Writer-wife, mother, grandmother. Passionate voice for democracy, champion of women, lover of learning, adventure and everything creative. I have had three distinctly different careers in my lifetime. Labor & Delivery nurse, Professional photographer & graphic designer and currently Flight attendant with Southwest Airlines.
On the evening before our tickets go on sale for Ridge and Valley Tours, we can’t help but wonder how our sales will go. Will this idea, this business, that we have come to grow and love translate into actual seats sold? The anticipation we are experiencing is an interesting emotion. Have we started something that will resonate with our future customers? Many have told us it is a great idea but does the idea compel people to buy tickets? It’s almost like having a baby (well, not quite!)
Marty and I have really enjoyed the process of building out this business. The journey so far has been great. We have grown closer as a couple and it is great to use our respective talents. We feel like we see our area of the state with new eyes of appreciation. These great farms and businesses have been there all along,. If you step away and come back to a place, perspective changes. My job as a flight attendant has helped me see many things differently.
Our area is truly beautiful and like no other area. We want to share it with those visiting from near and far. It has been wonderful meeting with each of our partner sites and going on their farms. We hope our future customers know just how excited our farmers and businesses are to have you as guests on their farms. They have bought into our idea and look forward to having guests they can educate and entertain. Unfortunately, there is a lack of good news in farming right now and this business idea has brought a bit of hope to our community.
Agritourism may be the next thing to really exert some impact in agriculture. Along with the food-to-table movement, consumers have never had so many opportunities to connect with their food sources. After years of the industrial food complex and it’s depleting methods, people want to know more about what they put in their bodies. Their health has been suffering and many want vitality from their food. They have come to expect good food made from quality ingredients. The organic movement has revolutionized the food industry.
Many of our partner farms are doing some really cutting-edge sustainable techniques to improve their soil, water, and animal habitats. Regenerative pasturing is a topic you will hear more about in the future, as it has some impact on climate change. As consumers continue to seek better food sources and organic options, prices will come down in the stores. As farmers get more control over their ability to market their own products and sell direct to co-ops, farmer’s markets and artisanal producers, they will begin to be compensated appropriately for their work.
One of the reasons I am very excited about this tour business is I was personally feeling at a loss on how to deal with the decreases in family farms. Stories have been released with great frequency decrying the number of farm bankruptcies in Wisconsin and it saddens me to see fewer farms. When my sister in law struggled to find a farm to host the Richland County dairy breakfast last year, I became very concerned. She is the chairwoman in charge of the annual event that takes place usually on the grounds of a dairy farm. She has done the breakfast for over 30 years and it has never been so hard to come up with an appropriate site. They ended up having the breakfast at the county fairgrounds. It was just another example of how agriculture and family farms are changing in SW Wisconsin.
I grew up on my grandparents dairy farms. Both sides of my family were raised on the farm. My husband grew up on a large dairy farm. It has been in our family DNA for a long time. I loved taking cows out to pasture and the smell of fresh cut hay. I enjoyed gathering eggs and feeding calves or cleaning the milk house with Grandma. Call me nostalgic, but I don’t want that to disappear in our society. I intend for our daughters and grandsons to take our tour this summer and see the farms. I want them to experience a bit of what I enjoyed as a kid. I hope many can see the farms up close. Perhaps, this is the beginning of great and sweeping changes and people will gravitate back to smaller farms. Or, maybe our farm tours will be treated like operational museum’s. In either case, I believe everyone, young and old, has much to learn from a day on the farm.
I hope some come along to reminisce and study our heritage. I hope some come to enjoy some really good food and drink. Honestly, we are going to eat cheese, beer, and wine! How can we fail with a lineup like that?! I know everyone will have a good time because I know my husband. As your tour guide, he will make you feel at ease, tell some great stories, teach you about farming and most importantly, you will have fun. I wish I could go along on all the tours, but those seats are for paying customers!
We hope to include you all in the story of our success. We hope to share many great stories and can’t wait to read your reviews. If you have ever thought of taking a weekend in Southwest Wisconsin, this summer would be a great time! See you soon! Tickets go on sale today at 9:00am. As your reward for reading this whole blog, the discount promo code for today only, lasting 12 hours from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, is launch15. Thank you for your support!
