If you heard that a couple from New York City’s entertainment industry was looking to buy a farm in the Green Bay area, you might shake your head and chuckle.
Maybe you’d assume they’re just a pair of artsy-fartsy dreamers trying to escape the Big Apple and build a bucolic life for themselves in rural Wisconsin…someplace where they can grow organic kale and keep a couple of alpacas.
But the real motive behind this search for a farm will surprise and inspire you.
Wyatt and Carolyn Kuether are actually Northeast Wisconsin natives. They’ve spent the last 10 years working in New York City in various roles connected to arts & entertainment – including film, television and stage.
Both are veteran improv actors – in fact that’s how they met. The couple performed in a group together while attending UW Stevens Point. Then they made the move to New York and got married.
Most recently, Carolyn worked for Tony Award-winning production company Martian Entertainment where she specializes in theatrical management.
Wyatt has worked as an actor, fight choreographer, composer and independent filmmaker. He’s also a regular on the MTV2 reality/sketch comedy show Guy Code.
The Kuethers are not starving artists. They aren’t a couple of actors who tried to make a go of it and returned home hanging their heads. They’re successful. So why come back to Wisconsin?
What The Production Farm is All About
The reason Wyatt and Carolyn want to buy a farm in Wisconsin isn’t self-centered. They don’t want to set up an idyllic life for themselves. This couple wants to come home and make an impact. The Production Farm is how they hope to do it.
The plan is to transform a local farm into a “fully-functional production studio.” The barn would become a sound stage. Other buildings would serve as edit suites, scene shops and recording studios.
But this isn’t a facility where Wyatt and Carolyn will producer their own projects. Rather, The Production Farm would become a special program that serves young people in the foster care system.
Wyatt says kids who end up in the foster care system can be forgotten about. That tends to be the case even more-often for teenagers. Wyatt and Carolyn want to change that, and in the process, change the world for the better.
“Every day in our country we let more slip through the cracks, and these are not numbers they are humans, and we have a responsibility to them,” says Wyatt. “I want to be a part of something that leaves this world we were given better than the way it was handed to us.”
The big concern is what happens after young people leave the foster care system when they turn 18. These are still teenagers in need of guidance, but Wyatt and Carolyn feel we are abandoning them.
The Production Farm website lists some startling stats. Approximately half of those who leave foster care are struggling with some sort of addiction. And more than half of the inmates in Wisconsin’s correction system have spent some time in foster care.
Carolyn says the filmmaking experience gives kids in a foster care a voice while instilling a sense of self-worth and belonging. She explains that learning the skills involved in making a movie can teach young people many lessons that will prove valuable in life.
“The skills you learn while making a film can apply to so many things,” she says. “Independent films don’t have the right equipment, supplies or locations, so it’s taking the things around you, problem solving and working together. Teaching your brain to look for a solution rather than focus on the problem. Being creative and figuring out how to make things work,” she says.
“It also teaches team building and that people are relying on you. If you are in charge of lighting for the day and you don’t show up, the rest of the team can’t do what they need to do. We want them to look at their life in the bigger picture, and they are involved in a community and that people do depend on them and what they do matters.”
In addition to everything that goes with filmmaking, The Production Farm would also teach teens in foster care about basic farming, like gardening and caring for animals.
Find Out More from Wyatt and Carolyn’s Vision in the Video Below
A Twist of Fate Puts the Dream on the Fast-track
The Production Farm might not have been a reality for another few decades if it weren’t for a freak accident.
“We always had the idea to do something like this when we were older and retired,” Wyatt says.
But the tired, old cliche “break a leg” became very real for Wyatt, and that changed everything.
“Last August Wyatt was cooking hotdogs in our kitchen and slipped on a small little wet spot on the floor,” Carolyn explains. “This small slip broke his ankle in two places, tore most of his tendons and ligaments, and some of the tears pulled off a third chunk of bone. He needed surgery to put in a plate and nine screws, which should have only needed six weeks of recovery. Four weeks later they realized he had a surgical infection.”
That infection turned out to be antibiotic-resistant MRSA. And it proved to be a big problem, one from which Wyatt is still recovering.
“It was pretty scary, they thought I was going to lose the leg or worse,” he says. “And, getting that glimpse of death really makes one look at life in a very different way.”
Wyatt spent weeks in the hospital. Then he was stuck in bed at home, which gave him plenty of time to reflect on what he’d done with his life and what he could do with what he’d learned so far.
