When I told people I was going to a pizza farm, I kept getting the same question over and over. What is a pizza farm?
“A pizza farm has a lot of different connotations,” said Pam Taylor, owner of the Nelson Stone Barn in Nelson, Wisconsin. “Ours here, we grow our own herbs and custom-make our own pizzas. We’re a little bit different than growing your own vegetables. But we try to stay as local as possible. There are some [pizza farms] that grow their own vegetables and then go farm-to-table.”
Taylor doesn’t start serving until 5 p.m. on Saturdays, but sometimes people show up early. On the day I visited, more than 20 cars and motorcycles stretched in a line along the road. By 5:30, around 60 pizza orders had been placed. The record number of pizzas in a night is 226, set earlier this year.
Inside, staff take orders, prepare dough and sauce and top pizzas. After the bubbling pies are pulled from the oven, they’re quickly sliced and delivered to customers.
Clearly the pizza is popular, but the scenery doesn’t hurt either. Golden barn walls house a seating area and herb gardens.
“We’re mostly here just so people can come and enjoy,” Taylor said. “Get a little taste of nature with your dinner. We’re not a formal restaurant where you have to sit down and watch your kids. As you can see, the kids are running all over. It’s a very comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. That’s what I wanted.”
“Sometimes it feels like I’m dancing,” laughed Heather Secrist, owner of Suncrest Gardens Farm in Cochrane, Wisconsin.
I try to stay out of the way as she maneuvers a pizza in her wood fired oven with peel on a pizza night.
Secrist bakes the pizzas in a fire brick domed oven that looks kind of like an igloo. A very warm, tanned igloo. Usually, Secrist starts firing the oven by 11 a.m.
“It was at probably 400 [degrees] when we started the day,” Secrist said. “When it all turned white on the inside of the oven, it’s at 900 degrees and the floor is at 700 then. And so that’s what we aim to get is around 700, 750.”
Like other pizza farms, pizza nights are only one part of Suncrest Gardens farm. Secrist and staff tend crops, care for animals and prepare food shares for a community-supported agriculture program.
They’re busy, but Secrist said all of the pieces of the farm fit together.
”Even the ash from our oven goes back to the garden to help fertilize the plants,” Secrist said. “Everything has its purpose and everything’s used. We’ve even mulched tomatoes with pizza boxes. Everything is full circle as much as we can.”
The pizzas I tried were unbelievably fresh. But, my favorite ingredient was something that came extra with each pie: passion.
Everyone I met is passionate about knowing where their food comes from and about using the freshest possible ingredients. Mingled with that is a connection to nature and to the farm. A trip to a pizza farm isn’t just about going to grab a pizza. It’s an experience and a relationship with food that’s hard to get in our daily lives.
That’s what keeps bringing people — and me — back for more.
(This story was updated on October 15, 2020.)