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Mulroy’s Irish Acres, 4th Generation Irish Farm in Wisconsin Welcomes Overnight Guests
Changing With the Times Allows the Mulroy’s to Survive and Thrive

    By Ryanne Gallagher Johnson

Mulroy’s Irish Acres, a nineteenth century organic/biodynamic farm located in New London, Wisconsin, is run by fourth-generation Irish American Dave Mulroy, and his wife Jane. One of thirteen original local farms that were owned and operated by Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine in the 1840’s, Mulroy’s farm was the first of the group, and now only one of two that are still standing and working today. Over the last nearly two centuries since it’s beginning, it’s taken a little ingenuity, a bit of creativity, and a lot of perseverance in order to stay relevant in a rapidly progressing economy and society, and Dave and Jane have done so, beautifully.

Hailing from County Mayo in Ireland, when Dave’s ancestors came to America, it was his great-grand uncle who initially settled at Irish Acres.
“My great-grandfather settled a farm about a mile from here, and his brother settled Irish Acres. (My great-grand uncle) never married, so when he died, he left this place to my grandfather, who took over,” Dave explains.

“One Arm Mike”, Dave’s great-grand uncle, passed the farm to his nephew, Mike, who passed it to his son, Dave’s father, James. But It wasn’t until his father’s health began to decline that Dave took over full time.

“I never wanted to farm when I was a kid,” Dave admits. “I’d work here on the weekends… I got a Master’s Degree in Labor Economics… the education helped me make investments, but that’s about it.”

Much of the equipment used on the farm is original to the place, including the first tractor bought by Dave’s father, when the invention became big. Over the years, anything that surpassed its usage has gotten repurposed into other necessities for the farm, like planters for the gardens, or even a coop for their chickens. Dave has also adapted some of the equipment to suit his needs as he’s gotten older.

A view of part of the farm which has a greenhouse built in.

Today, the farm’s predominant crop is hay, of which they make and sell 10,000-12,000 small bales each year. They do this on the sixty-five-five acres of their own farm, as well as rented parts of four other farms, for a total of about 110 acres of hay.

The biodynamic aspect was introduced when Dave met his wife at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Milwaukee one year. Jane, who was trained by Christopher and Martina Mann, students of the father of biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, had a few requests she made before agreeing to move in with Dave.

“I told him, if I come up here, we’re going to be biodynamic, and we’re going to eventually follow the path of a community farm.”

Biodynamics, in short, is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.

As Jane describes the process, “It’s a blessing in that it’s so clean and pure here. There’s no chemicals. We use heirloom seed. Biodynamics (means) that you let every plant come into its own fruition in its own time. It’s really the way God intended farming, and for plants to grow, and nature to flourish. We follow all the natural rhythms, and we collect rainwater… we only use rain water when we irrigate. We’re very much in tradition with the old ways, when they settled the farm. We try and keep that going.”

A large Celtic Cross stands out on the many acres of the farm.

Dave and Jane find that biodynamics not only suits them and how they want to run their farm, but also has a few very big upsides.

“Number one, it’s really wonderful for us. Anywhere anyone wants to walk, you can walk. If you see something you want to eat, you can eat it. It’s not been sprayed, it’s not been contaminated. And number two, it’s so much less money. On average, a conventional chemical farm will spend $800-$1000 per acre, between chemicals and spraying, and all that. We make our own soil supplements, and we do our own biodynamic preparations, and I’ve got it down to about $10 an acre. And, everything is in balance and healthy.”

Keeping biodynamic has helped them adjust their practices along with climate change.

“That’s biodynamics. You honor the seasons, and you honor the weather… We’ve had some late winters, so we’ve shifted things around to accommodate that.”
Being adaptable as farmers also allows them to revise and adjust as surprises pop up. When Dutch elm disease killed 600 trees at the bottom of their farm, they hand-planted 8500 more to make up for the loss. The farm is able to hold a couple microclimates, which makes it ideal for planting different crops in different areas.They grow alfalfa, timothy, and clover in their gardens. They have an heirloom apple orchard sourced from Maple Valley Farms, the seeds for which Jane had to undergo traditional heirloom apple tree classes over the course of several weeks. They also offer their own classes on organic and biodynamic farming and gardening.

Another part of Jane’s requirements for moving onto the farm was the addition of certain accommodations to the property.

“When I moved up here in 2000, I had owned a cottage on six acres on a lake outside of Milwaukee, and it was “the dream” cottage on a lake. I said to Dave, ‘If I move up here, I need a place to swim, and I need a cottage.’

“We had one spot in the field that was always wet, and (Dave said), ‘I know there’s springs there’. So we had the guy come out, and they dug the pond. And as they were doing that, it was filling faster than they could dig, so within four days, the pond was full. It’s an acre pond, and it’s been full ever since. It’s beautiful and spring fed, It’s icy cold and clean and wonderful.”

Then, a few years ago, that cottage Jane asked for became another source of revenue for the farm.

“Back in 2014, the hay market went to hell,” She recalls. “They were giving it away. The barns were full. It was such a good year, but when it’s a good year, it’s a bad year, because there’s just too much. We couldn’t sell a bale. At auction, it was going for $.25.

Dave "workin the farm" which he does on a daily basis.

