A Marriage of Friendship and Flavor at Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms
By Susan Gloss | Photo By Jim Klousia 0
“Do you have anything weird?” asks a young woman in a red Wisconsin sweatshirt. “I want to cook something weird.” Dorothy Priske smiles and looks down at her list of available cuts of meat. She replies, “Kidneys. Is that weird enough?”
To see Dorothy and her husband and business partner, John, working their stall at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, is to see them in one of the two places they call home. The Priskes’ market stall for Fountain Prairie Inn and Farms consists of little more than a white tarp roof, but it is home, nonetheless. The place buzzes with greetings from friends, offers of samples from other farmers and questions from shoppers.
During the two hours I spend with the Priskes at their stall, the scale and calculator rarely had a rest from registering sales of Fountain Prairie’s grass-fed beef and pork. Whenever John has a moment, though, he tells me about the farm and its history at the market.
At Home at the Market
John and Dorothy have operated their Saturday stall on Carroll Street since 1986, shortly after they returned to Wisconsin after time in Montana, Idaho and Washington. At first, they sold only asparagus, but they soon expanded their operation to include other items as well. In the early days, the Priskes practiced conventional farming with over 900 pigs, a small-scale beef operation, and raising corn and soybean crops.
After a trip to New Zealand in the late 1990s, the Priskes had what John describes as “an epiphany.” In New Zealand, the Priskes stayed at a bed and breakfast where sheep roamed green pastures and grazed on grass. There, the Priskes ate what Dorothy remembers as “some of the best lamb” they’d ever tasted. When they returned to Wisconsin, the Priskes decided to transition their 280 acres of farmland to organic and raise fewer animals using more sustainable practices. They chose to focus on raising heritage Highland cattle, the oldest registered cattle breed, because in addition to producing a delicious beef product, the animals do well in cold climates thanks to their thick, shaggy coats and a natural tolerance for weather. (The Priskes’ cattle can be found roaming the pastures at Fountain Prairie even when the fields are covered in snow.) Today, the Priskes have about 400 head of Highland cattle on their farm.