Around the Farm Table
fledgling cooking show to focus on local farming, seasonal food
As a fourth-generation dairy farmer, Inga Witscher grew up working in the barn and cooking in the kitchen alongside her grandmother and mother, who she describes as “entertaining” women – women who always created simple dishes from home-grown ingredients.
Now, as the resident “main milker” of St. Isidore’s Mead Organic Dairy Farm, Witscher wants to share this prior-to-the-plate awareness through her family’s new web TV series, Around the Farm Table.
The 30-minute episodes, currently available on Vimeo, feature one or two local recipes apiece. One third of the show focuses on the preparation of the ingredients, followed by a brief interview of a local farmer combined with a tour, and, finally, “subplots that feature traditional production techniques and anecdotes relevant to seasonal ingredients.” Oh, and musical interludes, provided by Witscher’s fiancé, Joe Maurer. Phew! Currently they have produced two full episodes, with eight sketched out for future filming.
With Witscher as host, relevant nuggets of wisdom come across as friendly bits of conversation. While gathering nettles on their property, Witscher recommends manure or mud as a makeshift poultice in case of a nasty sting. Later in the episode, while making switchel (aka haymaker’s punch or “the original Gatorade”) she explains the particularly wonderful health benefits of local honey, especially its ability to lessen the affects of seasonal allergies.
“Food ties us together with people; it’s our welcome wagon… our way to show love to our guests.” – Inga Witscher, local dairy farmer and host of “Around The Farm Table”
Witscher hasn’t always produced food in Wisconsin’s planting Zone 3 (she lived in milder Seattle and Virginia for some years), but she has quickly and happily re-acclimated. “Our short seasons really make things more interesting, more rewarding,” she says.
So far, Witscher has been thrilled by the variety of viewers who’ve responded positively to the show. A 75-year-old viewer was pleased because she was very familiar with using wild nettles – what she thought was a long-forgotten ingredient. On the other end of the spectrum, a 20-year-old viewer commented that she was going to try the ingredient, which was new to her. “It’s exciting to connect with all walks of life through food,” says Witscher.
At her own small dairy farm, sustainability – including foraging, gardening, and milking – is a way of daily life. Thirty cows are milked by hand daily. “We’d need a chiropractor if we added any more to the herd,” Witscher laughs. The rationale for all that hard labor is rooted in the food itself. “We do it that way because when Dad starts making the cheese, the fat stays in if the milk is not pumped,” she explains, noting that her father Rick is currently seeking a cheese-making license.
Cheese, yogurt, bread, flaky crusts, meat pies – Witscher does it all. Yet no one should be intimidated by these heritage recipes or techniques. “When you have those great ingredients, it doesn’t take as much effort to make it taste good,” says Witscher, who has studied with top cheese and artisan bread makers. She plans to demonstrate how to make easier cheeses such as ricotta and mozzarella, which only requires a soup pot. How’s that for fancy equipment?
Ultimately, this new creative outlet for Witscher and her fellow farmers, father Rick (set designer) and fiancé Joe Maurer (musician and editor) is a personal venture which allows them to get out of the rut of “just dairy farming” and a community venture whose goal is to connect people “back to the ground.”
“When you’re looking at how the cow eats the grass or you’re pulling up that beet, you have such a connection to the ground.” She agrees that a majority of consumers nowadays have lost that relationship, but perhaps that’s why it’s satisfying to revive it – especially in children.
Witscher suspects kids become more adventurous in terms of food when they are involved in the process. Her nephews come out to visit the farm regularly and are surprised by the process of picking strawberries in the sun (the berries are warm!) and seeing the milk froth into a layer of cream in the pan.
“Food ties us together with people; it’s our welcome wagon… our way to show love to our guests,” she says. Now those guests can be digital, too.
Episodes can be found on St. Isidore’s Mead Vimeo channel.
Watch the pilot episode!