Strong, resilient relationships. Remarkable stories of entrepreneurial spirit and determination. As we set out to build this business, we expected to learn of many stories along the way. It is one of our core principles to focus on stories and the heritage of people in SW Wisconsin, especially the traits that make people in Wisconsin truly nice and hospitable. We are always looking to hear the “story” behind the land, the people, and their struggles. The immigration and settlement of Wisconsin and the pioneer days are often filled with amazing recollections. We knew we would come across stories of grit, hard work, and uncertainty. But we have been pleasantly surprised that our collective “story” from the past continues to remain today as we examine the relationships we are noticing in our tour partners.
We started this journey of meeting with partners at the end of November when this idea for a tour business was just that-an idea. We had a vision of what a great tour would look like. Marty and I have taken countless tours in other cities and we knew what kind of stops would be interesting if we did a tour in SW Wisconsin. We knew we wanted microbrews, wine, and cheese-those are no brainers! But we weren’t considering farms at first. The industry has been taking a beating and we weren’t sure if people would find them interesting. And we thought it would be hard to get farm partners. After we decided to look into farms, we discussed different farms and talked about what we thought people would want to see. The first farm that came to our minds was Hatfield Organic Dairy.
We have followed the story of Dennis & Virginia Hatfield on Facebook for the last few years. Virginia has shared their struggles in public often, about their fire in the parlor and their subsequent rebuild. There is something about honesty in trials and tribulations that attracts us. We were so impressed with their triumph over tragedy and how their family overcame some major obstacles. We knew we wanted them to be a part of our tour as they just had received organic certification. They were a traditional Richland County farm that had overcome many obstacles and had reinvented themselves for the future of dairy farming.
As we met with them we noticed Dennis had a great strength of character and a deep love for their farm. It was interesting to watch their dynamics as Ginny is the more outspoken one. Their courtship story, which is incredibly interesting and will be told on the tour (sorry no spoilers here) is sure to have you chuckle. It was obvious that their marriage had weathered some very difficult times and yet you could see his appreciation of Ginny’s hard work in milking the cows every day and you could see her great respect of Dennis and his leadership on the farm. They are a current example of a strong marriage that has been tested and tried and came out on the other side stronger.
We visited that same weekend with another partner business, Hillsboro Brewing Company. Marty has known Snapper Verbsky for many years and when we met with him and his wife Kim. It was incredibly exciting to see their new venture, Willow+Oak event space and the new location of the brewery/bar/restaurant. We had met Kim before and have always been amazed by her energy. She is a fireball of activity and very dynamic. Snapper is the creative one-doing renovations and using his talents with construction to take discarded buildings and make great spaces out of them. He is truly visionary and can see great possibilities with space. As we left the meeting that night, we remarked to each other how incredible their relationship is and how they complemented each other. I guess we notice the interactions of other couples and often talk about how they click.
Marty and I have been married for 31 years today. Marriage for us is a huge part of our story and we have had many ups and downs. But we are truly best friends and we love to see other couples with the same tenacity. It’s human nature to notice others and we admit to analyzing couples all the time. Amongst ourselves, we will talk about their personalities and strengths. These are just things we notice. It has become apparent to us after meeting with a few different partners how strong and resilient the partners that we are having on our tour truly are.
The next partner site we met with was Nate & Kayla of Blue View farms. Newlyweds, married for less than a year, they are walking in the footsteps of many of other couples that have gone before them. Kayla works as an RN at the local hospital to carry the benefits and health insurance. Nate runs the farm day-to-day with Kayla’s help when she is able. They have triumphed over a few very difficult times already in their young lives but you can see their resolute desire to work Blue View farms together. They are off to a great marriage and appear to have a strong foundation laid to build upon. As the old farts in the room, it’s great to see their young love and appreciation for each other.
It is generally very apparent to us as we examine other relationships that there is usually one in the couple that is the talker and the other one is quieter. Honestly, it takes balance to have a long term relationship. Both partners cannot be the same, it just does not work. At least in our opinion. The next business partner we met was Dean Baumgarten at Narrow’s Creek Winery. It was obvious from moment one that Dean was the talker. We didn’t actually meet his wife Vicky that day but as we heard him talk about their new winery venture. It was obvious that Vicky was the creative one and Dean was the social one, or as we discussed in the car following, “Dean is the Marty of the relationship”. They run Narrow’s Creek Winery together now as they are heading into their retirement years and they are having a great time. We recognize their relationship as it is very similar to our story. Relationships need to grow and evolve over time. We believe many get complacent and forget that with each new stage there are adjustments to be made. You must grow towards each other and continue to complement each other with personality traits and be each other’s cheerleader and friend.
