Rural Life Day Mass 2023

This article was posted on: September 5, 2023

Ken and Joellen Heiman’s farm life is an expression of their Catholic Faith

The Diocese of La Crosse celebrates a “Rural Life Mass” annually on a Wednesday in September to honor farmers, rural parishes and the rural values that contribute so significantly to both the Church’s mission and the health and welfare of the nation they feed. While Bishop Callahan offers the Mass every year, a different family hosts the gathering on their farm.

Ken and Joellen Heiman are hosting the 2023 Rural Life Day Mass and their story is one of Faith and farming. Ken and Joellen Heiman both grew up as Catholics in faith-filled Wisconsin families. From their earliest roots to Nasonville, where they both currently reside, Ken’s family has always called Wisconsin home. Ken’s parents, Arnold and Rena Mae Heiman, moved the family to Nasonville in the late 1960s. Arriving with a wealth of experience managing cheese plants across the state, both became managers in 1968 of the original Nasonville Dairy, by then renamed as the, “Lincoln Center Co-op.” They bought the facility in 1985 and quickly changed the name back to, “Nasonville Dairy.”

“We love living and working in Central Wisconsin—and we believe in giving back to the community. It’s part of our mission as a family-run operation with deep local roots.”

Ken’s wife, Joellen, also hails from a strong dairy family. Joellen’s great-grandparents, Peter and Elizabeth Weber, purchased a 126-acre dairy farm on the outskirts of Marshfield and founded the Weber Farm in 1904. Their enterprise, “Maple Grove Dairy” delivered milk and cream to nearby customers by horse and wagon. Joellen’s grandparents purchased the farm from their parents in 1951 and continued building a dairy retail business that provided area residents with fresh milk products. A few years later, her grandparents opened a store on the farm called “Weber’s Farm Retail Store.” It featured several innovations including a drive-up window for customers to pick up their milk products, which was distinctly unusual and forward-looking at that time. Weber’s Farm is now a fifth-generation family-owned business, and Joellen manages the retail store.

Care for God’s creations and stewardship of the land have always been important to the Heimans. With that understanding, Ken and Joellen realized that urbanization was boxing in the Weber Farm homestead on the outskirts of western Marshfield and this pressure both affected the cows’ health and prevented the farm from growing.

Peace and Purpose in Farming

In 2014, Ken and Joellen decided to purchase a farm that just became available two miles west of the Nasonville Cheese Store. This allowed them to modernize and expand the farm’s dairy facilities. They created a cutting-edge facility that could accommodate their large dairy herd. Once the project was completed, the couple named the farm “Heiman Holsteins.”

Once the modernization was completed, they had happy cows and happy neighbors. Ken said, “It is all about the comfort of the cow. Traditional barns aren’t always that comfortable. The cows at Heiman Holsteins have at least five miles of wind flowing through the barn, so they never have a fly problem. All their feed is delivered, and they have all the water they could possibly want. There are countless back brushes to satisfy their itches, and they have clean sand to lay in. Every week, at least 30 of them have their hooves trimmed, and all are checked weekly for every condition one could imagine.

“We keep track of these cows like they are our own kids. We milk them using a rotary milking parlor. It is like a merry-go-round for cows. They like to get on it for the ride, and some don’t want to get off,” Ken said with a smile. “They want to go around again. Each cow has a chip that identifies them and transmits data about the cow, including health indicators and statistics about milk yield, etc.” The cows are milked three times a day and each cow gives more than 32,000 pounds of milk annually. Ken adds, “The milk we sell at Weber’s Dairy Store has all A2 protein, which is softer and more easily digestible for people.”

The buildings at Heiman Holsteins house about 500 cows. They also have facilities to house young stock. In addition, the Heimans crop about 1,500 acres of land. “In the spring, you put the crops in when the days are good, no matter what days they are,” said Joellen. “It is hard work, and the days can be long. It is not a 9-to-5 business.”

Joellen and Ken oversee a multifaceted business rooted in dairy products. The many aspects of their business support Nasonville Dairy, which produces more than 160,000 pounds of cheese made daily from milk supplied by 190 local farms and their own Heiman Holsteins. It is also where 17 licensed cheese makers call home. Weber’s Farm, Heiman Holsteins and Heiman Trucking play a crucial role throughout. Milk from Heiman Holsteins cows supplies milk products at Weber’s Dairy Store.

Heiman Trucking is the branch that collects and transports the milk and dairy products. “We have a delivery route to convenience stores, day-care centers, assisted living residences, coffee shops, schools, etc.,” said Joellen. Rounding out the enterprise is a mail-order store and consistent management of croplands.

Despite the hard work and sometimes trying times, Ken finds peace and purpose in farming. “It isn’t what you take with you—it’s about what you give and what you leave behind. That is what happens at Heiman Holsteins. We take something right from the earth. We develop a product and, at the same time, we take care of the land. We do everything we can to feed and nurture the land and keep it as good or better than we found it. Along the way, we also provide a wholesome product for people to enjoy. We are giving back.”

Ken and Joellen’s Catholic Faith has always guided them in their personal and business lives. Joellen said, “Faith was one of the things that my parents instilled in me as a child and it is important for us to pass that on. We thank the Lord for what we have and know that having Faith in God is important during both good times and bad, even when things don’t go according to our plans. It’s essential to trust in how God wants to guide us through the events that occur in our lives.”

What started as humble beginnings has blossomed into a thriving multigenerational dairy business whose overall philosophy of caring for the land helps provide wholesome products far beyond their family farm. “We love living and working in Central Wisconsin—and we believe in giving back to the community and sharing the gifts God gave us. It’s part of our mission as a family-run operation with deep local roots, “Ken and Joellen shared.

Columbus Catholic Schools (CCS) is one of the recipients of Ken and Joellen’s commitment to giving back. 

For Future Dons

David Eaton, the Columbus Catholic Schools (CCS) president, shared, “Ken and Joellen Heiman have been such an integral part of CCS’s success. They use their donations to the school in a positive way such as sponsoring our Science Wing in 2017. But their involvement is so much more than that!” 

Passionate about Ken and Joellen’s profound impact in the community, David continued, “As successful business owners, their advice and feedback are invaluable. Ken has served on many committees over the years, where he has shared his knowledge to better our schools Joellen has played an important role in developing donor recognition programs. And, most importantly, Ken and Joellen are advocates for CCS … They are always willing to tell others about why CCS is needed in the community. Coming from a source like the Heimans, referrals like that are priceless!”

The generational story of this farm continues as “gen 3 and gen 4,” as the Heimans call them, are already leading and learning the farm’s ropes. Ryan, Josh and Andy lead daily operations, and Ken and Joellen’s grandchildren, as young as 3 years old, are joyously present on the farm and curious about every aspect.

The Heimans’ shared Faith, love, resources and rural values reach children from these grandkids toddling among the cows to the thousands of children who have and will attend CCS.

The Heimans will host this year’s Rural Life Day Celebration on Sept. 13, 2023.

Story and photography by Robert Rogers
Published in the September/October 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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