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Holiday wreaths adorn Cranberry Creek Dairy

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 09 December 2008

Through most of the year, Cranberry Creek Dairy appears to be your average dairy farm with a milking parlor, freestall barns, machine shed and feed storage, but come the first hard frost of the year, some of Santa’s many elves descend on the dairy and convert a couple of the farm buildings into Christmas workshops.

Dale and Gloria Radle and their son, Jeremy, own and operate this family farm in Rock Falls, Wisconsin. They milk 850 cows three times a day in their double-12 herringbone parlor and raise their heifer and bull calves to 400 pounds. Heifers are then sent to a grower while they raise some bulls for steers and sell the rest.

The farm was purchased by Dale and Gloria from Dale’s mother back in 1987. Jeremy helped on the farm through high school and college and after his parents sold their cows in 2004, he decided to buy 60 of them and invest in the farm by remodeling the barn.

He built up the herd and a couple years later made the jump from 150 to 800 cows and now manages the farm along with his father.

In addition to the cows, the Radles farm 3,000 acres. They do all of the planting, tillage and manure hauling, and hire out the chopping of their hay and corn silage.

Aside from Dale and Jeremy, the dairy employs 14 full- or part-time employees.

Gloria manages the bookwork for the dairy while also employed full-time in the lawn and garden department of a local retail store. Since Wisconsin’s lawns and gardens go dormant around October, it frees up Gloria to work on her own venture – Holiday Wreaths.

She began this business after gaining experience when her children were little working at Holly House, a small local Christmas shop in northern Wisconsin, crafting miscellaneous items out of evergreen boughs. When the gentleman who owned the store retired, this farm wife decided to take on the holiday task herself.

For the first year with her own business, Gloria, along with her mother, sisters and nephews, constructed 800 pieces in the back room of the barn.

From there, it just kept growing and this year they will assemble 4,000 wreaths, centerpieces, pieces of garland and roping. These pieces are then sold wholesale to 14 different groups for fundraisers.

Each piece is carefully decorated to beautify any home it appears in. Gloria’s mother usually begins making bows around August and September to prepare for the holiday season.

However, the numbers have grown so high they now must buy many of the bows. “Those don’t compare to homemade bows my mother makes,” Gloria says, crediting her handiwork.

Gloria’s aunt and mother do most of the decorating. “I do very little of that,” Gloria says. “It’s better that way.”

Instead, Gloria puts her talents towards the assembly of the products. It can take 45 minutes to an hour to put together a holly bough, but just five to 10 minutes for a 24-inch wreath.

“It all depends on the type of greens and how fast the person can be,” she says.

The greens come from the forests of northern Wisconsin and are cut after the first hard frost – usually around the second week of October.

They are cut to two to three feet long and placed in 50- to 80-pound bundles. Gloria travels once a week to pick up the greens and brings back 5,000 pounds each week. She’ll do this from mid-October until the first week of December and by then she should have enough to finish the orders.

In addition to finding the greens, Gloria and her helpers search for decorations used to embellish their creations. Each January they attend a show in Minneapolis to purchase bows and other decorative items.

Overall, she has about 13 helpers that come and go as their schedules allow. Some come for a morning or afternoon, or when they have time on evenings and weekends.

Luckily, Gloria has been able to rely on the same help for the last six or seven years. “It’s extra Christmas money for them and they enjoy doing it,” she says.

Not only has the business grown in the amount of output, but it has even found a new location on the dairy. It moved from the back room of the barn to the farm’s all-purpose building.

This little Christmas shop was once a chicken coop, then a hog building and was even used as a garage. Now it is home to wreath makers and decorators and all their supplies.

Dale’s machine shed is emptied each fall to make room for storage of the evergreen pieces and the finished products, all except the centerpieces which are kept in the family’s garage.

Holiday Wreaths helps the Radles bring in an extra income for the holiday season. Gloria uses the money to do all of her Christmas shopping and for anything extra that she’d rather not take money from the dairy to do.

Visitors can stop by the farm starting the weekend before Thanksgiving to purchase some of their additional items. On the first weekend of December, Gloria invites craft and candle vendors to join them for an open house where lunch is served and everyone can have some holiday fun on the dairy.  FG

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