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Local family living their lifelong dream on De Pere homestead

Kitzerow family purchased five acres of land complete with farmhouse, fixer-upper barn, spring-fed pond, small creek

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April 2, 2024

DE PERE — Dilon and Bailey Kitzerow said they always wanted to live in the country — where living was peaceful, laid back and slow-paced.

Neither one grew up in the country, but their grandparents did and, as kids, each spent time visiting them, imagining what their own lives in the country would be like — but life, Bailey said, had other things in store for them.

As a young, married couple, they settled in Menasha where they began a family and owned/operated a martial arts school.

Successful as their business was, the couple said their dream of living in the country never faded.

Likewise, with each new addition to their family, the desire to slow down and live a quieter life, Bailey said, became that much stronger.

“It got to the point where it was time for someone else to love and nurture the (martial arts) business,” she said. “We had made it a great success and were proud of that, but family is important to us. I felt like while we worked hard to make the business a success, we were doing a disservice to our own family. And my family had to take a backseat for years. I’d finally gotten to a point where it was time to focus on us and for us to create a lifelong bond and connection with each other.”

Giving it all up for the country life
The Kitzerows sold their business, and in 2021, purchased five areas of land in the De Pere area with plans of starting a small homestead.

The property, Bailey said, came with an old farmhouse, an old fixer-upper barn, a one-acre, spring-fed pond and a small creek running through it.

“We thought this would be a little bit slower way of life and would give (our kids) a better chance to experience nature every day, caring for animals, learning how to grow and preserve our own food and making those things part of our family’s everyday life,” she said.

The Kitzerowes said they started Happy Tribe Homestead about two years ago with a garden, some chickens they got from a neighboring farm, ducks and goats.

“We’ll be adding rabbits and pigs soon,” Bailey said.

The former dairy farm, she said, had been dormant for some time and the barn was in especially rough shape.

The Kitzerow family, pictured from left, Quinn, Bailey, Keeper, Dilon, Cohen, Charli and Khade. Photo Courtesy of the Kitzerow Family

“When we moved in, we knew we had to get it up and running again,” she said. “Even though it needs a lot of work, we’ve been able to do little bits here and there. We now have the chickens and goats settled in the barn, and we’ve got a nice area for our barn cats. The ducks go in and out of the barn, as well.”

Dilon works in construction and Bailey does childcare from their home, saying “they both work on the homestead operation whenever they have free time, believing it is a labor of love.”

“Hopefully, one day we are both working full-time on the farm,” Bailey said. “Meanwhile, the kids help clean the animal pens, feed the animals, collect eggs, weed the garden, give the animals a daily inspection to ensure they’re healthy and free of injury or ailments, mow lawn, haul wood, and rake the pond weeds.”

Bailey said they are slowly “repurposing and revamping the barn.”

“We’re trying to use what we have and making sure we’re not being wasteful in that manner,” she said. “It’s a work in progress and a huge learning experience.”

The couple said they someday want to have some cows — maybe some cattle — for milk and beef.

They plan to acquire more land, too.

“We have enough land to raise most animals, but cows, cattle especially, require a lot more land for grazing space, especially for grass-fed beef,” Bailey said, adding they’ll do that when the timing is right. “It’s important to us that things are done ethically and responsibly. We want happy, healthy animals at the Happy Tribe Homestead.”

What’s in the name?
The name, Bailey said, is simplistic, just like the life the Kitzerow family is now living.

“The family exudes happiness now that we’re living more with nature,” she said. “Even the animals living on the farm are happy, as they are being loved and cared for, have lots of room and plenty of fresh water, natural food, and any nutrients or vitamins they might need.”

Bailey said she has always referred to the family as a tribe, especially as it’s gotten bigger.

Even dreams can have challenges
The Kitzerows’ first year on the farm, Bailey said, was chaotic.

One thing, she said, seemingly happened after the other — welcoming their fifth child was followed shortly by the breakdown of both furnaces in the home.

“It seemed like if something could go wrong, it did,” she said. “We had several ideas for cosmetic changes we wanted to make to the landscape, creating better curb appeal — but those fun cosmetic changes had to take a back seat. Looking back on it now, a year or so later, it was a blessing because what it’s done is taught us to use what we have and make adjustments there — and I honestly think that’s the way to do things – Take a step back and assess what you do have to work with. In our case, we are blessed because we already had some things here on the farm. Some people have to start from scratch.”

One thing they needed right away, Bailey said, was farm equipment.

