For Roger and Rebecca Van Wyk, their vision for becoming winemakers and relocating to a homestead that would also be home to their winery, has always been a faith project and a deeply rooted family affair.
Roger’s ancestors Willem Jans van Wijk and Trijntje van den Heuvel van Wijk immigrated in 1892 from The Netherlands to the Sully area and are buried in Hewitt Cemetery, north of Reasnor.
Neither generation’s effort was for the faint of heart! All the Van Wyks needed to do was to uproot their lives and move to Sully, slowly renovate old buildings and grounds into works of art, and allow time to regain a sense of community.
When Rebecca experienced ongoing health problems, she tired from years of treating the symptoms and returned to her roots to learn why our ancestors did what they did and believed what they believed.
“My extensive research explained systemic causes and natural paths back to health, helped me understand what is truly valuable, and reassured me of God’s goodness and faithfulness to me during one of the hardest times in my life,” said Rebecca.
“Honey is a great example of this,” said Rebecca. “I experienced that the healthiest honey is what is closest to you.” Raw, local honey has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties, and promotes digestive health. It also contains a blend of local pollen, which strengthens the immune system and reduces pollen allergies.
This year marks the 13th year since Sully initiated a groundbreaking celebration to introduce the Van Wyks and this project to the community, and just like a fine wine, Van Wijk Winery is aging well.
Roger shared, “Initially, our winery was buying honey online to make our mead. Now, we source all of our honey locally, through Ebert Honey and its affiliate beekeepers.”
“It’s been transformational to experience how many tourists our winery continually draws into this area from partnering with other Iowa retailers, festivals, and I-80 trailblazer signs,” said Rebecca. Van Wijk Winery’s direct email regularly reaches over 1,200 subscribers, and its guest book reflects the range of pull with nearly 65% of its customer base outside of a 15-mile radius and 25% from large cities and out-of-state guests.
“Our family is filled with thankfulness for a renewed sense of community, comfort, and the stability it brings. We are blessed with relationships with so many new friends,” said Roger.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, like everyone else, the winery was affected by closures, mandates, and supply-chain issues.
“Seeing and remembering the challenges and the guidance of those gone before us can inspire us to get through current difficulties and fight for what we deem important and valuable,” said Rebecca.
“It really emphasized the importance of self-sufficiency,” said Roger. “Over the years, I have frequently relied on the skills I learned in high school shop classes. There’s a time and a place when it’s better to leverage the skills of others, but there is real satisfaction in knowing how to do some-thing yourself. It’s been useful to hand off that knowledge to my sons when they had more time than money.”
For the first time in a long while, Rebecca canned meat and planted gardens. “I had done these things with my grandmother, mother, and mother-in-law, but needed to brush off my skills before sharing them with my adult children and nieces who were asking to learn it, too. To balance this new workload with my career, I embraced new technology and purchased a HarvestRight freeze dryer in 2021 for emergency preparedness.”
With the change of seasons upon us, the Van Wyks are now branching out to consider new places and new things to see what fits into their vision, and are tapping into different sources for inspiration.
In 2022, Rebecca retired from her career, and she and Roger took some time to reflect on what it takes to champion positive change in a com-munity and to empower each family member to experience the unique calling God has for their lives.
To that end, they launched Dutch Letter Homestead in 2023; a separate, but complementary venture to Van Wijk Winery. Its mission is to create a community of like-minded people who value and practice strong relationships, self-sufficiency, and simpler lifestyles. Dutch Letter Homestead will focus on transferring practical knowledge with hands-on experiences to younger generations, empowering them to grow their skills.
“I believe a true homestead is where everyone can share their skills to benefit the family and the community,” said Rebecca.
“Homesteading for us is about creating an environment for hands-on learning as much as enjoying the fruits of our efforts. When everyone begins to live local and trusts the source, imagine how interesting life will be!”
One of Roger’s homestead projects is to work with his father and extended family to restore his grandfather’s 1949 Chevy Truck. The truck passed from his grandfather Cornelis Allettinus van Wijk, to his father John Garlyn Van Wyk (now 94), and most recently, to Roger. “It has been used for everything – hauling grain or hogs to market, sand for concrete projects, timber wood for the fireplace, and camping at the Iowa State Fair.”
This year, Rebecca began to offer homestead classes on homemade fermented foods like apple cider vinegar, ginger ale, and kombucha as healthy alternatives to soda-pop. Class tickets include either “observe-only” for those who are curious, and “hands-on” for those who want the full experience.
“I always tell people, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll do this badly before you do it goodly.’ Life is so much better when we do it with others,” said Rebecca. The class response has been extremely positive.
After the many uncertainties of the last few years, Rebecca claims people are looking for like-minded people to trust. And she feels the more local the people and closer the source of ingredients, the better. They have been asked to include classes on many other topics, including clean keto dieting, intermittent fasting, cheese making, freeze-drying, and canning, as well as homestead events like seed swapping.
The Van Wyks are scattering seeds with Dutch Letter Homestead, and are ready to follow it wherever it grows. This spring, they are launching new Market Garden products featuring freeze-dried herbs, flowers, and teas. As part of a new homestead community project, others are encouraged to bring in their extra produce located near the Market Garden and south of the winery courtyard. So, what is grown in the community truly stays in the community – a key principle of the homesteading lifestyle.
Also, Dutch Letter Homestead was just approved as a community drop coordinator for Azure Standard, a natural healthy food distributor. Starting at the end of April, anyone with an Azure Standard account will be able to order and receive their products at the Dutch Letter Homestead drop location in Sully.
To find out more about classes and events offered by Dutch Letter Homestead and Van Wijk Winery, visit either dutchletterhomestead.com or vanwijkwinery.com and social media (Facebook and Instagram).