Kenosha native Paul Maggio once had an office that overlooked the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.
As a futures broker who started on the trading floor, he learned as he went, hedged his assets, took risk and gained an understanding of the agricultural market and global economy.
In 2015, after being let go from his job of more than 25 years, he made the biggest trade of his life.
Paul left the Windy City behind for greener pastures in Wheatland with his wife Marisa and two daughters, Cecila, 9, and Corinna, 2, to become a farmer.
He had purchased the 140-acre land-locked farm between Highway KD and Highway O a few years earlier as an investment.
“At first the neighbors were kind of skeptical,” Paul recalls, adding they were worried he was going to develop the land.
Take on the challenge
Initial plans were to rent to a local farmer. This was no surprise to locals. Developers often do this to maintain the agricultural zoning for tax purposes.
“We had no intentions of farming it ourselves,” Marisa said, adding they looked for a farmer who would use sustainable and organic practices. “But, we couldn’t find anyone to do it the way we wanted. So, we started turning the soil ourselves.”
Just as he did in the world of trade, Paul jumped in knowing very little. They found a mentor in Altfrid Krusenbaum, who is considered one of the top organic famers in Wisconsin. He provides consulting services for grazing dairy and beef operations.
“He was a wealth of knowledge,” Paul said. “He is still a great resource to us.”
They also took part in a mentorship program through the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
The first fruits of their labor: perennial pastures featuring a mix of 10 different species of grasses, alfalfa and clover.
Neighboring farmer Andy Lois admits he was curious about what the future held for the former John and Anna “Louise” Kretschmer farm.
“When someone comes from the city and buys a farm, you wonder if there’s going to be homes there,” Lois, a member of the Wheatland Town Board, said.
Some of Lois’ steers now graze the fields at the farm, the first Certified Organic and Certified Animal Welfare approved farm in Kenosha County. And, he helped the Maggios find their own steers. In return for allowing the steers to graze there, Lois helps the Maggios with machinery.
Paul said the mission of Starry Nights Farm is to supply 100 percent Wisconsin grass-fed beef to residents in southeast Wisconsin and the Chicagoland area.
He said he believes small farmers can still be successful.
“If we can do this on 140 acres and be profitable, maybe we can be a resource for others,” Paul said.
Marisa, formerly a certified public accountant, said she is surprised by how much she enjoys the work.
“It’s humbling,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how much work goes into it and how much love. You have to have a deep respect for the animals.”
The steers graze a day or two in one area before moving to another pasture. The grazed areas are allowed to recover for at least 30 days, Paul said. Water is available throughout the pastures, where a 100-gallon tank can be filled every 100 yards.
The Certified Animal Welfare and Certified Grass Fed approvals from A Greener World guarantee the steers are raised outdoors on pasture for their entire lives on an independent farm using sustainable, high-welfare farming practices. It is the only label in the U.S. to require audited, high-welfare production, transport and slaughter practices.
Trained auditors visit every farm in the program at least once a year to verify they’re meeting the standards. The certification is free to farmers, assuring the program auditors remain impartial.
Paul said he believes the animal welfare approval is just as important as the organic certification.
“While certified organic animals will be chemical free and non-GMO, their living conditions can be compromised,” he said. “We feel it’s the start of the industrialization of organic; turning animals into widgets. For this reason, we pursued an animal welfare certification to keep us accountable and trustworthy to our customers.”
Paul said they have recently added some beehives as well as a couple of peach, pear and apple trees.
When you ask him about their futures, he now talks about the local market rather than the global one.
To connect with the Maggios and subscribe to their blog, visit www.starrynightsfarm.com.