Two local doctors who ventured into an organic apple orchard are now working to create a retail space for locally and sustainably grown food.
By Mary Boyle
Peggy Callahan always liked growing things, but her home in the woods of Mequon gave her few opportunities. That, and her busy career as a physician and being the mother of three boys. Someday, though, she was going to find a place where she could grow all the things she wanted in just the way she wanted to.
Peggy and her husband Ed, an ER doctor, began their search for land in 2008, but it wasn't until 2012 that they came across the former Schneidish farm, located just outside of Port Washington's city limits. The crumbling, burnt out old fieldstone and cream city brick farmhouse was a favorite place for locals to take pictures, as well as (unfortunately) to dump their trash.
"It took us two years just to clean out the property," Peggy said. "The basement was filled to the top with mattresses and televisions."
The name for the farm and what to grow came easily enough. "Fall is my favorite time of year and the apple tree is iconic for Fall," Peggy explained. The Callahans had an interest in growing organic and sustainably, and there are very few organic apple orchards in the State. Thus, Dream Apple Farm was born.
In 2014, the Callahans planted the first 160 trees as a test orchard. Nearly every tree was destroyed by deer. They call that year the "lost year." In 2016, they built a deer-proof fence around the property and in 2017 they built the barn, which houses a commercial kitchen and plenty of space for workshops and educational opportunities they envisioned in the future, In the meantime, they were also preparing the land: adding compost, planting cover crops, and more. In 2018, the main orchard of 1100 trees was planted, which have now seen their third leaf.
Raising apples organically is a constant battle with nature, and certification takes three years of careful documentation, but the Callahans felt the Organic Certifications (they are both USDA and Real Organic certified) were important. "People throw the word 'organic' around very loosely," Ed explained. Peggy agreed.
"We start from the ground up; the soil is the most important thing."
Beyond apples, the Callahans also grow raspberries, rhubarb, and have started a very small number of pear and peach trees, all grown organically. All the work, thus far, has been done by just the two of them, because they are so particular about their farm. Ed said that many of their friends want to come and pick the apples, but that's the easy part. "Pick-your-own" operations lose 20-30% of their product, an amount that their small farm cannot afford to lose. Imperfect apples can be made into value-added products such as apple butter, dried apple rings, or cider. Ground apples are rounded up immediately, to prevent bugs from making a home in the trees, and fed to pigs raised at Burkel Family Farm or Bossy Cow Farm — two local farms who have a similar outlook on raising food as the Callahans.
As they worked on their own project, the Callahans realized that inviting the public into their carefully worked farm was not a good way to sell their products, yet attending farmers markets wasn't quite enough, either. Not only that, they wanted to help other local growers who were trying to do what they are doing: raising food and animals in a healthy and sustainable way. "It's very hard to survive on a small family farm," Ed said. "Wholesale is a fraction of what you would get retail, and we want to get the farmer as close to retail as possible."
So, when the former Baltica Tea Room in downtown Port Washington went up for sale in December of 2020, the Callahans purchased it to develop a farm store where they could sell their products, but so could other local farms. Their hope is to rent out the commercial kitchen as a way for small growers to make their own value-added products, which they can then sell in the shop. In a nod to their farm, they have dubbed the space Dream Port Harvest Market. To test the market, the Callahans have held several pop-up markets in the space, in concert with the Port Washington Farmers Market. While the pop-ups have been more like an indoor farmers market, they hope to transition into a full-fledged retail space in the very near future.
The Dream Port Harvest Market will be open during the Fall Street Festival in Port Washington on Saturday, October 9th, and again on Saturday, October 23rd from 9-2. While this year has been a bad one for apples (it is estimated that most orchards in Wisconsin lost between 50-100% of their crop), the Callahans will have cider, dried apple rings, plenty of their apple butter, and more.
"Organic doesn't get a consistent product — it's hard," Ed explained. "Education is a really big part of what we're doing — we have a larger mission in [Dream Port Harvest Market] and we're looking to connect with other people who want to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. We are very fortunate in this area to have so many farms — we want to support them."
To learn more about Dream Apple Farm, go to: www.dreamapplefarm.com/