The Orlen and Alice Richards (Willow Valley Farms) circa 1968, when I was still just throwing legos down the heat ducts in the house. Any real damage I was about to cause wouldn’t start for another 7 years.
So a couple weeks ago we announced our plans to start up a tour company. Not a tour specifically of a city, or one that included historic monuments with a built in attraction, but one of the Driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin. We will visit the people, the farms, the unique businesses and yes, microbreweries and wineries. But the key component to the experience is the people.
It has been interesting meeting partners willing to join us on this adventure and talking with those who can steer visitors to the opportunity. An absolute constant with every discussion is the unique story each one has. I have always believed everyone has a story to tell and our business is founded on just that, sharing everyone’s stories.
Through our website, this blog, but ultimately on the tours, we will be telling you the stories of the Driftless area, the geology, the history, the people, and their businesses. We ultimately hope to educate and we plan to have a ton of fun along the way. One constant that continues to come through from each of our partners is the resilience required to develop, manage, and then ultimately survive the difficulties thrown in their paths. But also an overriding theme is how strong their relationships have become through their experiences.
I am not unfamiliar with difficulty and the need to be resilient. I was born, and raised, on a dairy farm just a mile north of the suburban metropolis of Ithaca (I don’t know what the sarcasm emoji is now days, but that “metropolis” comment was sarcasm). For the first 18 years of my life I lived and worked on a dairy farm. Days started at 6:00am and typically ended sometime around 8:00pm. We didn’t know it was hard work, it was just the life we lived. For many years my parents operated in a 70-cow stanchion barn, with 4 of us kids as cheap, but also somewhat inconsistent, labor. That was until our sister Joy joined us 8 years later raising that number to 5, (Joy requires her own story, an adventure I will share with you in it’s entirety, but individually. Joy deserves her own entry and even that may not be enough to fully describe the person she was).
We survived many challenges; seasonal storms, my brother Rob being driven over by a tractor my Mom was driving while raking hay, my sister Annette getting hit by a car while crossing the road, a shed fire, one or two BB gun fights in the hay mow, a roll-over truck accident in which all 4 of us were in the truck together and finally another head on collision (in which my brother Ron and I were in) with the farm truck and another car. Thankfully we survived all of that but our ultimate farm story will sound very familiar to those of today, That is a story to be shared down the road.
During a Ridge and Valley Tour you will meet interesting people and hear their stories. Many of those stories are very unlikely. Seriously, how do you decide one day to raise Yak’s, or how does a couple, who really don’t know anything about goats, decide to start a goat dairy,? But the most common story, the extreme hardships and setbacks such as a barn or sales/processing building, burning down and the process of picking up the pieces to move on and recover even bigger and better. The people of the Driftless area are tough, resilient, but also positive and a joy to talk with.
I encourage you to stay connected by subscribing to our blog updates, you can ‘follow’ by the link on the top-right side of this post. We plan to play out this adventure in the public eye, the challenges, the victories, and unfortunately sometimes the failures. This is much like farming after all, it is very real and in the open for all to see. The tour schedule will be developed and announced early in 2019, of course we need to buy an actual shuttle so we can have a tour as well, more on that later, but I promise we will own a shuttle by the first tour.
I hope we see you this summer to learn more about the people of the Driftless on one of the Ridge and Valley Tours!