Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy is a unique family business. In the early 2000s, all four sons of Jay and Jeanne Hansen decided to come back to the home farm and work together to build an on-farm creamery. There are now 19 people (11 kids) who live on or near the farm. So what’s it like to live and work so closely with each other?
First, a little about me. I’m married to Blake Hansen, the youngest son. We have a 3-year-old daughter, Reese, and 5-month-old son, Beckett.
I grew up on a dairy farm near Decorah, so I’m used to the nature of this work. Not eating supper until 8 p.m., struggling to find vacation time, and dealing with fly spots on EVERYTHING is commonplace to me. But it was just my mom, dad, sister and me. No employees, no creamery, no marketing. The Hansen farm is a different animal, and here’s why.
There’s always something going on. There are 7 family members and 10 non-family employees who work on the farm. That means you can’t go 20 feet without finding someone riding a tractor, someone cleaning something, someone giving a tour, or a cow having a calf. Milking happens from 4 to 7 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. every single day. The creamery runs full-steam all day Monday, Wednesday and Friday with ice cream made on other days.
In between, there are tours happening, cows and calves being fed, and machinery, vehicles and equipment being fixed. Work can happen around the clock when calves are being born, the electricity goes out or cows escape their enclosures.
It’s a great place to raise kids. The 11 grandkids who live on or near the farm are so creative and energetic. They love the wide-open spaces to play. They’ve made a train of kiddie tractors, wagons and bikes tied together with twine.
They’ve created full-course “meals” out of objects found outside (leaves drizzled with muddy water for salad; hosta leaves rolled into manicotti; flower petals, rocks and twigs stirred into soup).
They swim and fish in the pond.
They’ve each made a “treehouse” using old blankets and towels. They’ve crafted owls out of black walnuts split in half, pinecones and feathers. They jump on three trampolines nestled in the ground, and play cops and robbers.
They also willingly help do all different kinds of chores, which teaches them the value of hard work.
Almost everything we need is right here. Grandma and Grandpa or aunts and uncles are always around to baby-sit. We get together for meals a lot because someone will generously cook for a crowd. We have most any tool or piece of equipment one might need to fix something. As soon as we finish the racquetball court in the dome, Grandpa and the four sons will have a place to play their favorite sport. And the best part? Having an on-site grocery store. Thank God for it! How do you people remember to buy milk? We go through a gallon a day at our house. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked in the fridge to find the milk almost empty … or not enough butter to bake with … or no cheese for my casseroles … and I’ve cursed having to walk all the way outside to the cooler to get it! We also have enough meat to feed a small village (which, of course, is what we are).
There are always visitors. People are always dropping by to get their milk at the tour center or take a farm tour. A lot of business deliveries are being made.
Also, four of the families live right on the farm. My house has the farm office so family members frequently drop by to take care of business. Privacy? Ha! Walking around naked in my own home is a risk I’m not willing to take. But at least I think most family members have figured out that afternoons are rest time at our house (for Mom and Dad too, not just our two kids!)
There’s a lot of love. Yes, we’re all in close proximity. Yes, personalities collide. Yes, the work is never done. But everyone takes time to stop and play a little bit. Above all we’re working as a team for our livelihood, and that of the next generation, too. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything!