At 5 a.m. it’s still dark outside, but the lights are on in the barn at Cherryland Dairy in Door County. For Mike and Jamie Henschel and their three boys, milking time is often family time. Jamie tries to appreciate it, since two of her sons have jobs off the farm. “Early morning’s my best time. I mean, the sun just peeking up. It’s peaceful. It’s calm.”
Mike says the Henschel family came to Door County a century ago, drawn by cheap land prices. “My great-grandpa Ed moved up here from Elkhart Lake area in 1902. I think 12 cows, something like that, that great-grandpa had back then. Eighty acres. My grandpa Ray, took it over at the age of 18. He had four children and one son. That was my dad Roger and he ran it. And then in 2000, we purchased it. Jaime took the farm over from my parents.”
Jamie grew up on a farm down the road. Mike and Jamie were kindred spirits growing up in an era when more and more of their classmates had no connection to the farm. “We knew what to talk about,” says Jamie. “It was always what crop you’re raising or how is harvesting going.”
“I was 13 years old when I took the pigs over,” says Mike Henschel. “That’s when my dad had his first heart attack. And the pigs smell, you can’t get [it] off your hands. I mean, you’d wash them. So I’d soak my hands in aftershave lotion, you know, and try to cover up the smell. I always say Jaime’s the only girl I found that could handle the pig smells.”
“I grew up on a farm. It’s the natural aroma,” says Jamie. “We married two years out of high school, and stayed right on the farm. And helped his parents out, until he took it over and started raising our own family.”
Despite the chores and the routine of the animals, Mike and Jamie say there’s always something new on the farm. “Just a little bit of a diversion. I mean, something different in a day.”
That’s because they do more than cows and corn. They cook and bottle their own maple syrup. They have bees for their own brand of honey. And because they’re in Door County, they have a small cherry orchard. They also operate a sawmill. “Jaime saws a little over 200,000 board feet,” says Mike. “So now, we call farming our hobby and the sawmill is our main job.”
Add it all up and it’s enough for a family farmer to get by. “Having the sawmill, all our diversification, really helps offset… and family labor. I mean, you don’t count your hours,” says Jamie.
Mike and Jamie were born farmers, but they made a choice to stay on the farm. It’s a choice their boys will have to make as well. “It’s been in this family; we’re fourth generation. Our boys will be fifth,” says Jamie.
“We’re hoping,” says Mike. “I mean, just like my dad was hoping that I’d take the farm over and I’m pretty sure our boys will be taking this over. Because they seem to like it so far.”
After all, it’s not a chore if you enjoy what you’re doing. “Dad always says, ‘Work is something you don’t enjoy,’” says Mike. “So, hopefully, I never have to work.”