Zweber Farms is a cozy little family farm on the outskirts of Elko New Market. It is run by Jon and Lisa Zweber along with their son Tim and daughter-in-law Emily — Tim’s and Emily’s young children Erik, Jonathan, and Hannah help out as well. Had John J. Zweber known when he founded the farm in 1906 that three of his future generations would be there now, he would certainly have taken heart that his life’s work was a success.
“When a farm has been in the family for so long, it’s only natural that you’re going to run it sustainably,” said Emily. “We’d like ours to be around forever. Hopefully the kids enjoy their work and decide to stay here, but it’s quite alright if they go off to do other things, too. We want them to be happy above all else. Not to compare the two, but that’s kind of the same way we raise our animals. We just let them do what comes naturally, and the rest all seems to fall in place.
“Our main business is organic dairy,” Emily continued. “As a member of the Organic Valley cooperative, our cows have to adhere to a pretty specific diet regimen — having to keep track of where they graze, what they eat, and how much they eat is quite a task! But it’s a happy life for cows, being at pasture at minimum 120 days a year and getting at least 30 percent of their food from the ground.
“Our pastures aren’t divided by fences. Instead Tim goes around regularly to find where the best grasses are growing at any given time, and then guides our 130 cows right there. In that way our farm is like one big salad for our dairy cows.
“Our egg chickens have total free run of the place as well. Every day they’re let out to do whatever they like, and at night they’re ushered back into their coops to sleep and do their jobs. They can be a little bit of a nuisance because they love digging up our landscaping — but on the plus side I never have any bugs on my hostas!
“We raise Red Ranger and Cornish Cross chickens for meat. While we do give them regular feed, we also bring them out to pasture every day to forage for bugs, worms, frogs, and even snakes. It creates a nice little circle, because during their hunt they fertilize the same grasses that our cows will eat later.
“We raise our pigs in a hoop barn with comfy straw bedding. They get to play and root around in there to their hearts’ content, and just get to be the way that pigs like to. Pigs are very social animals, so it’s always fun to watch them interact in groups of 60 to 100.”
Emily and her family invite you to come to Zweber Farms to meet with their very happy animals and to see where your food comes from. It is an experience that connects you with nature, as well as the heart of Minnesota. While there you can pick up eggs that taste like no others you have tried before, broilers and ground beef that are manna from heaven, and a Christmas ham guaranteed to make any occasion the most festive you have ever been party to. To learn more about the Zwebers’ mission and how you may partake in it, visit zweberfarms.com.
By David Scheller