“I used to work as a camp director and a travel agent, so I like to do fun activities, and I like camping… So, I told Dave, ‘Let’s do glamping. We’ve got the little cabin, we’ve got rivers and lakes, and we’ve got hiking trails.’ And I got this look of horror (from him). First of all, nobody outside the family had ever been on the farm, and inviting guests in was just beyond his scope of imagination. The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Who would pay to come to a farm?’

“I did some research and I showed him that glamping and farms and open space was becoming the heart and soul of people yearning for a connection with nature. Then we went to Ireland… and I planned the trip at all bed & breakfasts, and all country venues, and we stayed on farms in Ireland, and I said, ‘This is us. This is what we can bring back home.’

“In America, we had bed and breakfast inns, but we weren’t really grasping farm stays or glamping at that time, and I think that nobody does it better than the Irish. Nobody gets it better on connecting people to the land like the Irish.

“I had the cabin, and it was very rough here. I didn’t have the kitchen, I didn’t have anything… I advertised on Craigslist, and we had four nights in five months booked. And then, that winter, I got a note from Delta Airlines that (told me about) this AirBnB program. I looked into it, and AirBnB is just fabulous. When you’re a host, you set your own parameters, your own rules, and your own pricing. It’s just wonderful.

“In 2015, we went to 89 nights in five months, with AirBnB. The following year, we had 119 nights. And then we started hosting day retreats and parties… So now, I run the glamping, and Dave takes care of the farm.”

Glamping, by definition, is a style of camping with some amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with “traditional” camping. The word is a portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping”, and the practice is offered in many forms. In the case of Irish Acres, guests can either stay in the “tiny house” style Fairy Cabin, or the nature-centered Secret Garden room nestled between two greenhouses.

From May through October, guests can take the provided paddle boat out onto the pond, participate in catch & release fishing, take nature walks, attend special classes, experience the meditation labyrinth, play croquet or bocce ball, sit by a fire at night, and just enjoy being out and one with nature for the duration of their stay. Jane also makes and offers ten different “purposeful” crafts, such as dream pillows and wreaths made from herbs on the farm, herb pots, and fairy crowns, for a small upcharge.

Much of the revenue from their guest stays has gone right back into the experience.

“We’ve taken the money and stuck it back in. We put in the secret garden room, we put in the kitchen, we put in the bathroom. I debated doing bigger improvements, but I think we’re going to stay where we are. And we can still do what we love, which is farm.”

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way they offer their glamping experience, guests are still able to reserve the space for some social distanced vacation time outdoors. Irish Acres is allowing up to ten people between the two rooms, as long as they’re all with the same party, and when they come, they have the run of the entire place.

Deeply appreciative of all the wonderful people who have passed through their farm in the last six years, Dave and Jane credit the Irish American community for the success of their glamping site.

“We want to tell the Irish Community in Chicago, who are our biggest supporters, how much we love and appreciate them,” Jane says. “And, without them, we would not have survived, or been able to fund the programs that we fund, and do the things that we do. Because the glamping is one of the sources of income that we truly rely on.”

Up to this point, and moving forward, they continue to work towards maintaining as much of the old ways of doing things as they can, and striving to give the farm a sustainably functioning process.

“We try and preserve the best of the past, and make the present in harmony with what has been, with what has always been. We hope to preserve it in the future. Our goal is to keep the farm as its own living, breathing entity, and to stay a community farm. Out of the 13 original Irish farms, there are only two left.”
Looking into the future, Dave’s daughter plans to take ownership of the farm, although she has no desire to run it. Instead, Dave and Jane are working on turning the place into a Camphill Community.

Founded in 1939, Camphill Communities are residential communities and schools that provide support for the education, employment, and daily lives of adults and children with developmental disabilities and other special needs.

“It started in Scotland. They currently own 107 small farms around the world. Each farm is run by adults with special needs, who are residents on the farm. Each farm has a bakery, a woodworking shop, a candle shop, a weaving shop, and gardens,” explains Jane.

One of the Irish Guest Houses at Irish Acres called the Fairy Cottage.

“We have the gardens in, the house is a licensed bakery on the main floor, the garage is the woodworking/metal/art shop, we have a space that will be the weaving shop… Then they would either live in the existing farm house, our house, or they would build residences on the farm.”

The program determines each adult’s skill level, then gives them a job in which they can contribute to the farm, make their own money, and pay rent. House parents oversee the groups, and they create small families within the farm.

Just as their biodynamic farm heeds the call of the seasons, Dave and Jane spend their summer months at Irish Acres, and their winter months down in Florida. Dave also recreationally sings with the Irish band Flip of the Coin, and Jane writes children’s books in her free time.

The dream of keeping Irish Acres running into its bicentennial anniversary and beyond is well underway, thanks to all the hard work that Team Mulroy has put into it.

As Dave and Jane say, “We were the first of the thirteen farms, and we’ll be the last of the thirteen.”

If you’re interested in booking a stay with Mulroy’s Irish Acres, you can find them on the AirBnB site by searching for accommodations in New London, Wisconsin. Jane is a “Super host” through the site, so the farm should be listed on the first page. You can also Google “Mulroy’s Irish Acres” for listings to pop up.