Cella Langer runs Oxheart Farm outside of Hager City, Wisconsin with her husband Emmet Fisher. The duo brings years of agricultural experience from around the country to Oxheart, where they’re in their sixth year of operation in the rolling hills of Western Wisconsin. Cella’s pride in process and dedication to traditional techniques is an inspiration as we continue to grow the Red Wing Women’s Heritage Collection guided by the same principles. We’re proud to showcase her passion here.
What inspired you and your husband to start a farm?
Both of us grew up in agricultural settings. Emmet was raised on a small CSA farm here in Wisconsin, and I grew up on a homestead in Massachusetts. I decided I wanted to pursue farming while working on an organic strawberry farm during high school. After college, Emmet and I both interned for a draft animal-powered CSA in Southeastern Minnesota. All of these places and people added up to be hugely influential in our decision to run Oxheart.
Could you talk a little bit about the independence that you and Emmet embrace, and how that balances with the community that you’ve cultivated through your work?
Farming is definitely an independent line of work, but not necessarily a solitary one. Emmet and I get to hang out with each other a lot, which not all couples get to do. Our customers are also a big part of our lives. We direct market almost all of our products, so we spend a lot of time chatting with folks at our CSA pick-up and at the farmers’ market. Growing food for a small town like Red Wing means that we run into our customers everywhere. We work with them in our part-time jobs, see them at the store, and bump into them at the library. We also have many farmer friends in the region, who provide a support network and social life beyond just our own farm and business.
Could you describe how working with your hands feeds your soul?
Spending the day working outside, doing physical labor to produce something nourishing is about as rewarding as it gets, as far as I’m concerned. Every year when we start planting seeds again, I’m always a little skeptical that they’ll ever sprout and grow. But sure enough, every year they do, growing into the plants that feed us and our customers.
Your farm is modeled on diversified family farms of the past. What motivated this approach?
We’re fortunate to have a strong background of agricultural influences. Our families and mentors may not be entirely self-sufficient, per se, but their operations are diverse and overall quite self-reliant. We’ve found that a diversified approach to growing makes Oxheart more resilient, and allows us to feel more fulfilled. Diversity on a farm mimics the diversity of natural ecosystems more closely, and we try as much as possible to be in line with those systems rather than trying to work against them.
Could you describe on a high level what’s wrong with our food system, and a few concrete things that individuals can do to amend it?
Three things that concern me about our food system:
- Food is shipped from thousands of miles away.
- Food is produced using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified feed in unhealthy and environmentally destructive settings.
- Food is grown using exploited immigrant labor and is subsidized by the government, which makes it artificially inexpensive and puts money in the pockets of big businesses instead of into our local communities.
Three things everyday people can try to do about it:
1. Shop at your local farmers’ market. If you can’t afford to, ask someone about it–there are options, and we’d be thrilled to help make it work for you. If you pay more for good food, you may end up having to pay less for your healthcare.
- Do your homework. Get a good intro by reading folks like Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Joel Salatin.
- Know your farmer. Seriously. It’s super cliche, but having relationships with the people who grow your food is important. Learn what issues farmers in your area are facing. Prioritize supporting these people.
You’ve built a life of self-reliance at a time when most people are accustomed to one-click shopping. What are the benefits of self-reliance that you most appreciate?
Producing our own food allows us to eat in a way that we wouldn’t be able to afford to if we didn’t grow it ourselves: we eat like kings. We pickle, can, sauce, freeze, and ferment, which really extends the impact of what we’re producing.
What’s your hope for the farm five years from now?
In five years, we plan to have an established Grade A micro-dairy, milking around five cows and selling milk and yogurt through farmers’ market and CSA. We will continue to grow and sell vegetables and meat on a similar scale to what we do now. We’ve loved having our CSA members come to our farm starting this spring, and hope to continue to provide that opportunity to many customers in the future.