Moving on to New Pastures: Tom Lutsey sells Waseda Farms

Waseda Farms, the organic farm, poultry and grass-fed beef operation in West Jacksonport, has a new owner. 

Jeff Shefchik, who grew up in Luxemburg, Wisconsin and now lives in De Pere, purchased the business from Tom Lutsey at the end of March.

“I got into this for a lot of the same reasons as Tom,” Shefchik said. “I want to raise healthy food. There’s a growing demand from people who know health and wellness starts with what you eat.”

Shefchik was president of Paper Transport when he decided he wanted to get his hands into farming. He bought a 2,600-acre cattle ranch in southern Missouri where he raises grass-fed beef, and he was going to start a farm on his own in the Door County-area until he learned that Lutsey was interested in selling. After three years of conversations and gaining familiarity with the operation, the sale is complete.

Jeff Shefchik. Submitted.

Twenty years ago Lutsey purchased what had been St. Joseph’s Retreat, a property and farm on the west side of Kangaroo Lake. Lutsey was in his first battle with cancer and his doctor told him he should cut back on his red meat consumption. But Lutsey began learning about the benefits of an organic diet, and instead of cutting back he doubled down, buying his own farm, cattle and poultry and raising his food himself organically. 

As Waseda grew, Lutsey’s entire family – then-wife Sharon and sons Matt, Jeff, Nic and Andrew – became entwined in the operation. Waseda has been a leader in educating area residents and visitors about organic production through farm tours and partnerships with area schools and cafeterias. It has also brought innovative voices in farm practices to Door County, including Temple Grandin’s, who became well known in the U.S. for the cattle-handling systems she designed that minimize pain and fear.

The farm also helped elevate the reputation of the county’s food scene. Waseda beef and chicken have become a staple on the menus of the county’s top restaurants. It’s also sold at the farm in Baileys Harbor, in DePere, and is distributed to stores throughout northeast Wisconsin. In 2014 the farm hosted Outstanding in the Field, the nationally-touring pop-up, big-table dinner that has featured some of the nation’s top chefs at innovative farms, increasing the cache of the county’s culinary scene.

“It’s been fun being in it, seeing it grow, seeing things happen in the county,” Lutsey said. “But it has become more than I can manage, and more than the kids want to manage.”

Lutsey is 75, and years of fighting off cancer, knee replacements and other ailments has caught up with him. But he said he feels fortunate to find someone in Shefchik who has the same vision for the land and the farm that he had, with youth on his side. 

“While we may be bidding farewell to our role as owners of Waseda Farms, we trust that the spirit of camaraderie that defines our neighborhood will continue,” Lutsey said, noting that he will retain ownership of the land for now. “We are confident that Jeff shares our commitment to preserving the beauty and integrity of this special place.”

“The people who know Waseda won’t see any change,” Shefchik said.  “But those who don’t know Waseda will, because we’ll be more aggressive in marketing, and growth. Organic is still a very small percentage of the food we eat.”

He aims to grow the farm’s online presence and distribution.

“I see the difference that it makes,” Shefchik said. “To do the things you want to do in life, you have to be healthy to do it.”

Lutsey is proof of that. During a tour of his property in 2011 he explained how the practices at Waseda would improve the soil, building a better farm with each passing year. 

“I won’t be around to see it, but my sons will,” he said. 

Thirteen years later he’s finally finishing his work as Farmer Tom, but not only was he around to see the farm’s evolution, but to hand it off to its next steward. 

“There’s some seller’s remorse setting in,” he said. “I’ll get over it. Eventually.”