had a new home.
With a 30-year contract, the Selfs rent 390 acres, plus 150 acres for forage, from Yggdrasil. They raise Jerseys that produce A2/A2 milk, which has health benefits over conventional A1/A1 milk. And because their milk is raw, their farm store sells only to co-op members in accordance with Wisconsin law. The store also features their grass-fed beef and pastured chicken, turkey, and eggs, as well as local producers’ pastured pork and bulk goods. Grassway Organics also operates an e-commerce store and delivers to drop points around the state.
With live music and a casual vibe, Pizza on the Farm is a huge success, accounting for about half of the business’s revenue. The weekend events enable the community to gather and learn about regenerative ag while allowing Grassway Organics to support other local producers. They now have 15 employees for pizza nights and used a value-added producer grant (VAPG) to hire marketing help.
On the financial side, Andy and Chaz discuss the pros and cons of renting versus owning land, how VAPGs can transform a farm business, and how family farms can benefit local economies and uplift entire communities.