How You Can Preserve the Good Food Movement

Garlic cloves hanging in old barnI just can’t tell you how good our barn smells right now! Last week we harvested garlic and now one of its hand-hewn beams is fully lined with this earthy delight. If former lives were such a thing, I’m sure I was an Italian maiden and my brick barn presided over an old-world villa. Do ya think?

Like everything else from our garden, this garlic is so-o-o-o much more flavorful than anything you buy in the grocery store. If there’s a disadvantage to raising your own food, it’s that you become acutely aware of just how tasteless and removed from its natural state our retail food has become. Call me a snob (or an empty-nester who can now afford to spend more), but more times than not I’ll go out of my way to shop at Willy Street Cooperative in Madison, and other such stores, simply because its food is organic and/or locally-grown. Think fresh, flavorful and healthy. (Unfortunately, I know I’m using more time and fuel — it’s not easy being green.)

Have you ever read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé? I first ran into this book while working for the Youth Conservation Corp in the late 1970s. Such ecological food practices were revolutionary back then and, while some of her theories have since been refuted, Lappé is still credited as being an introducer to the active food movement we have today. What I find interesting is how 40 years later, her forewarnings of an unsustainable food system are now here to haunt us. And she was right. Today we have declining health, depleted soils, and a problem of affordably producing quality food, simply because the good food movement is not as much of American life as it should be.

In his article Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers, Bren Smith, a farmer himself, offers suggestions for preserving the good food movement we appreciate today. He writes of political agendas, like supporting affordable health care and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. But guess what, there are also things we can do at the grassroots level that are equally important for supporting good food—simple things that not only benefit ourselves but society as a whole.

  • Be willing to spend more for better food, and better health.
  • Support small farms instead of factory farms—research the farm, maybe even take a drive to the country to see it.
  • Buy a CSA share from a farm near you.
  • Support food cooperatives—become an owner for greater discounts.
  • If you don’t have access to grocery stores that carry local and organic food, ask your grocer to do so. Do the same with the restaurants you patronize.
  • Become a farmer yourself: grow a garden.
  • Speak up! Write about it. Talk about it on social media. Make people aware of what you or others are doing with good food.

Fermentation Fest: A Live Culture Convergence

Nameplate for Fermentation Fest

Turn on the T.V. or page through any number of magazines and you’ll find that Wisconsin is cultivating a prestigious culinary scene. From James Beard award winners to specialty food entrepreneurs, our beloved Badger State is taking on an epicurean eminence that goes far beyond beer, cheese, sausage and fish fries.

Knowing this, you can rightly assume Wisconsin’s putting on some sumptuous food festivals. Among them, Fermentation Fest is literally bubbling its way to the top.

Definition of culture shed, by Jay Salinas, Wormfarm InstituteNow in its fourth year, Fermentation Fest is a 10-day celebration of the arts, farming and fermented food. There are how-to classes for the ancient art of fermentation. There are tasting events that expand one’s senses beyond the homogeneity of today’s grocery stores. There are musicians, poets and storytellers. And, if that’s not enough, there is art—how does a 50-mile self-guided Farm/Art D’Tour through the breathtaking farmlands of
Sauk County grab you? Think meandering country roads…rolling unglaciated hills…October, in all its autumn glory. As organizers define it, Fermentation Fest is a celebration of the “cultureshed” of Wisconsin’s Driftless area.

Fermentation Fest is the brainchild of Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas, and their Wormfarm Institute, a non-profit organization fostering arts and agriculture. Supported in part through the National Endowment for the Arts and ArtPlace America, Sauk County is the only rural county to receive art funding, says Donna. The fest is also hosted by the Sauk County UW Extension and the Reedsburg Chamber of Commerce, and sponsored by a multitude of businesses and organizations. Yes, Fermentation Fest is truly a convergence of culture.

So this year I’m super excited to be part of Fermentation Fest. My dear friend, Ann Foley, who designs for The Creative Company and Madison’s Brat Fest—another great food event—recommended me for doing the Fermentation Fest newsletter. Thank you, Ann!

And thank you, Donna! I’m honored to be working on this project and loving the time I get to spend in beautiful Sauk County!