“Having never lived or functioned on a farm, we underestimated everything you might need or might have to do,” she said. “But we quickly found there is a reason for farm equipment and that farm equipment is quite expensive. You find when moving onto a farm, especially an older property like this, there is so much to be done and so much that requires big machinery. That was a large challenge and a big learning curve for us. But with the help of family and friends, we’ve been able to do a lot of the projects.”

Bailey said another immediate challenge they had was the land itself.

While trying to plant bushes, trees and fruit, the Kitzerows discovered that a good majority of their land is clay, making growing anything on it quite difficult.

“We had to overcome that by using things like raised garden beds and being careful about where we’re planting things, especially if we want perennials and so forth,” she said.

One bright spot, Bailey said, was the farmhouse — with a section of it, part of the original farmhouse, built in 1893.

In 2009, Bailey said the previous owner built a massive addition onto the house to make it larger and suitable for the more modern, larger family of today.

Family heritage inspiration for homestead
Not only is her immediate family important to her, but Bailey said her ancestors are equally important, especially her maternal grandmother, Kathleen Dietsche.

“My grandmother had seven children, and she and my grandfather, Marvin, had a huge dairy farm they owned and operated,” she said. “One thing that always stuck out in my mind was the way she continued to care for her family and how close she was with her children no matter how old they got — and how much they all still adored and loved her.”

Back in the day, Bailey said “everyone worked on the farm.”

“Even as adults,” she said. “Every single day, all her boys would go to her house for breakfast, and she would pack their lunches and deliver them to the farm daily.”

Bailey said her grandmother would often prepare lunches for the hired help, too.

“The way she nurtured everyone was amazing and always inspired me,” she said. “The way she loved animals was inspiring, too. I saw the value she placed on family and that meant everything to me.”

Happy Tribe Homestead offers a handful of farm-fresh products, including homemade sourdough bread, pancakes and cookies. Photo Courtesy of the Kitzerow Family

Bailey said her grandparents’ consistent focus on family has always been inspiring to her.

“My grandparents started their family young, just like my husband and I have,” she said. “It’s cool to watch how life has come full circle in this way, and what they did is the fuel for what Dilon and I have started — and where we eventually want to be with our kids and this farm.”

Sadly, Kathleen Dietsche passed March 21, but her inspiration lives on in the Kitzerow’s homestead, Bailey said.

Self-sufficiency, one skill at a time
Bailey said the more she researched how her family could become self-sufficient, the more she noticed how others — on one level or another — were trying to do the same thing.

“There are many other people like me who want to do the same for their families, and I want to be able to help people do that, even if they donít necessarily have the space,” she said. “I wanted to give them a place where they can learn what they can do. That’s our big goal, our big vision. We also want to shed some light on the people who are already providing (for themselves and others) — people who are raising meat and selling it to locals and people who are creating things, who know how to sew, who know how to preserve jams and such. There’s a huge need for that.”

This mindset led Bailey to create the Barnyard Bazaar: A Rustic Celebration of Local Artisans — set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 25 — which will include vendors, crafters, handmakers, artists and other local small business owners who will be selling their crafts, plant starts, handmade items, baked goods and more.

“It will be spread out over three acres so vendors and people attending donít feel confined or congested,” she said. “That will be nice because it’ll take people to every area of the farm. It will be intentionally small because it’s our first one.”

Bailey said as the farm grows, so will these events.

“I want to bring awareness to individuals and families, as far as their health and happiness goes,” she said. “I want people to feel they can provide and support themselves or their own family in a healthy manner relying on no one but themselves and their property to do so, no matter the size of the space where they live. Even people in apartments can be somewhat sustainable.”

Bailey said people can create their homestead right where they are.

“They donít have to be on 10 acres,” she said. “They can provide more for themself or their family with very little and can educate their children on doing the same. Homestead is your home serving you. You’re able to use what you have to create a self-sufficient space — whether that’s growing your food, raising your own meat, having a home bakery or something else. That will look different for everybody. You can do a whole lot with very little.”

In the future, Bailey said she’d like to have a summer camp-type program for kids where once a week, for three months, “they’d learn every aspect of the farmstead.”

“(This would) include how to preserve and can food, how to grow their own food and care for it, how to harvest it, how to milk a goat or cow, how to pasteurize goat’s milk and how to care for animals and livestock,” she said. “Part of that is showing them they are capable of doing these things,” she said. “I’d also like to offer field trips that focus on animal and farm education and do summer animal day camps. I think those things could be successful in this area.”

In addition to education, Happy Tribe Homestead has a handful of products available to the community, including home essential cleaning products, sourdough bread and pancakes, eggs, mini classroom hatcheries.

For more, visit the homestead’s Facebook page.

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