Farm Feature: Walnut Lane Farm
Walnut Lane is a diversified family farm located in Dudley, operated by Jim and Krisanne Koebke and their sons Gus, Curtis and Nolan. The farm has been in their family since 1910; Jim is the fourth generation to work the land. When the farm began in the early nineteen hundreds they produced mostly turkeys and potatoes, and the sales were conducted within the local community. As agriculture changed in the 1940’s the Koebke’s added wholesale dairy and their other products took a back seat. Dairy became the family’s main focus until 2017 when they, again, decided to make a change.
In earlier decades the dairy industry proved to be a reliable market with reasonable profit margins. Over time the price of milk has fallen far below production costs. While federal and state aid programs have been developed to bridge the gap between expenses and revenue, for many dairy producers this has not been adequate to sustain their dairy businesses. Some farmers have chosen to diversify their farm offerings in order to offset the dairy deficit; others have decided to leave the dairy industry entirely.
For the Keobke’s, refocusing their sales back to their local community rather than the wholesale market became their new farm plan. While Krisanne describes the decision as one of the most challenging they have ever had to face as a family, they do not look back on that choice with regret. Today they apply their decades of knowledge to a new, but very similar type of agriculture. Walnut Lane Farm now offers grass-fed beef, eggs, chicken, pork, and raw milk to their local community.
The Keobke’s manage the farm as a family, each of the three boys participate in the business. Initially, they helped their parents with the calf and chicken chores, as the oldest boys have grown, they have assumed more responsibility on the farm. Their parents regard them as invaluable in the farms cropping and harvesting systems. Their middle son, Curtis, has integrated the farm business into his formal education through a school cooperative program. Their intent is to build and maintain a successful farm business which they boys can take over one day if they decide farming is their chosen career, just as their Father did before them.
Changing their farming model from wholesale to retail based has also necessitated a change in how and where they sell their goods. Krisanne and Jim hold store hours at their farm on Saturday mornings and throughout the week by appointment. In 2018 they joined the newly established Sturbridge Farmers Market and developed strong relationships with restaurants in their region such as BT’s Smokehouse and Cedar Street Grille. At BT’s you can enjoy Walnut Lane Farm ground beef in their “All Local Hamburger”, one of their staple offerings. The Keobke’s also offer specialized meat packages tailored to family size of event needs and a CSA program where their beef, pork, chicken and eggs are available for preorder and monthly pickup.
One thing is clear about the Keobke family; they have a deep passion for farming and their community. Transitioning from wholesale dairy to retail protein production is a challenging task and the Keobke’s are constantly working to navigate their path successfully. To connect with Jim, Krisanne and the kids visit their website, and please visit the farm! The Keobke’s enjoy building relationships with the community, sharing their stories, and hearing feedback from customers. Follow them on social media to get updates from the farm!
Jim & Krisanne Keobke