The next couple we met shared with us their courtship story and we loved to hear how they decided to be farmers. Chad and Robin committed to working hard together to build a farm out of nothing. They didn’t own a farm, they had little experience with animals and they had limited foreknowledge of farming life. From the decision to raise goats over cows and every decision they have made since, they are definitely in this farming thing together. The first few years of goat farming had many challenges and honestly, would have destroyed a weaker relationship but their commitment to the animals, their farm and each other is truly wonderful to see. They still have many challenges as they go from working other full-time jobs to working just the farm in the near future but with their determination and their love for their animals, we can see them accomplishing their goals. We came away from our meeting with them very impressed with their relationship and tenacity.
The next couple we met was Darick and Melissa Luck. We met Melissa before on separate occasions and this was our first time meeting Darick. By this point, it was becoming obvious to us that we were meeting some amazing couples that typify an entrepreneurial spirit. Darick and Melissa resemble our status in life as well. They are empty nesters, retired early from other careers, and looking for new adventures and ideas. They have raised their kids, traveled the world and are scratching out a business with some very unique opportunities. Darick is a caretaker, reverently dismantling old barns and reclaiming all their parts to resell. He loves unique animals and it was interesting to hear how Melissa bought him a yak for his birthday a few years back. Such an unusual gift for most but Darick has an appreciation for unique animals. They have a menagerie of animals on their farm and Melissa handles the businesses. She has taken her amazing skill set from her previous job running the UW primate lab to coordinating their new niche businesses. Their nontraditional retirement has set some very important priorities of family, travel and being able to chart their own daily schedules.
By this point, I was trying to figure out how to celebrate all these amazing relationships. Their stories are so rich and compelling, varied and unique. At times, this business feels like more than just a way to occupy our time or a financial benefit. There is a feeling of manifest destiny or a calling, almost. The stories are really powerful and I feel like society has vilified the work of farmers as if it is something lesser than other careers. But I am beginning to believe it is one of the highest callings for a career and for a marriage. Many of our ancestors became farmers out of necessity but many found a great way to support their family. We cannot forget the heritage that our grandparents passed down to us. And we cannot forget the land and animals.
Our next partner couple, Corey and Sarah have had such a unique journey to SW Wisconsin. They have lived in many places across America and they have had many unique careers. Sarah, the school teacher, and Corey as a chef. They have started restaurants together and lived in the great frontier of Alaska. With a lot of hard work and determination, they came to the Driftless seeking a homestead and connection to the land. They have many animals but their love for their pigs out on pasture shows their appreciation for the way nature intended pork to be raised and an appreciation for well-flavored meat. As a chef, Corey wanted a connection with his food sources and he seeks to provide the very best ingredients in his recipes. They see SW Wisconsin as an area of opportunity to carve out their dreams. A place where they can afford land and care for it and the animals they love.
Our next farm partners are Claudia and Jerry Berres, a retired chemist and physician respectively. They intentionally sought their land many years ago and bought it from Avery Marshall-a previous extension agent and legend in Richland County. They have worked the land together and built a beautiful ranch. Their love for each other is exhibited in the caretaking of their home and property. Their common goals and shared responsibilities on the ranch require a resoluteness in their relationship. Their ranch and relationship is a shining example for future generations.
Another business partner, Oakwood Fruit Farms is a great example of multiple generations coming together to run a successful farm. The Louis family started the orchard in the 1900’s by Albert Louis, then Bill Louis in 1934, and in 1955 John & Vonnie Louis took over the operation. Today, Jody & Steve Louis and Judy & Greg Alvin (siblings/spouses) run the operations. Well over 200 acres of orchards and vines, and a seasonal bakery. The children and grandchildren all take part in the harvest. Any family that can work together for over 5 generations is truly remarkable and their marriages are all strong. A modern-day story of triumph over adversity as they also had a tragic fire in their business just a few years ago.
Our next couple truly amazed us, Graham and Margaret Phillipson of Littledale Farm. Graham is a contrast of a character to the average Richland County resident, Margaret the ultimate hostess. Together they have an obvious love for each other and equally, a great sense of humor. They moved out of the city years ago and carved out a beautiful homestead for themselves. They are great storytellers and their story easily could fill a book. They leave you longing to know more about their relationship and their lives. Married for many years and showing no signs of slowing down-that’s what we all want!
