Past and future: Octogenarian offers vision for agriculture – Leader-Telegram

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A row of seedlings emerge from their pots at a greenhouse north of Kennan, Wisconsin.
Long-time farmer Conrad Alexander surveys the greenhouse he’s built on his homestead north of Kennan, Wisconsin. Alexander’s goal is to create a small, self-sustaining farmstead on little acreage utilizing experience and skills he’s gleaned over nearly 80 years of agriculture.
Rows of seedlings emerge from the soil at a greenhouse located north of Kennan, Wisconsin.
A greenhouse attached to the main house on Conrad Alexander’s homestead north of Kennan. Constructed in 2020, the greenhouse is a significant part of Alexander’s vision to create a small, self-sustaining homestead that can turn $60,000 per-year profits off only 5-20 acres of land.
Conrad Alexander

A row of seedlings emerge from their pots at a greenhouse north of Kennan, Wisconsin.
Long-time farmer Conrad Alexander surveys the greenhouse he’s built on his homestead north of Kennan, Wisconsin. Alexander’s goal is to create a small, self-sustaining farmstead on little acreage utilizing experience and skills he’s gleaned over nearly 80 years of agriculture.
Rows of seedlings emerge from the soil at a greenhouse located north of Kennan, Wisconsin.
A greenhouse attached to the main house on Conrad Alexander’s homestead north of Kennan. Constructed in 2020, the greenhouse is a significant part of Alexander’s vision to create a small, self-sustaining homestead that can turn $60,000 per-year profits off only 5-20 acres of land.
Conrad Alexander
KENNAN — His sight might not be as good as it once was, but Conrad Alexander has his eyes fixed on both past and future.
Now in his twilight years, the 89-year-old farmer from Kennan, Wisconsin, has a vision for small, self-sustaining farms that can support large families in an economically viable way.
“The people in this country is having a hard time getting the food out of the store. I think it’s going to continue and when you go to the stores and buy food, you really don’t know what you’re buying,” Alexander said as he gave a tour of his small homestead just outside Kennan. “I think it’s time that the people learn the value of a five to 20 acre farm to feed their entire family.”
Equipped with roughly 5-20 acres of good, tillable earth, a few cows, perhaps some chickens and hogs on the side, with a nice helping of berries for kicks, an extended family of 15-20 people can support themselves.
He estimates that, assuming average yields, a family can turn a $50,000 to $60,000 profit on a yearly basis once things are up and running 100%.
This unorthodox vision is molded by decades of experience, sharpened with a steel-trap mind that calculates complex yield equations with machine-like ease.
Off the top of his head, Alexander can recall with surprising precision what grain prices were in 1938, or 1978, or today, then use those figures to squeeze every cent of profitability out of an acre of soil.
He knows just how much a cow — depending on age, breed and size — can safely produce daily to maintain 4% milk fat without burning them out.
He’s lived long enough to remember his grandfather demonstrate that a mule is preferable to a horse for plowing because their hooves are smaller, just as he remembers the desolation of the 1980s farming crisis and the advent of automated agriculture in the 2010s.
He’s owned farms in Wisconsin and as far away as the Philippines. He’s worked as a machinist for more than 20 years in Chicago. He’s even served as a ballroom dancing instructor in his youth.
And the fruits of nearly 80 years of farm life? The dream of a small self-sustaining farm — complete with rows of berry bushes, a small dairy barn and a new greenhouse — that’s slowly being realized on Alexander’s little homestead just north of Kennan.
Alexander fervently believes in his vision. As the economy shifts and agriculture becomes increasingly corporate, he believes it is these small eclectic homesteads that offer a path forward for common folk — not only as a means to support families, but a means to provide healthier food that isn’t filled with additives.
On the face of it, the model isn’t all that revolutionary. By incorporating different aspects of farming into a cohesive whole — like growing grain to feed cattle, then using cow manure to fertilize fields, and so on — operators can maximize production and curb waste. If they’re smart, farmers can make the most of limited acreage during the warmer months, then lean on a greenhouse during colder times of year.
That’s the easy part. The more difficult aspect of the equation is acquiring the knowledge and experience to make it work with such fine margins of productivity. The devil in the details. Much of this is grounded in decades of life — experiences, Alexander often noted, that he’s eager to share — but there’s also an element of trial and error.
Does a farmer have a patience to find the perfect balance of mushroom mulch and humus to grow potatoes indoors?
Is a farmer willing to experiment with four or five verities of strawberries to see which one has the perfect growing period, yield and hardiness to survive the local climate?
Is the farmer capable of weighing the pros and cons of Jersey, Guernsey and Swiss dairy cattle, down to the tiniest margins of milk poundage? For his part, Alexander prefers Swiss, but swears by Guernseys up and down, in spite of popular perceptions of Jerseys.
These are considerations that Alexander makes every day.
“I have all this knowledge, but I don’t want to take it with me when I go,” Alexander said. “I’d like to give it to the people. I’d like to leave it behind to help those who need it.”
With this in mind, Alexander has invited anyone willing to stop by his homestead at 10538 Liberty Lane, Kennan, and discuss the specifics of small-scale farming if they’re open to establishing a similar homestead of their own.
Contact: [email protected]
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