For the love of a barn

Fitchburg woman creates agriculture-related community center.
07 Startup Panel
Photograph by Brea Akim, Adibelle Marketing

Mary Ann McKenzie has stayed true to her Tennessee family’s agricultural roots. A UW–Madison horticulture grad whose family name is better known around here for real estate, McKenzie has owned a 200-acre farm just off Fish Hatchery Road since 2014, growing corn, soybeans, and boarding a dozen horses. The only thing lacking was a barn. “I love old barns,” she confesses.

In 2017, when the neighboring 83-acre farm went on the market, McKenzie jumped. The property’s farmhouse couldn’t be saved, but the barn was structurally sound. “Every time I’d go in, sit in it, climb into it, I wanted to share it with the community,” she says. “It gave me so much peace.”

McKenzie spent four years restoring the structure. “We’re a living laboratory,” McKenzie says of Four Winds Farm, designed to promote regenerative agriculture and permaculture — the practice of farming with perennial crops rather than planting every year.

The goal, according to the website, is “to work with the land to create a symbiotic relationship in which the people, animals, and plants respect and sustain each other.”

It’s a work in progress. “Nobody here is particularly skilled in this,” she admits, “but we’re inviting the community to experience this with us as we make mistakes.”

McKenzie and a few employees are growing hay for the horses and planting fruit trees in a demonstration orchard. Four acres are designated for hops, which she sells to area bars and breweries. “They’re very labor intensive,” she says, “but I’m also passionate about beer.”

Future plans include asparagus, cider apples, nut trees, bees for honey, and mushrooms grown in a forested area on the land. Construction of a brick pizza oven is in the works for future events, but McKenzie is not opening a restaurant.

As chickens scurry about, a sheep barn is underway. “We want to add sheep to help control weeds or eat the grass between the fruit trees. They can work for us.”

The sheep may be shorn for their wool and eventually sold for consumption. That’s the difficult side of farming. “We have two chefs on my staff, and we’re still arm wrestling over that,” she admits.

Early on, McKenzie hired an ecological design firm to map out the property, determining the layout of the perennial crops and the location of walking paths, but it could be five years before everything is fully completed.

She’s hopeful in its possibilities. “Giant monoculture farms require huge pieces of equipment, which creates carbon problems,” she says. “That’s not sustainable.”

In contrast, Four Winds Farm, recently rezoned as a small business, will dial it back, apply modern science, and hopefully create a better agriculture system that can be shared.

McKenzie has created a sustainable and educational agricultural learning center for corporate meetings or instructional classes on a variety of ag-related topics. The barn has a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, a library, and an expansive loft, but it is not available for weddings.

“My goal is to make this sustainable and profitable and to give people ideas about actually living off the land. People love it. We get calls every day to use the space but we’re not quite there — yet.”

Four Winds Farm has been a labor of love, McKenzie explains, and she’s trusting her gut. “Restoring this barn is my gift to the community; my swan song.”

After all, at age 65, she could retire.

“I know,” she sighs. “But what else would I do? I love to read, but I can’t read all day!”

Four Winds Farm
5735 Adams Road
Fitchburg, WI 53575
(608) 835-5834