John Rettler talks to students from Honor School in Neosho, Wisconsin, during a tour on the Rettler farm in April 2018. When the Rettlers built a new barn, creating a venue well-suited for education and social interaction was top of mind. 
PHOTO SUBMITTED
John Rettler talks to students from Honor School in Neosho, Wisconsin, during a tour on the Rettler farm in April 2018. When the Rettlers built a new barn, creating a venue well-suited for education and social interaction was top of mind. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    NEOSHO, Wis. – The Rettler family loves to give people a taste of farm life. Whether selling cheese made with their dairy’s milk or sharing their farm with others through tours or the renting of event space, John and JoAnn Rettler invite the community into their lives.
    When they built a barn in 2015, the Rettlers took more than their own family and cows into consideration. They anticipated creating a venue suited for education and social interaction.
    “You have to educate people,” John said. “So we built this barn with education in mind.”
    Welcoming school children of all ages, the Rettlers give tours and offer kids a hands-on farm experience to learn where their food comes from. The students eat lunch on the farm, and in the fall, hayrides are also part of the fun.
    The Rettlers have opened up their barn to the community, inviting neighbors, friends and businesses to host gatherings in their upstairs conference room. Decorated in a country theme, the space contains a full kitchen, TV, viewing windows of cows and robots, and plenty of seating to accommodate 50 adults. The family rents out the room for events such as company meetings, birthday parties, baby showers and more.
    While at the farm, guests can also visit the robot room and see the robots in action. The barn’s 30-foot catwalk provides aerial views of cows and robots, giving visitors a perspective of Tin Valley Farms.
    The Rettlers farm with their four sons – Justin, Quintin, Paytin, and Austin – milking 230 to 240 cows with four Lely robots and farming 1,200 acres. In addition, they do 1,800 acres of custom work for several area farms and raise all of their animals start to finish. Austin is part time on the farm but is in the process of moving closer so he can help when needed. . His wife, Briana, feeds calves at Tin Valley Farms. John and JoAnn have two grandchildren – Justin’s son, Tucker, is 1, and Austin’s son, Maverick, will be turning one this year.
    The Rettlers hold family holiday parties and other celebrations in the barn’s conference room. The space is also used for feeding hired hands and is where the farm’s seven part-time employees eat lunch prepared by John. JoAnn has worked at the Hartford Post Office for 18 years, and when the barn was built five years ago, she took a full-time position delivering mail.
    “I stepped back, and the boys took on what I did,” JoAnn said. “And John took over making lunch after I did it the first 27 years. We always feed our help. Meals are a nice perk and are good for conversation. We also celebrate employee birthdays.”
    The first milking in the barn took place Dec. 12, 2017. Up until that point, cows were housed in the new barn and walked to the old barn for milking.
    “The robots have never called in sick,” John said. “Our lifestyle changed tremendously too. We don’t have an a.m. and p.m. routine anymore, and everyone gets to participate in family activities and holidays. We would never go back.”
    John and JoAnn have been farming since April 1, 1991. They started from scratch, renting a farm before purchasing their current place seven years later. John grew up on his family’s farm and worked at Fleet Farm for five years before running his own dairy.
    In 2019, the Rettlers began turning a portion of their farm’s milk into cheese to sell locally – the latest venture in the family’s quest to diversify. The idea came to JoAnn while handing out cheese during a school tour. After replying ‘no’ when asked if the cheese was theirs, JoAnn realized that making specialty cheese was possible.
    “Cheese was a way for us to diversify,” JoAnn said. “We can’t sell milk directly, but we can sell cheese.”
    Made by Specialty Cheese in Reeseville, the Rettlers are producing cheese in batches of 1,000 to 2,500 pounds and selling four varieties of semi-soft cheeses including farmer, jalapeno, brick and Muenster.
    “Farmer cheese and jalapeno cheese are our biggest hits,” JoAnn said.
    Milk from the Rettlers’ cows averages 4% butterfat which JoAnn said is ideal for making cheese. Promoting Tin Valley Farms cheese with the tagline, “Taste the Value in Farming,” the Rettlers attend farmers markets in Oconomowoc, Greendale, Greenfield and Mukwonago throughout the year and sell gift boxes during the holidays. Tin Valley Farms cheese is also available at Albrecht’s Sentry Foods in Delafield and at other local businesses, and can also be picked up on the farm by appointment.
    “Farmers markets have become the new grocery stop,” JoAnn said. “It seems like a lot of people are doing their grocery shopping at the market these days. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and people develop product attachment to wholesome food they can buy locally. As a vendor at a farmers market, we’re actively participating in this hands-on experience.”
    JoAnn’s mother, Sandi, and daughter-in-law, Briana, are a big help, working the farmers market circuit when JoAnn is working at the post office.
    “The markets are 20-week commitments, and we’re there every weekend,” JoAnn said. “You need good support and a backup plan if you can’t make it, so we even have neighbors who pitch in. It’s very fun to get out to the markets. I was nervous about them at first, but it went over really well. The samples were a major highlight.”
    Tin Valley Farms also promotes its cheese along with event space and tours on its website, Facebook and through mailings. Word-of-mouth is also an effective marketing tool for the Rettlers’ businesses.
    Exploring value-added options has allowed the Rettlers to differentiate their dairy, and the family is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. Sharing a piece of their farm with the community is an aspect of farming they truly enjoy.
    “We live in a great agricultural community and have awesome neighbors,” JoAnn said. “We’re very lucky.”