Volume 12, Issue 6 - November/December 2010

life beyond the auto glass business

A Family Affair
The Birkhausers, AEGIS Tools International
is When Bob Birkhauser, president of AEGIS Tools International, and his wife, Caryn, operations manager, purchased a 35-acre farm eight years ago, they thought doing some gardening and farming in their spare time would simply be a fun pastime.

“Originally we were looking at these agricultural opportunities as a hobby,” says Bob, who spent summers on farms in Ohio while growing up and learned to drive a tractor before he was 10 years old.

Caryn, who was raised in New York City and has a degree in agricultural economics, agrees. “I was looking at something that was going to be relaxing in my later years,” she says.

However, their daughters, Liz, 28, and Katie, 26, had other plans in mind. Two years ago, Liz (who also works at AEGIS during the winter months) decided to launch a community-supported agricultural farm (CSA) on the land. She began cultivating the land and began planting a variety of herbs both for medicinal and cooking purposes, vegetables, edible flowers, and some fruits. So far they’ve planted five acres of the land and plan to expand that area next year with both hops (which are used to brew beer) and mushrooms.

Liz currently has subscribers who receive weekly CSA boxes of produce grown on the farm. “She delivers every Thursday and has two delivery drop-offs,” says Caryn. “Each subscriber receives one of those big, reusable shopping bags overflowing with food.”

Likewise, their other daughter, Katie, is in the process of moving from her home in Olympia, Wash., to farm the land as well. She is a plant scientist with a background in mushrooms and fungus-related products. After returning to Wisconsin, she’ll continue to work as a consultant for Planted Productions LLC on its Life Box™ project; the company develops and sells packing materials infused with seeds and fungi that can be planted after use.

While the Birkhausers don’t currently have any livestock on the farm, Caryn says they hope to add chicken and sheep next year. All of the crops are grown using organic methods, and they are in the process of obtaining certification. They also are planning to be a certified biodynamic farm.

“Everything at the farm must be there for at least three purposes—to repel deer, attract pollinators, improve the soil, etc.,” says Caryn, “It gets very complex, but it’s like treating the farm as a complete living system. You’re really creating a community.”

The Birkhausers’ son, Steve, 22, also has taken an interest.

“He worked at a landscape company and he’s going back to school for construction management. He’ll also take classes on farm equipment maintenance,” says Caryn.

And now that all three of their children are involved, the Birkhausers say their hobby has become a second business of sorts, and they’ve named the farm “Birch House Farms LLC” (as Birkhauser means “birch house” in German).

“When we got started, this didn’t have to work economically,” says Bob. “It was just something we had around us, and now that the kids are involved it has to work.”

And the Birkhausers are no strangers to family business; Bob’s parents, Robert and Bette, founded Auto Glass Specialists (known for its “Little Red Truck” branding), and Bob invented his own windshield repair system—and launched AEGIS—in 1982.

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