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Just dropping by: Mulberry Lane Farm

Visitors can milk a cow, catch a chicken, kiss a pig, cuddle a kitten and hand-feed a goat

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July 25, 2023

IpZesfAZCdkHILBERT – Being surrounded by humans all day at The Business News, it was a nice change of pace to visit Mulberry Lane Farm in the tiny Village of Hilbert in Outagamie County for the sixth installment of Just dropping by.

Visitors can milk a cow, catch a chicken, kiss a pig, cuddle a kitten and hand-feed a goat – and, in my case, have a goat eat through your microphone cord!

Sitting in the goat pen chatting with Bonnie Keyes – who along with her husband Patrick owns and operates Mulberry Farm – a curious goat I’ve affectionately named George decided to get his 15 seconds of fame and enjoyed a tasty snack – the cord to my microphone.

Ironically, Bonnie said goats are picky eaters.

Did I mention it was the first time we used the microphone?

It’s all in good fun, and The Business News staff agreed the laughs were well worth George’s effort.

I plan to revisit Mulberry Farm soon, but I’ll keep my eyes open for George – and make sure no cords are hanging from my pocket!

More on Mulberry Farm
The Keyes opened Mulberry Farm in 2005 and have been going strong since.

“On a good day in the fall, we might have 2,000 people here,” Bonnie said. “Even with that many people, we have enough space where it isn’t packed and there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy. Counting all the animals, we have about 300 on the farm.”

Bonnie Keyes

Set on 123 acres, Mulberry Farm, located at W3190 Co. Rd. B in Hilbert, got its name from the 100-plus-year-old mulberry tree on the property.

A purple berry similar to a blackberry in appearance, mulberries are very tasty!

“We hope it’s around for many more years,” Bonnie said. “It’s one of the most popular attractions on the farm and gets loaded with berries.”

Bonnie said Mulberry Farm hosts a lot of field trips from schools and daycare centers – sometimes welcoming up to 30 buses a day.

Open from May through October, the farm offers different activities each season.

“Your entrance fee allows you to do all the activities on the farm,” Bonnie said. “In the fall when the pumpkins are ready, (your fee) also includes a pumpkin to take home. You can also bring in your own food and enjoy a picnic lunch in our open area. In the fall, we’ll have as many as 30 or 40 employees.” 

Bonnie said there is an offseason, which allows her and her husband “to breathe a bit.”

“When (November) rolls around, it’s the first time in six months we can relax a bit,” she said. “Even though there are no visitors, we’re still busy with different things, but Patrick and I can maybe even take a little vacation.”

Bonnie said the animals also transition to their off-season homes when the weather cools.

“We move them from the petting zoo area to the barns on the property,” she said. “We also do our repairs in the winter, too.”

Staff Writer Rich Palzewic got in a few kisses with this piglet before the mama sow came to investigate. Photo Courtesy of The Business News Staff

Most of the feed fed to the animals is also grown on the property.

“The petting zoo is about 14 acres (of the 123 total),” she said. “The rest of the acreage is used for growing corn, hay and of course, pumpkins.”

A family affair
Bonnie said the story of why a petting farm was chosen for Mulberry “is interesting.”

“My husband – who is one of 13 siblings – grew up in Waterford, which is about 30 miles south of Milwaukee,” she said. “He grew up on a hog farm, and when he was little, they converted it to a children’s petting farm. Rumor has it on busy days, Mom Keyes would hold some of the kids back from school (so they could work the petting farm).”

Upon graduating from high school, Bonnie said the 13 siblings said, “there has to be more to life than this.”

“They all went on to college,” she said. “The third oldest brother, Dan, got a banking position in Houston, Texas, and had an office on the 32nd floor. Looking out his window one day, he saw these school buses drive by. He began wondering, ‘Where on earth are these buses going in this city of cement?’”

Bonnie said, “That’s when Dan got this hair-brain idea.”

“He called Mom and Dad Keyes and said, ‘What do you think about starting a Green Meadows Farm down here?’” she said. “The family bought an abandoned farm, cleared the land and that was the first satellite farm. The Keyes family – although they are all independently owned – has Green Meadows Farms from Florida to New York to Wisconsin to California. We’re the only ones called Mulberry Lane Farm – (which as mentioned got its name from the 100-year-old tree on the property).”

Wedding venue
Though Bonnie said Mulberry’s main focus is educating school children about farm animals, the farm has had to adapt to the times.

“In 2009, we were hit with a recession,” she said. “Schools eliminated field trips from their school budget – we didn’t lose any schools, but we flatlined (didn’t gain any). We had to diversify.”

Next, Bonnie said, she received a call out of the blue from Seth Lenz from Christ the Rock (Community) Church (in Menasha).

“It was an answer to our prayers,” she said. “Seth told me he was getting married in a few months and their wedding venue fell through. He asked if we’d consider having the wedding at the farm. We did – it went beautifully, and we didn’t think anything more about it after closing the barn door after the wedding – it was Oct. 31, 2010.”

Bonnie said that winter, her phone began ringing.

“The people on the other end said, ‘I hear you do weddings,’” she said. “We diversified without even looking – it came to us. We also host company outings. We did 16 weddings last year.”

Weddings in the barn venue, Bonnie said, are in jeopardy because of Bill AB304/SB332 currently in the Wisconsin Legislature.

The bill directly affects the operation of wedding barns and alternative event venues.

Mulberry Lane Farm, located at W3190 Co. Rd. B in Hilbert, got its name from the 100-plus-year-old mulberry tree on the property. Photo Courtesy of The Business News Staff

“As written, if the bill becomes law, we’d be forced to get a liquor license or host only six events per year,” Bonnie said. “Because Farmer Pat and I don’t believe in our petting farm becoming a tavern and being forced to sell alcohol to host a private-invitation-only event, we would have to resort to the six events per year option.”

Bonnie said, “Luckily for us, weddings are not our main source of income.”

“I’d feel terrible for the venues that rely solely on special events to make a living,” she said. “They have to book as many Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as they can – they’ll be forced to get a liquor license.”

For more information on Mulberry Lane Farm, visit mulberrylanefarmwi.com or find them on Facebook.

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