By this point, we are truly humbled to be a part of this. This business is taking on a life of its own and we hope to do our very best to tell their stories. We feel like we got fresh eyes to see all these great things in our own backyard that have been there all along. We honestly didn’t have any idea that all these great farms were out there. We hope you can meet all of our partners on a tour this summer and see for yourself these great relationships.
We have had farms from neighboring counties/areas contact us and we have decided to stay in our triangle of focus. We are resolute to narrow that focus to the Richland County area. Particularly, the area between Viroqua, Spring Green, and Reedsburg. Those particular communities already have strong tourism markets. We are seeking to bring awareness of the great agritourism activities going on in our area. There is a change coming, love is in the air! The great relationships in the past that settled Richland County continue on today in these caretakers. Let us celebrate their love for each other today.
For the last few years, Marty and I have enjoyed stimulating discussions about tourism, business growth, and niche markets. We love to examine trends and watch shows like Shark tank and The Profit. I love to read and listen to pod casts on the organic movement and the growing need for sustainable living. These broad and varied interests especially intrigue us as we travel to other cities.
We often compare the cities we travel amongst to our own Richland Center and the Driftless area. And we love to contrast Richland Center to neighboring towns like Viroqua, Spring Green and Reedsburg. We have watched many of the rust belt cities, such as Buffalo, Cleveland and Milwaukee, reinvent themselves. We have seen the explosive growth in Denver, the Bay area and Austin. We are always intrigued by downtown revitalization projects seen in many American cities. Urban and suburban life is drastically changing everywhere. We have also seen the slow death of rural life in some areas. We want so much more for our area and believe it can be possible.
In the past couple of years, we got involved in politics, thinking we could change our quality of life thru the political process. And while we believe change can happen in government, we are a little frustrated by systemic issues that plague true representation and the speed of change. Moving forward, we believe change may come more quickly to our area with business creation and tourism growth.
When we compare and contrast Richland Center to other areas of the United States, we truly find this area to be full of positives. In the past, if you had read some of the local Facebook groups, there would be many negative comments by naysayers quick to point out how awful it is in Richland Center. Thankfully, there seems to be a decrease in the negativity but there are still a few quick to be negative. I really believe they fail to see the positives in our area. Do they ever travel and see more than Richland county? Do they go to average American cities or do they travel only to big cities and all-inclusive resorts?
I can speak personally, for myself, I have traveled to over 150+ American cities and walked the downtown streets of many of them. Granted, most are significantly bigger than Richland Center, but they all seek to provide the same things. Vibrant communities, great schools, equitable employment, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, recreational opportunities and communities where families thrive. Many look at the things we lack and forget the things we do have.
Our desire to start Ridge and Valley Tours began with a question, “how do we effectively cause change to happen in Richland county?” And it started with a famous adage, “do what you love and you will never work a day on your life.” Well, we decided to stop waiting for nice things to come to Richland Center. We are choosing to roll up our sleeves and do the work. We believe business creation can have a great impact. We can see the possibilities and together, we have the skill sets to make this endeavor happen.
We believe it is important to stay active in government and be involved in civic duties. The city council and county government can only do so much and they both are limited greatly by state funding. We are convinced this community is strong because of its civic organizations, schools and churches. The recent outpouring of care and concern for Scott & Kelly Coppernoll has been truly a sight to behold. And we see opportunities to invest in the future with our business and our personal pocket books. We encourage all to spend their hard-earned money with local businesses.
So, how can our friends, neighbors and customers get involved in causing change to come to Richland Center? We really believe collectively, that we will get the most bang for our buck with tourism. And anything that promotes this beautiful area. You see, we have something very special here. If you don’t see it, then please leave for awhile. The only way we move forward is to be free of negative attitudes. There have been some in our community pushing for change for a long time. And many are moving forward. We need to look at projects like the pool/splashpad and the AD German Warehouse renovation as future assets and not liabilities. The return on our investment in this community will be tangible and intangible. We can have nice things.
One very simple thing to do to increase tourism is to change your words. And realize we are all part of the public relations campaign of Richland county. As we promote this area, people will come. And spend their money. And stay in our Airbnbs and enjoy our “off the grid” lifestyle. They will see the stars, gaze on our hills, smell our fresh air, delight in watching wildlife and connect with nature. Then they will fall in love with these hills. Like many before them have done. Like many of our own ancestors did. Like maybe you did.
