When you start treating people as individuals, it enriches everything.
A couple of years ago, during the height of the pandemic, The Production Farm’s President, CEO & amp; Founder Wyatt Kuether reached out to Erik Foat about assisting with needed facility updates and repairs at the Farm’s Whitelaw campus. That interaction marked the beginning of Foat’s path to becoming Facilities Director for TPF, which now includes a new facility in Sheboygan Falls (see article above) as well as the Farm in Manitowoc County.
To say Erik grew up in a big family is an understatement. Born in Appleton and raised in Neenah, he counts himself one of 22 children. His mom and stepdad generously served as foster parents to dozens and dozens of children, 16 of whom they adopted into their family. Growing up in this environment led Erik to pursue a teaching degree from UW-Oshkosh, and he taught in an elementary school for several years. But, he says, “The current model of schooling constrains both the teacher and students. I left because I disagreed with the philosophy of teaching every child in the exact same way, especially seeing kids struggling within the confines of that model.”
Shifting gears, Erik began to do more work with his hands – often alongside his “very handy, gifted and skilled” dad and stepdad – and pursued a degree in mechanical design from Fox Valley Technical College. While working toward his degree, he set up his own wood shop and began doing custom orders and selling handcrafted products. During that time, he also worked for a shop that did custom cabinetry and furniture. The owner of that shop just happened to be the cousin of Wyatt Kuether.
“Wyatt’s authenticity really draws people in,” Erik says. “He offered me a job in the midst of COVID and I accepted partly because I could see we both were more interested in seeking solutions rather than seeing the pandemic solely as an obstacle or hinderance. This whole approach is central to how The Farm operates, and it’s not only refreshing and rewarding – it makes a positive difference for the people we serve.”
Erik sees his role as Facilities Director as much more than caring for bricks, boards and buildings. His focus is on equipping The Farm’s mental health care providers with spaces that foster the maximum quality of service – whether that’s creating a sensory room or specialized Lego table; changing shapes, colors or textures of spaces; designing systems to ease transitions from place to place; and – when it is safe to do so – having clients assist with hands-on work. “Everything we do here is extremely intentional and designed for interaction and engagement with individual clients and groups,” he says. “When you start treating people as individuals, it enriches everything and has positive ripple effects. Our places and spaces play a huge role in
If you had asked him in his early 20s what he wanted during retirement, Erik would have said a small hobby farm and a wood shop. He chuckles at the irony that essentially he now has those things as part of his “day job.”
Outside of caring for the TPF campuses, Erik serves as the director of the security ministry team for his church. He also pours a lot of love and care into the home he shares with his wife and two stepchildren. When they’re not “homesteading” together, Erik and his family love nothing more than hiking, backpacking, foraging and hunting their way through the natural wonders of Wisconsin and the UP.
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