Raised in Oakland County and having attended Detroit Country Day School, John Ivanko entered the high-pressure, push business of advertising before leaving the field to rewrite the definition of success.
Today Ivanko is an accomplished author, entrepreneur, photographer and co-owner of the Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, an award-winning inn in Browntown, Wisconsin, that's completely powered by wind and solar energy generated on site. The Inn also features vegetarian cuisine with ingredients harvested mostly from its organic gardens. Ivanko and his wife, Lisa Kivirist, also operate Inn Serendipity Woods, a 30-acre wildlife sanctuary and rural cabin near Hillsboro, Wisconsin.
"I had a mid-life crisis at 25. I was looking at where I was going and what I was doing, and none of that aligned with the things I valued: family, food and the environment," Ivanko said. "I went on a self-imposed sabbatical. I called it a worldwide quest, making sense of what was going on both environmentally and socially, and what kind of business I wanted to be in, or what kind of enterprise I wanted to create. That trip exposed me to many walks of life and different ways of living life, and eating. My wife and I weren't married yet, but were traveling together, visiting farms in New Zealand. We saw a lot of what we wanted to create here, and here we are 23 years later."
The Inn is able to meet about 90 percent of its food needs through on-site farming, either through direct growing or trade with other farms. Being self-reliant for food and energy needs, the business isn't susceptible to larger financial trends.
"We had to start with baby steps, by switching light bulbs to larger projects, like the solar electric system that completely powers the farm," he said. "The expenses we used to have are gone, and that gives us resources to focus on other things that we think are important to us."
The success of the Inn led to several recognitions, as well as the development of several books. Together, Ivanko and Kivirist have written "Homemade for Sale," "Soil Sisters," ECOpreneuring," the "Farmstead Chef" cookbook, "Rural Renaissance," and "Edible Earth."
Additionally, Ivanko teamed up with Maya Ajmera to author several children's books, including six multicultural books that feature Ivanko's photography, "To Be a Kid," "Be My Neighbor," "To Be an Artist," "Back to School," "Come Out and Play, and "Animal Friends," all of which were featured on Oprah in 2007.
Ivanko's work also led him to national speaking engagements, with presentations and keynote appearances at workshops and venues. His writing has been published in Mother Earth News, Innovation and Tech Today, Urban Farm, Grit and other publications. He also covers technology for Techsocket.net and PC Lifeline.
In addition to successful innkeeping, writing and photography careers, Ivanko operates Flying Colors drone videography and photography.
In terms of his background, Ivanko said he and his wife had no background in farming, other than basic landscaping. Learning the process took time, and using the experience to provide description – rather than prescriptive – advice in their books.
"Life is too short to do the things you want to do once you're retired," he said. "Part of that is rethinking how we were living, and living beneath our means rather than above them. There's a financial aspect that comes along, but that's not the driver."