Don and Donna Justin met at the Cashton Fall Festival, courted and married in 1967. They purchased the farm from Don’s parents, Ray and Kathryn Justin, in 1970 on a land contract. Donna graduated from US-La Crosse with a B.S. in Elementary Education. Don attained a Ph T (Put her Through). Don had previously graduated from UW-Madison Farm Short Course. Donna taught in the Sparta Area Schools while Don continued to farm with assistance from Donna. As the high interest rates in the mid 1980’s created financial difficulties for many farmers, they looked to other ways to utilize their land to create a viable life style.
In 1985 they had the bright idea to add ski trails to the land following guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and their experience skiing at Black River State Forest. It wasn’t until later, when the La Crosse Tribune covered the opening of some bed and breakfasts in Viroque, Westby and La Crosse that the two were inspired to provide accommodations for their outdoor enthusiasts. The idea to add breakfast to the mix came while the couple attended the Willie Nelson Farm and Ranch Congress in St. Louis. The lodge where they were staying didn’t provide breakfast and as the two sought out their own provisions, they realized the value of an on site breakfast with friendly conversation. Even with the doom and gloom news at the Farm and Ranch Congress of farmers getting foreclosed on, Don and Donna held out on their dream.
Six weeks later they were licensed, but had no marketing plan. Nancy Rhodes from Viroqua Heritage Inn called innkeepers together to create a sampler brochure that went out in the Wisconsin Tourist Information Centers.
From this brochure and the popularity of the Elroy-Sparta State Bike Trail, Don and Donna rented 100 rooms that first year. Families wanted to visit the farm, but needed more room than the bedrooms provided, so the idea of the Little House on the Prairie log cabin became a reality.
Next came private bathrooms, a remodel of the Granary to The Cottage, renovations to transform the Machine Shed into The Lodge, construction on the Paul Bunyan log cabin and the addition of whirlpools and fireplaces. After the cows and machinery were sold, 2 disc golf courses were created, the chicken coop was renovated to become the Camping Cabin, the owners converted to certified organic farm production and restoration work began on the surrounding woodland. Shortly thereafter, the 1919 post and beam barn was transformed into the Elegant Barn, an event venue for weddings and special events.
Innkeeping is a satisfying lifestyle for Don and Donna as they love to create community among their guests, provide a peaceful retreat on their 200 acres and meet guests from all over the world. Don continues to enjoy maintaining the grounds, sharing jokes and his quick wit, while Donna manages the inn and events. A testament to their hard work – The Justin Farm received the Century Farm Award on August 9, 2016 at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Don’s grandparents, Gustave and Appalonia Justin purchased the farm with “only one hill” as Gus told his family in 1916 – Today we are a thriving retreat for couples and families alike and have come to be known as one of the best vacation spots in Wisconsin!