Pizza party on the farm


This past Friday evening, we opened our farm to the community. Between the pandemic and cancer, our annual Ocooch Farm Party had been on a four-year hiatus. Prior to that, we had been on a streak of over 20 years of summer parties. In the beginning, it was a neighborly potluck affair with invitations sent out, barbecue as the main course, and rudimentary tables set up with plywood and bales of hay. We grew to invite more people and began to borrow the tables from an unused nearby church, then at last purchasing our own. 

The past decade or so, we have utilized social media, the local newspaper and that old standby – word of mouth – to invite the entire community to our party. In this time period, we began doing a make-your-own-pizza meal instead of a beef main course. This has been successful in many ways. People in town will ask us when we plan to have it so they can sneak their grandkids out for a night on the farm. It has become a wonderful family event where people can sit and chat while the children run rampant back and forth from the wash bay. 

The wash bay houses the kids activities. Ordinarily, we build a hay-bale-bordered, bunker-plastic-lined corn box that provides hours of entertainment. This tends to send children home looking like all-sized versions of Casper the Friendly Ghost. This year, Ira and Peter were clever and decided to utilize one of our new mix ingredients – cottonseed. Instead of looking like ghosts, the children left with pockets full of cottonseed, clothing covered in mini cotton balls and, most importantly, tired smiles. A friend painted farm- themed cornhole boards, and we washed up the picture boards we have had stored in the shop for years. Children can put their heads in the cutouts to create new farm scenes with their glowing faces. We even have a wooden cow with a full calf-bottle udder for little ones to try their hands at milking. 

Our guests included some first timers bringing out their little ones, past employees, longtime friends and dedicated visitors who have been here most every year since the party’s debut. Conversation hummed in the shop, putting the notion of having music playing in the background on the back burner. Guests signed our guestbook, signed their names to their pizza circle and followed the directions of our seasoned helpers to build their supper. We use mozzarella cheese made from milk produced on our farm and other Grande farmers – always a neat point of interest to hearty eaters. People raved about the flavors – from the crust to the cheese, no complaints. Our incredible team of pizza people kept the crowd happy and pizzas flowing for just over four hours, making upwards of 140 pizzas.  

Some guests brought salads or fruit to share, or dessert treats of cupcakes or brownies. All these were devoured while people patiently waited for their pizzas to bake. An assortment of beverages filled a wheelbarrow of ice. From milk to adult beverages to big thermoses of water and lemonade, all had their thirst quenched. 

Stella and I set off to do chores because four hands are better than two when you want to party a bit. We saved our dear Danae in the hospital parlor so our resident tour guides, Brynn and Kendyll, could give a demonstration on how to milk a cow. As the “girls in green” (as they were known all night due to their similar attire, chosen so they could be easily identified) steered their crew of interested listeners to the calf barn, Stella and I moved a cow in to pull her calf. Brynn popped her head back in on the way by and asked if it was OK for people to come back in to watch. I have been demoted to tail holder when Stella is around, so I assumed the position and offered coaching. Brynn and Stella gave the verbal play by play to their growing crowd of eager learners as they got the chains on. Cora, Stella, Brynn and a bit of muscle from Jose helped the beautiful heifer calf slide into the world. The girls worked like pros as they immediately stuck straw in its nose, then (without any hesitation, I may add) checked the cow for twins. Cora and Kendyll got her calcium water ready, and the crowd was buzzing with amazement at these girls, the miracle of life and the wonder that is all over a farm. 

Stella, Brynn, Kendyll and my dad gave tours of the farm in between sneaking bites of pizza and gulps of chocolate milk to keep up their energy. The adults who were part of the girls’ groups were so impressed with their speaking skills and knowledge. Walking our farm and talking that much takes at least 45 minutes, so they were whipped by 8:30 p.m. As the party closed down for the evening, the FFA kids stuck around to help wash things up and get it all put away until the next time we need to run seven pizza ovens. 

An event like this takes a lot of cleaning, organization, energy and work. It may seem to some to not be worth it. Seeing some of the fourth graders who had been out here for their class field trip give tours to their parents, hearing the girls explain what the “weaners” are in calves’ noses, having people exclaim how great of an experience this is – for me, these examples make all the work worth it. A special thank you goes to all of our incredible employees and fantastic friends who showed up to help this run smoothly; it would not be possible without you. 

Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and farm 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira, Dane, Henry and Cora, help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos, and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.


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