Danika and Nate Wehling opened Wehling Farms and Country Store in August 2016 on their 70-cow dairy near Westby, Wis. The store was opened after demand for the farm’s meat and poultry products continued to rise.PHOTO BY CASSIE OLSON
Danika and Nate Wehling opened Wehling Farms and Country Store in August 2016 on their 70-cow dairy near Westby, Wis. The store was opened after demand for the farm’s meat and poultry products continued to rise.
WESTBY, Wis. - From barn to freezer, Danika Wehling has always enjoyed sharing meat products from her farm with family and friends. Wehling, who milks 70 Ayrshire and Jersey cows with her husband, Nate, near Westby, Wis., saw the demand for locally grown products continue to rise in her community and an opportunity to provide just that. Since August, the Wehlings have welcomed customers to their dairy farm to shop Wehling Farms and Country Store.
Owning a business has always been a dream of Wehling's.
"It was something I always wanted to do," she said. "I always thought I would own a business, but I always thought it would be in town."
The idea of having a business in town was hard to imagine when Wehling was working in the town of Westby in 2005. It was a difficult time for many small businesses, Wehling said.
"People were losing jobs in town," Wehling said. "That was when we decided to rent the farm and began milking cows."
Wehling began milking cows in June 2005. The certified organic dairy has since expanded to the 70 cows that make up the herd today. While she expanded, Wehling hired local high school students to complete evening and weekend milkings.
The decision to hire employees proved to be worthwhile.
"It freed up my time to start setting up a store," Wehling said.
Having sold whole or half sides of beef and eggs to friends and family for years, Wehling had a considerable demand for her homegrown product. She began receiving requests for smaller cuts of meat, but couldn't provide them without a state license.
On the farm, an under-utilized two-car garage served as a perfect location to begin a retail shop. In the summer of 2016, after applying for state business and farmer's market licenses, she began her business by selling cuts of meat, including organically-raised beef, lamb, pasture-raised pork, chicken and eggs.
"The garage was insulated already and had siding on the inside that made it a great location. It has that country feel that people enjoy," Wehling said.
During the warmer months, Wehling opens up the garage doors for visitors to freely walk around. In the winter, a pellet stove heats the garage.
Having several friends who design various craftware, Wehling saw an opportunity to grow her retail shop even further. Wehling now offers a wide variety of products - including candles, stuffed animals, honey, salsa, photography, rustic décor and more - all created by local vendors.
"My mom and I used to have a booth at area craft shows, so we are no stranger to the crafters out there," Wehling said. "I knew a lot of vendors through my involvement with the Westby Syttende Mai festival, too, so I started contacting them."
Wehling has several creations of her own in the shop, including a homemade laundry detergent, greeting cards featuring photos she has taken on the farm, and body soap made from shea butter and goat milk.
Wehling said the greatest challenge of starting her business has been advertising.
"The cost of advertising can be a big challenge for any beginning business," Wehling said. "You pay an expense for this advertising while the return on it is largely unknown."
To alleviate some of these costs, Wehling uses Facebook to share information on her store and her product offerings.
"For example, I advertised my products for the opening of gun deer season - or Widow's Weekend. It was a great success," Wehling said.
The retail store's products and location have made it an attraction for the Westby community and its visitors, alike.
"It has become somewhat of a destination shop," Wehling said. "If people are going to come out here, it usually means they are coming with a purchase in mind."
The most enjoyable aspect of her venture, Wehling said, is the ability to share the farm with others. She said she often takes customers to visit the animals on the farm or listens to them share stories of farms of their own.
"I love getting to explain why we do what we do out here. I enjoy watching all ages enjoy the animals and seeing their eyes light up when the calves jump around or come up to them," Wehling said. "It's not a petting zoo, but rather a real, working farm that they get to see firsthand, oftentimes for the first time."
Wehling said she is looking forward to seeing her business grow in the coming years. She hopes to one day grow into a new building and to grow the agricultural experience for her customers.
"I would like to one day be able to do tours of the farm," Wehling said. "Long-term, I am hoping to set up a different building with an outdoor sitting area. Once we have enough customers to support it, we would like to label our own organic cheese through Westby Cooperative Creamery."