“I looked at why 16 year-old Wyatt wanted to do this in the first place, and it was always to change the world,” he says.
“Through The Production Farm one can actively help to change someone’s world who is standing right in front you. You don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow or in one minute, you can be cooking in the kitchen and slip and break an ankle that almost kills you. Why wait until tomorrow?”
Why Wyatt and Carolyn are Cut Out for This
The time Wyatt spent in recovery also gave him the opportunity to learn a lot about launching a project like this.
“The silver lining in the whole thing is the fact that, because Wyatt was laid up in a bed for close to 5 months he was able to read and become an expert in non-profit laws, policies and basically created the entire organization,” says Carolyn.
You can tell that they’ve done their homework. When checking out The Production Farm website, you might assume it is already up and running. They’ve put together a team that includes an advisory a board made up of influential entertainment professionals, and they’ve recruited friends and industry connections to teach and consult at the farm.
But that’s not the only expertise the couple has at their disposable. Carolyn is quite familiar with being involved in a non-profit organization that supports at-risk youth.
Her grandparents, John and Jan Gillespie, founded Rawhide Boys Ranch along with Packers legend Bart Starr and his wife Cherry. Rawhide is an organization that provides a variety of programs as well as counseling to troubled young people and their families.
Carolyn actually spent much of her childhood living on that ranch. Now her family is giving the Kuether’s guidance as they pursue their own passion for helping others.
Both Wyatt and Carolyn say Rawhide has been a major inspiration. They’ve also been involved with other non-profits on the east coast, like the Possibility Project as well as the Ensemble Theatre Community School.
Combine all of their life experiences with relationship building, plus a healthy dose of drive and conviction, and you’ve got a couple of people who are destined for something like this.
“We love our life out in New York,” Carolyn says. “Wyatt enjoys acting and I enjoy being in the entertainment business, but it’s not what we want to look back and say ‘that’s what we did with our life.’ We can use all the things we’ve learned, and all the wonderful people we’ve met over the last ten years, and bring those skills and connections to a group of people and really make a difference in some lives.”
And Wyatt believes more of us need to realize how important the lives and futures of youth in foster care really are.
“We put them in systems and when those systems fail we put them in boxes so we don’t have to see the problems we helped create,” he says. “These young adults are not someone else’s problem, they are not even a problem at all. They are part of the next generation, and if we are not doing what we are doing to help them then why are any of us doing anything?”
The dream gets even bigger than one program in Wisconsin. This first version could lead to other Production Farms around the country. Right now, there is a five-year plan for getting the first farm up and running.
“Our hope is that this first location becomes a model for how other Production Farms can be created using this same five year plan,” Carolyn says. “Wisconsin is not the only state that is limited in their programming for foster youth.”
How You Can Help Make The Production Farm a Reality
Wyatt and Carolyn Kuether have been busy gathering support from their network in New York City. But they need help from people here at home too.
After all, this is an effort that will benefit our community and the people who live in it. So it’s time for people in Northeast Wisconsin to step up.
THE PRODUCTION FARM
1560 Broadway, Suite 1001, New York, NY 10036
One of their biggest goals right now is finding the right farm. The ideal property would be somewhere in between Green Bay and the Fox Valley.
“Our dream space has a house with 5+ bedrooms. A large barn, garage, a silo and several outbuildings. We also would love a landscape to allow for lots of different location options for filming including a wooded area and some sort of water on at least twenty acres,” says Carolyn.
Of course, Wyatt explains that it’s also about what the farm becomes.
“A place that is safe when the world is not. A place that will always be there for these kids no matter how old they are. A place where every one who has lived with us or gone through the program knows their name is forever up on a wall, and that they are remembered.”
The Kuethers have already identified a couple of locations they like. But if you know some place that fits, let them know.
The Production Farm is also accepting material donations. They need everything from school and office supplies to production and farm equipment. Check out all of their current needs on the Get Involved page of their website.
Finally, if nothing else, you can help spread the word by sharing the story of The Production Farm with others. If you post about it on social media, make sure to use the hashtag #GrowtheFarm.
- Online – TheProductionFarm.org
- Find The Production Farm on Facebook
- Follow The Production Farm on Twitter
- Contact Wyatt and Carolyn by email – email@example.com
Learn More about The Production Farm
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Featured Image – Justine via Flickr
Camcorder image – FreeDigitalPhotos.net