Hey, make sure you sign up to get the latest on Fermentation Fest’s schedule and registration!

 

Beauty in the Brown

Yesterday I was in Reedsburg, Wisconsin for a client meeting. Geologically speaking, this is an interesting area of the state. It’s tucked between the glaciated hills of the Baraboo Range and the unglaciated ruggedness of the Driftless Area. As I drove the backroads, I chided myself for breaking a photographer’s number one rule: never be without your camera. Thank goodness for cell phones.

Sauk County, WIsconsin in spring

Even though everything is brown at this time of year (including the unmelted snow), there’s a unique beauty in the monotones of spring.

Irrigation in Sauk County, WI

There’s beauty in repetition right?

Country road in Sauk County, WI

Or the hopeful expectation of a curved road up ahead.

Abandoned farmhouse in Sauk County, WIThere’s even a forlorn beauty in an abandoned farmhouse.

Mailbox decorated for Easter in Sauk County, WIAnd just when you think you’ve seen enough brown, you come upon a mailbox such as this. How fun it is!

So my new project is exciting! It’s going to involve these very fields of Sauk County, Wisconsin, along with good food and awesome art. Stay tuned in the months ahead, there’s more to come!

 

National Entrepreneurship Week and My Go-Getting Grandparents

old fashioned general store

When I was young, my grandparents owned a general store. It was one of those mom-and-pop groceries, complete with creaky wooden floors and a penny candy display behind the counter. This is my grandfather, George, proudly showcasing his adventure a few years after purchasing the business.

I pulled out this photo because February 15-22 is National Entrepreneurship Week and my grandparents were the most daring, go-getters I know. As I look at this, I’m thinking they shared many of the unique qualities we celebrate in entrepreneurs today.

Dreamers

So George and Ruth purchased their store in 1946. They were in their 30-40s at the time, but you could compare them to people in today’s millennial generation who look for careers that satisfy their passions.

For more than twenty years George had worked as an accountant for a Chicago meat packing company and, according to my grandmother, the job was affecting his health. They wanted something different, something that would get him out of the office and offer them greater personal meaning.

Go-Getters

When it came to buying their store, George and Ruth were as venturous as any entrepreneur today. As the story goes, one weekend while visiting family in Michigan, they saw the store advertised for sale in a newspaper. They immediately checked it out and paid a $500 down payment. Two months later they moved their family from a very settled, big city life in Chicago to the unknowns of rural (hicksville) Henderson, population 250.

Isn’t that intriguing? I guess we’re not the only generation who dreams of escaping the confines of a working cubicle, whether literal or not, and moving off the beaten path to something we can call our own.

 Innovators

old family photo

Okay, so here’s a picture of George and Ruth with their daughters in Chicago. Contrast this with the picture below that shows the family with friends a few years later in front of their store. Need I say more of their willingness to step outside their own comfort zone?

Here’s a fun story my grandmother would tell of their move. My grandparents had nice furniture, including a baby grand piano, all of which they paid to have shipped from Chicago to Henderson in advance of their arrival. This, of course, created a great buzz of interest even before they themselves pulled into town. Today, might we consider this a calculating PR tactic?

And then there’s my grandfather’s ingenuity. He may have previously spent decades in an office chair, but he certainly didn’t lack for hands-on moxie in his store. According to my grandmother, he built all new shelving and a walk-in cooler. He learned to cut meat and updated the store with a glass meat counter and an ice cream freezer.

Isn’t it interesting what entrepreneurs take on nowadays? We not only practice our area of expertise, we also learn marketing, communications and social media. And if there’s something we’re better off not doing, it’s easy enough to search online for someone who can.

family in front of old general store

Determined

As I remember my grandparents, I imagine they would have carefully planned the realities of going into business for themselves. George was a qualified bookkeeper and experienced in the food industry. Ruth was a networking guru half a century before such marketing terminology existed. Yet, the skills that likely kept them going most were that of hard work, perseverance and understanding.

According to my grandmother, she and George worked side by side in the first years of their ownership. Then they decided the store needed some updates. So Ruth took a job. At first she worked nights in a factory. After that she worked as a bookkeeper for a local business, a position she held for the next 14 years.

