Out-of-the-box thinking helps small, family farm survive
Sep 09, 2019 (Westby, WI)
Lynn Hicks owns an organic dairy farm with her husband Nick and doing so has shown her that rock bottom teaches things the top never will. You’d never know by appearances that Lynn and her family struggle with anything. Her farm store – Lynn’s Barnyard Boutique – is bright and colorful, joyful even. Her disposition is like a happy hug, and her four children are all-hands-on-deck kind of kids.
But farming is hard, and dairy has endured a barrage of obstacles with poor weather, feed shortages, low dairy prices and trade issues. This is forcing many farms to innovate or get out of the business – 212 dairy farms closed in Wisconsin in the first three months of 2019 alone.
“Over last several years farming has not paid well, and I’ve had to think outside the box. Nobody is going to hand anything over to me, so I have to figure how to make it all work,” Lynn said. The desire “to make it all work” steered Lynn toward turning her hobby into a business.
When her younger two children would nap, Lynn would spend time refurbishing old furniture. This included adding funky, fresh, fun images to upholstered items and brilliant colors to hard surfaces. At some point the family ran out of space to showcase her work in their own home. “My husband told me I don’t get a bigger house so now I get the fun of making, creating and watching these projects go to a good home with someone who is super excited to have it,” she said.
Lynn’s Barnyard Boutique doesn’t just sell refurbished furniture, though. It also features Westby Cooperative Creamery organic dairy foods, including cottage cheese, sour cream, French onion dip, cheese curds and butter, and other foods, like beef from the family’s farm. The Hicks family is actually one of the cooperative’s patron owners.
Lynn tries to keep track of decorating trends to feature in her store as well. This year old, wooden bread boxes are the rage. She’s also careful to select items that are useful. “I used to have cool shoes and purses but now I have chickens. Everything has to have a purpose because I live a farm and don’t have time or space for just pretty. It has to be functional, but it can be beautiful and still maintain a purpose,” Lynn said.
Getting swept up in decorating trends can be fun but for Lynn it all circles back to the farm. “It’s safe to say that the shop has supported the farm,” she said. The family has 70 dairy cows, 110 acres of paddocked land, and they rent additional land for forage. It is located in Gilman, just north of Thorpe, Wisconsin.
The kids are 16, 14, 6 and 5, and the garage was commandeered for the boutique. Half of it is the store, while the other half serves as a workshop space. “The girls in the barn,” as the dairy herd is affectionately referred to, take top priority each day, but for special boutique events Lynn redirects efforts – like on Oct. 12 when the boutique will host its fall market.
This one-day event will highlight a dozen local vendors all featuring homemade, hand-crafted goods. There will be horse-drawn buggy rides, baked and canned produce, soaps, lotions, a hot-dog lunch by area home-schooled children, and Lynn is hoping to bring in pumpkins, of course. Rain or shine the fall market will take place under a giant tent. “I told my husband you have to give me this one day. We’re not hauling hay or manure,” Lynn quipped. To learn more about Lynn’s Barnyard Boutique visit her Facebook page.