Sibling Revelry

An annual end-of-fall feast reflects the Holm family's love of organics—and each other.

By Jeanne Ambrose

Photography by Liz Banfield


"We wanted something where we could work together as a family," Mariann says, adding that at the time, "we had six girls under the age of 10." The Holms bought cows and eventually decided to become certified organic. Now, she says, "Our mission is to have a financially and environmentally sustainable family business where all of us can apply our unique talents to the good of the family and the farm."

One of the first lessons that Mariann learned, which spurred the decision to become an organic operation, occurred when a veterinarian advised her about the chemicals necessary to worm the cattle and keep away flies. "It freaked me out," she says. "If it kills everything inside the cow, how can it not affect the milk?" As an alternative to chemicals for fly control in the summer, the girls spray the barn and cows with essential oils, including lavender mixed with mineral oil.

Like their sister Sarah, Andrea and Erika, 18-year-old twins, also attend the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire. And all of the girls either are being or have been homeschooled. Explains Mariann, "The farm is a living laboratory full of lessons in science, chemistry, and biology." But Sarah would add another subject: politics. "I really have farming to thank for my continued interest in it," says the political science major. "Nothing is more controversial than food, nothing is more important than food, and nothing is more messed up in our political system than our policy toward and our understanding of food." It makes sense, then, that her long-term goal would be to "go to law school, farm, write a book, have a big family, and rewrite the Farm Bill," she says. For Erika, on the other hand, it's to one day open a restaurant on the farm.

Visit the Holm Girls Dairy online.

Reaping the Rewards
To celebrate their commitment to farm life and all things organic, the girls on this day are hastily putting the finishing touches on their harvest feast. An organic spinach and romaine salad is topped with organic feta cheese and dried cranberries. Simply steamed rainbow chard—from their garden—is dabbed with pats of organic butter. Roasted squash and sweet potatoes are drizzled with organic honey. Dessert—a streusel-topped pumpkin pie—contains organic flour, butter, and pumpkin. Even the whipped cream they serve with the pie is organic and flavored with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

"When I was little, I used to pride myself because I was not a picky eater," Sarah says. "Now I find it's the opposite. If the food isn't 'real food' that is organic and unprocessed, I simply don't want to eat it."

As they do on the farm, the girls pitch in at each mealtime. Andrea, Erika, and Mary are the chief pie bakers, while Sarah loves making salads and vegetable dishes. And no one can resist being creative in the kitchen. Leave the girls to their own devices, and the countertops are soon covered with ingredients and open cookbooks as they try out new dishes.

"At one point, Sarah was making pickles in her bedroom and sauerkraut on her desk," Mariann says. "Sometimes you've just got to resist yelling and let them experiment."

Beyond the farm, the sisters experiment with life's offerings in other ways. They often travel the country for 4-H events, participate in community activities, and take voice lessons. The older girls sing at various regional functions and, quite simply, whenever they have the chance. Like just before the harvest dinner begins. It's not surprising that they all sing the blessing—in perfect harmony.