Many businesses today start out as side gigs to a day job. Just like my grandparents’ store, they need a few years of financial support, health insurance or an all-around oomph of stability. I’ll be the first to admit I wouldn’t be enjoying entrepreneurship if I didn’t have the backing of my husband’s secure job.

Integrators

My grandparents lived in an apartment above the store. The back stairway that merged their work and life was one they navigated many times a day. Such a setup was common in those days, wasn’t it? And weren’t businesses often family affairs that involved husband, wife and children?

How interesting that we’re once again returning to this concept. A great number of entrepreneurs work from their home offices. They participate in the day-to-day care of their children and they integrate work time with family time.

What about you?

Are there any like-minded entrepreneurs in your family? We can learn so much from innovators of the past and apply that to how we work today. Tell us all about them!

Leave a comment!

 

Responsive Web, Inverted Pyramids and Door County, Wisconsin

Cave Point, Door County, Wisconsin

If there’s anything that reinforces the need for good web design, it’s a 4-day weekend in the boondocks. Think about it: If you’ve got the who, what, where, when and why right in front of you, you’re pretty much good to go no matter where you happen to be.

Like Door County, Wisconsin. In February.

Door County is an almost 500-square-mile jut of land between the Green Bay and Lake Michigan. My husband and I were there last weekend for our anniversary. We love going at this time of year because it’s the quiet season. We can snowshoe in the many parks, find miles and miles of diverse shoreline and visit cozy, lakeside villages, all free of the crowds that make them a hot spot in summer.

That’s Cave Point in the picture. Isn’t it stunning? Often, the crashing Lake Michigan waves cover the rocks with sprays of water. This day everything—I mean, everything— was so very still. With temperatures well below zero, the water was a frigid wonder of clarity.

But Door County Wi-Fi? Understandably, not so clear.

Even though Door County is  more commercially developed than it was decades ago (sadly so, in my opinion), it’s still rather remote, especially when it comes to the internet. As we randomly zig-zagged the peninsula on country backroads, I perused my iPhone in search of the next cool place to stop. One minute there was reception, the next there wasn’t. Knowing it could give out at any time, I really appreciated a well-designed website.

I appreciated responsive websites even more.

Nowadays, a responsive website is a necessity for good business. Responsive web design is like the inverted pyramid of the old journalism days; it puts the most important information up front for optimal viewing no matter what device is being used.

Here are three sites I found helpful while in Door County. Two are simply well-designed and put the necessary information where it needs to be. The third is a fully responsive site that properly rearranges itself according to the order of importance and size of the device.

Wild Tomato Pizza, Fish Creek, WI

Here’s the Wild Tomato Restaurant and how it appears on my iPhone. Mmmm, this looks good, doesn’t it?

Many Door County businesses are closed for the winter. Yet when I googled “Door County pizza,” I found right here on Wild Tomato’s home page that they are open, where they’re located and their phone number. The fact that they link to a beer menu tells me they have artisan beers even if I don’t take the time to click into it.

Good business? You bet. The restaurant was super fun and the food was delicious!

St. John Lutheran Church, Door County, WI

Most churches don’t think of themselves as a business. Yet sometimes they need to act like one; for example, when they want to reach out to the tourists of their unique vacation community.

St. John does just that with its website. Right there on the home page I found the 5 W’s needed for knowing about the congregation and how we could attend its services. And yes, the members of this beautiful church in the country were as warm and welcoming as their website!

Door County, WIsconsin

So here’s the fully responsive site: The Door County Visitor Bureau. Check it out on your computer, then check it out on your iPod or smartphone. Notice how it’s packed full of interesting information and rather than proportionately shrinking it en masse for small devices, which would make it way too small to read, its responsiveness vertically rearranges the contents into segments in order of their importance.

That, my dears, is responsive web design and that’s what brings people to Door County, even in the dead of winter!


What about your website? How does it look on a smartphone? Can viewers clearly find what they need to know? Here’s a completely responsive website Adunate did for a Donny’s Girl Supper Club. Contact me if you’d like the same exposure for your business.