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Cozy Nook turns holiday sales into community traditions

Maddy Quast for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 November 2018
Tom and Joan Oberhaus and son Charlie

For eight months of the year, Cozy Nook Farm is a peaceful neighborhood farm. The Oberhaus family milks 75 Brown Swiss and Jersey cows, farms 225 acres and generally enjoys life in the small town of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

But when autumn rolls around, their farm comes alive with the arrival of thousands of visitors.

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Every fall, Cozy Nook Farm sells thousands of fall decorations including squash, Indian corn and 40 different varieties of pumpkin. As the holidays approach, they sell hundreds of Christmas trees and wreaths. Additionally, they offer farm tours and encourage their neighbors to understand and love farming.

Every fall, Cozy Nook Farm sells thousands of fall decorationsCozy Nook Farm wasn’t always an “open-door” farm. Joan’s grandparents started Cozy Nook Farm in 1958. When Joan was a little girl, her parents quickly realized the farm operation was merely putting food in bellies and a roof over their heads. If they wanted to be able to afford college for their four children, they needed more revenue.

“They started a little pumpkin patch so the proceeds could go toward college savings,” Tom Oberhaus says. “They sold pumpkins for Halloween as well as other fall decorations. Through that business, they were able to send their four kids off to college. In the years since, the operation has really exploded.”

Pumpkins and Indian corn were Cozy Nook’s big claim to fame for many years. But when Tom and Joan married and moved to the farm in 1985, they saw an opportunity to expand upon the fall sales.

A 2014 shipment of Christmas trees“There were more mouths to feed, and we were on the lookout for another enterprise,” Oberhaus says. “So we tried Christmas trees.”

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Tom and Joan suspected there was a market for reasonably priced Christmas trees in the area and decided to give it a try. “We actually planted a few trees that first year but quickly realized how much work it was,” Oberhaus says. “It was a whole other science we didn’t know about, so we switched to buying a few trees from up north to start developing our market while we figured out what we wanted to do. It was a lot of hard work, but I think it’s paid off.”

Since 1985, their little Christmas tree enterprise has become quite popular. Last year, the Oberhaus family had 1,700 trees – and sold every single one.

Christmas trees“We sell out almost every year. It’s been a really nice business for us,” Oberhaus says. “But I think ultimately people come to us for the experience. We tie most of the trees on cars for people, give fresh cuts to the trees and just try to give people the best service we can.”

Though he loves many parts of working on the farm, Oberhaus immensely enjoys the holiday season. “Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s always fun working with people who are happy,” he says. “Not many people shop for Christmas trees when they’re unhappy about things.

It’s not like going to the grocery store or hardware store, where you’re worried about getting things paid for. When you’re out shopping for a Christmas tree, most people are upbeat and happy. We get to add to their happiness.”

For many families, a trip to Cozy Nook Farm has become an annual occurrence. “There have been a few years we haven’t grown pumpkins, for whatever reason. But people around here go crazy if we don’t,” Oberhaus says, laughing. “A whole lot of people around here have gotten used to the tradition of coming out to feed the animals and buy their pumpkins or trees from us. It’s a tradition for them.”

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Because the farm has been on the same plot of land for 60 years, housing has crept up around them over time. “It’s all part of farming in the ’burbs – the suburbs, that is,” Oberhaus says. “We can’t do a lot of things other farms can. We just cannot specialize and milk 1,000 cows here. It just wouldn’t go with the neighborhood.”

But they aren’t letting new developments slow them down. Largely because of their fall and holiday sales, the Oberhaus family has started conducting farm tours for their neighbors.

“As America moves away from farms and farmers, there’s a strong need for people to get back out there and see how it all starts again,” he says. “We want to help spread the good news of farming, especially when there is negativity out there on the internet.

We try to make [Cozy Nook] an experience. Our cows are friendly and will approach visitors, which makes everyone’s day. We love our cows, and we like other people to love them too.”

This method certainly seems to have an effect on the community.

“I buy my Christmas tree here ever year,” writes one reviewer on Facebook. “They provide a large selection of quality trees of many types and sizes. And they have enough staff on hand to help me choose a tree and load it into my truck. But what I love the most are the calves. I look forward to petting them as much as I look forward to picking out my tree.”

Tom and Joan also love to have children come to visit. Each fall, they have approximately 1,000 kids come through the farm to feed the cows and learn what farming and dairy is all about.

“Most of them are very young kids,” Oberhaus says. “Sometimes people wonder what you can tell a 5-year-old about farming. I think we can show them a lot. They can tell we love our cows and our farm, so when they read something negative about agriculture 15 or 20 years down the road, they can think, ‘Well, that’s not true because I’ve seen good farmers.’

You never know which little kid will grow up to be our congressman, senator or even president someday. We want to invest in the kids so they grow up knowing what it’s all about.”

At the end of the day, Cozy Nook Farm is about the people more than Christmas tree or pumpkin sales. “I’ll admit, we aren’t the sharpest of businesspeople when it comes to this,” Oberhaus says. “We haven’t maximized an income off of Christmas trees or maximized our public relations for pumpkin time.

It’s more important to us people leave our farm with a smile. That matters far more than money in our pocket.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Tom and Joan Oberhaus operate Cozy Nook Farm with their son, Charlie.

PHOTO 2: Every fall, Cozy Nook Farm sells thousands of fall decorations including squash, Indian corn and 40 different varieties of pumpkin.

PHOTO 3: A 2014 shipment of Christmas trees ready for unloading at the farm.

PHOTO 4: In the 2017 Christmas season, the Oberhaus family had 1,700 trees – and sold every single one. Photos provided by Tom and Joan Oberhaus. 

Maddy Quast is a 2018 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

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