life beyond the auto glass business
A Family Affair
The Birkhausers, AEGIS Tools Internationalis 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)
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
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
“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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