Sherry Sutton Zanardo, owner of Chickadee Hills Homestead, was born and raised primarily in central Illinois. However, she lived a few years in Winter, Wisconsin, a place that also provided many fond childhood memories.
Sherry grew up mostly in rural areas. Her parents and grandparents kept livestock and planted gardens, not to sell, but for their own meals. She always loved living off the land, being around farm animals, growing a garden and canning her own food. Being very conscious of her own diet, she is also conscientious about the soil and the animals’ diets. She believes that the soil affects not only human health, but the health of all creatures.
Sherry attended college in Illinois, and spent 16 years in the Air Force. She met her husband while working as an in-flight refueler for the Air Force at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Their plans to get married and start a family outside the urban neighborhoods brought them back to Wisconsin. When Sherry got out of the Air Force in 2003, she and her husband started a financial planning business, which is still going strong.
While she was in the military, Sherry’s opportunity to raise animals was limited. At every opportunity, however, she at least raised chickens. She has always been conscious about healthy eating and knowing where the food she’s eating comes from. As Sherry puts it, “Being in the military, you can’t necessarily choose what you eat. You’re deployed somewhere, like Bahrain, you’re eating in a tent that’s the chow hall, or you’re eating a MRE (meals ready to eat) on an airplane. So you lose that whole choice of what you’re going to eat, and you become very aware of what you would prefer to be eating.”
Her upbringing, as well as her military experience, was the driving force in Sherry’s desire to grow her own food. Raising farm animals that are happy and healthy, and eventually sharing that food with the public, became her passion. “I think everybody’s more conscious of the fact that there’s a serious relationship between human health and what you eat and the quality of what we eat, and the loss of micronutrients,” says Sherry.
Over the years, Sherry raised chickens, pigs and horses. The soil in Wascott, Wisconsin,(where she lived before establishing her farm), was extremely sandy and not the best quality for growing a garden. Because of this, she became intrigued with using chicken and hog manure for compost in her garden and found that the compost she used made her crops flourish.
Eventually, Sherry and her husband moved to Spooner because of her passion for healthy home-grown food and her belief that by living on a farm she could make decisions that she believes are good for not only herself but for her neighbors. Sherry chose to raise heritage hogs because they definitely support the concept of taking care of your soil and building a better farm. She started with three pigs and her passel of hogs has grown to 75 in the past three years. She continues to expand, but is adamant that she will not exceed the capacity that the land can handle.
Sherry believes that “Either your farm is getting better or it’s getting worse. Everything you do to it, every decision you make impacts your soil quality, your water quality, your own health and the health of your animals.
Mangalitsa and Meishan are the primary hog breeds raised on the farm because of their delicious flavor and red meat. They are not kept in a “pigpen” with dirt and mud. Instead, they are allowed to wander on the farm as they wish and eat what they find. In her research and personal experience, Sherry has discovered that pigs will eat just about anything available to them. So she makes sure they have access to lots of healthy vegetables, nuts, grains and the like.
Sherry professes, “I think one of the most wonderful things that a person can do in the world is have a garden or have a farm. What’s better than taking good care of animals, raising good food for people to eat and working with biodiversity on your farm? I can’t think of anything in the world better to do than that.”