Jul 5 2014
Pizza.com declares 93 percent of Americans ate pizza in the last month, and each of us averages 46 slices per year.
Dustin Booth and Emily Fradenburgh are among a growing number of rural Wisconsinites who smelled opportunity because of conclusions like these. They live on Polk County farmland with a former sawmill that his parents used to operate, near the end of a dead-end road in Echo Valley, near Clear Lake.
The couple is quickly converting their property into a haven for anybody in need of a quick break from stressful living.
Four days after Dustin and Emily married at the farm in 2013, they began selling pizza from a wood-fired oven built inside the grain bin. Now they make up to 75 pies at Sawmill Pizza from 4:30-8:30 p.m. on Thursdays, June through October.
Two of the three selections change monthly; the exception is Pep Fest, whose pepperoni comes from Amery Meat Market. Among the unusual combos that gained raves: Expectant Mother (pickles, peanut butter, pepper cheese, pineapple) and Spicy Jameese (pepper and cheddar cheeses, strawberry jam, sriracha sauce).
Guests pay in cash and bring whatever they’ll need in addition to pizza: side dishes, beverages, napkins, plates. All are welcome to linger and walk the acreage, which includes a 13-acre pond. Sunset is the cue to head home.
In the proprietors’ repertoire is a mix of practical and creative skills. They install hardwood flooring to help pay their bills and met while working as actors in the Twin Cities.
When I visited, a converted shed and adjoining tent were set up for a 400-guest wedding reception. Vintage dinettes with deliberately mismatched wooden chairs formed the head table, where place settings included goblets made with Mason jars.
An option is to add a laid-back rehearsal dinner of up to 20 pizzas.
Dustin and Emily’s next step is to develop Sawmill Logger Brewing Co. in another shed, and they aim to open in 2015. That means “eat, drink and be married” could be their theme, Emily notes, plus “pizzas and pints” on more than one night of the week. facebook.com/sawmillpizza
About 150 miles east, in rural Marathon County, I meet Kat Becker on – as she categorizes it – a “bipolar day” of sunshine and heavy rain. She and husband Tony Schultz operate Stoney Acres Farm, whose organic ingredients turn into pizza from 4:30-8 p.m. on Fridays, through October.
That includes veggies, sausage (because they raise Berkshire pigs) and the crust, whose flour is ground from the farm’s wheat. Also in the dough is farm-tapped maple syrup and sunflower oil from a neighbor.
On the five-veggie pizza, during my visit: bok choy, rainbow Swiss chard, shredded kohlrabi, shitake and oyster mushrooms, plus garlic scapes. Customers with six-packs in tow were taking a seat outdoors before starting time.
Fans include Dick and Nancy Thompson of Wausau, whose daughter drove with her family from Minnesota to meet for a Friday night pizza. “We like healthy food, so this place fits in well,” he says.
Visitors are welcome to check out the greenhouses, chickens, barn cats and other farm life – but need to do so with respect for electric field fences, burgeoning plants and animal stress levels. stoneyacresfarm.net
The Upper Mississippi River Valley is another good place to find pizza farms during this time of year in Wisconsin.
Pizza nights began in 1998 at A to Z Produce and Bakery, near Stockholm, making this farm among the first to bake and sell pizzas made with homegrown ingredients. Service happens 4:30-8 p.m. Tuesdays, into November. “Bring your own everything,” the farmers advise, but wine and beer are sold by the bottle. Customers show up with their own lawn blankets or card tables and folding chairs. atozproduceandbakery.com
Outdoor seating and baking areas are built in and around the foundation of an 1896 barn near a woods and pond at The Stone Barn, in the rural hills near Nelson. Also on the farm is an antiques store. Pizza, wine, beer, pop and ice cream are served 5-9 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, into October. Adventurous pizza options include the Alaska (smoked salmon, sweet onions, capers and dill on a cream cheese base). Indoor and outdoor seating provided. nelsonstonebarn.com
Suncrest Gardens Farm, near Cochrane, provides a playground for children and live music on most Fridays. Well water is free (bring your own container) or purchase alcoholic or other beverages. The remodeled barn has a few tables and chairs, but it’s more typical for customers to bring outdoor seating. The Sunshine, is pesto-sauce pizza, is topped with roasted sweet corn, when the time is right. Serving is from 4:30-9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, through August. suncrestgardensfarm.com/pizza
Right on Highway 35, south of Prescott, is Nesbitt’s Nursery, whose grounds include Oasis Eatery, which serves breakfast, lunch and bakery. Wednesdays are Pie Night, which means a menu of pizza, quiche and dessert pies from 4:30-8 p.m. Ingredients come from within 100 miles; outdoors is a playground and beautiful orchard views. nesbittsnursery.com/about
Fifty miles west of Chicago, Heritage Prairie Farm near Elburn, Ill., serves pizza from 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays, through September. The farmer also has a culinary degree; he also occasionally presents on-farm cooking classes and more elaborate dinners.
A hired magician performs weekly and a bluegrass-country band is booked at least monthly. heritageprairiefarm.com