By Joe Bachman
“Dad is looking for his legacy.” – Ron Altenburg.
A legacy that community members from Incourage, Boys & Girls Club, Wood County, and Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools hope to carry on. Wednesday night, dozens showed up to the Performing Arts Center for a presentation to learn about the future of Altenburg’s Farm — and ‘learning’ is the key word.
83-year-old Harold Altenburg owns and operates Altenburg’s Farm, and has done so since 1964. The 40-acre farm cultivates their well known strawberries, pumpkins, and corn, as well as a plethora of other crops. While Harold has been a beloved member of the Wisconsin Rapids community for over 50 years, he is looking to leave his farm in the best hands, and with that, a specific vision.
“A place where work and learning become one — a place where you’re part of a team; a place where you put your hands and put your head to work,” said Harold Altenburg.
The ‘vision’ is that of a farm school, and not just any farm school. It would turn into an opportunity for students ages 14-19 to turn their experience in an Altenburg farm school into college credits towards an agriculture degree.
“We need to have kids outside of our schoolhouse learning in different environments with different mentors,” said WRPS Career Coordinator Eric Siler. “Help us help kids find the passion for the knowledge they need to be successful in their career journey.”
The project is broken down into three phases:
The first phase is to find a Lead Farmer for Altenburg’s.
The Lead Farmer would be responsible for all farming operations on behalf of the school, and well as mentoring and assisting students hired for farm labor. The farmer must have abilities in the operation of farm machinery, agricultural knowledge, good people skills, creativity, imagination, and the commitment to learn and work with the school.
The second phase is to assemble the non-profit board of directors, and they are currently seeking applicants.
“You will ultimately be a part of something bigger than yourselves, and that’s what it will be to serve on this board,” said Wood County Community Health Planner Kristi Rauter-Egge. “If you have passion — if you have time, talent, and the ability to fundraise, then this is the position for you.”
The third phase is to fundraise for initial start-up costs.
“When people have a good idea, and are a visionary, and think about long-term change and impact — that’s the kind of people we want to work with,” said Incourage CEO Kelly Ryan.
Ryan spoke about the relationship with Dan Smith of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in turning Harold’s vision into a reality — a reality of a farm school that would be the first of its kind in the state of Wisconsin.
“They were very interested and engaged in their support to help this,” said Ryan. “And to figure out what an operating model would look like that could weave in education for credit, and learning about land and food systems in an innovative way.” said Ryan.
Ryan announced that Incourage will match start-up costs for the school by donating $25,000.
“It has been an absolute honor to meet Harold and be a part of the team he has put together that is helping him fulfill his mission and see his dreams come true,” said Smith. “It’s important to bring the community together to hear your thoughts to share with you Harold’s dream of a farm school connected to the Wisconsin Rapids community. — That community brings volume to all of our lives.”
It is now in the hands of the community to turn a farm known for its sleigh rides, hay rides, and strawberry-picking good times into a place of not just fun, but a one in a life time educational experience.
For more information, or if you are interested in becoming a Lead Farmer, serve on the board of directors, or contribute to fundraising efforts, please contact Gus Mancuso at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If this going to happen, we as a community have to get involved,” said Mancuso. “It’s really a call to action, so that we can all do this together.”