Some will come back and some will not. But, we can extend hospitality to them and give them something that they are missing for a bit. When they feel loved and welcomed, they will want to be a part of the Driftless. That might involve them buying real estate or investing in local projects. That might be as simple as them buying a cup of coffee and renting a kayak. As we meet their needs, their assets meet ours.
So, how do we engage in public relations for this area? How do we spread the word? We do that with our words, our social sharing and our conversations in the marketplace. We encourage our local business owners and buy first from them whenever possible. And, we support new endeavors like The Driftless online magazine.
Marty and I just met an interesting couple at the viewing of Decoding the Driftless premier at the auditorium, living right here in our very midst. They are Dion & Holly Puzon. They live in Richland Center and have begun a new online magazine. They have vast previous experience with another online magazine and are now branching out to start a local one. We find this very exciting and have decided to invest in their product by advertising with them for the next year. We really have no idea if this will bring us customers or not but we see an opportunity. We see a possibility to spread awareness of this area. The magazine covers the whole Driftless area, all four states. It includes articles about current events, niche markets and unique sights to see. It is in an easy to read format, thoughtfully designed and looks truly professional! It’s a platform and a marketing piece we all can help grow and be proud of.
So what’s the cost for The Driftless Magazine? Absolutely nothing at this time. They have an introductory price of FREE. No gimmicks, no credit card needed. I read thru the whole magazine last night and I am very delighted to see our advertisements on the pages and sliding across the banner. We, as advertisers, pay for your ability to read it. And we believe this is gonna be a great investment for our area and our business. But the magazine only becomes impactful with your subscription and your word-of-mouth sharing.
We challenge you to subscribe first. Free. Easy peasy. Then we challenge you to spread awareness by sharing the link on your social accounts. And we invite you to tell your friends and family living further away to subscribe. They can read the magazine and stay connected to the area. It’s a great way to see what is going on in the whole Driftless region. There are so many cool things-you might want to do a stay-cation this summer!
Professional marketing pieces like this magazine are supported by advertisers and advertisers are supported by you and the people we draw to the area, our customers.We have an amazing line up of partner sites for our tours this summer. We have had so much interest, we honestly have been a bit over whelmed. We have been living here all of our lives and we are now just learning of some of the many farms and niche businesses in our local area. We are dedicated to promoting the zone, we call the triangle, between Viroqua, Spring Green and Reedsburg. Those towns are doing just fine but we need a little love in Richland County! Help us spread the love around, spread the word and spread a little hospitality. We are good at farming in Richland county! Many of you know the parable of the sower-well, we are called “Rich-land” Center for a reason, let’s start living like it! All we need to do is plant some seeds, water them and we will see the growth.
A Facebook post was shared a few days ago by a young man in our community and it really echoes the emptiness of each loss we incur as another family farm ceases to exist. The loss we all feel, whether we are cognizant of it or not, is expansive. The loss of another family farm is important to our collective heritage in Wisconsin. Some say it is a romantic notion to hang onto a bygone era. Move on, they say. Farming is different now. They toss out platitudes with attitudes. But some of us still see the value of family farms and we want our society to find ways we can cling to that way of life. Perhaps, in this post-industrial age, we can actually reimagine farming and bring together the best of the old and new.
Here is the post shared by Jeff Limmex. He so eloquently put into words his feelings and we asked him if we could share it. With his gracious permission-
Spending the week at my parents for hunting. While sitting in the woods I noticed something, or rather, a nothingness. For as long as I’ve been alive and hunting. As daylight would rise faintly in the distance you would hear the pump to the barn turn on for the morning milking, the bunk turn on, and the heifers parade and bellar as they headed to eat their morning meal…… not this year. This year there was nothing. Not a single familiar noise.
As I walked back from my hunting spot I decided to stop into the barn I grew up milking and feeding cows in. As I entered through the door there was again …. nothingness The barn filled with remnants of bedding from the last time cows were let out, the ceiling buried in cobwebs and dust, and memories from years past. The dim light seemed to be even dimmer than usual as barn sat there… lifeless.
All I seemed to think was of all the articles I see on Facebook of family farms going under and selling out as there isn’t money to be made doing it anymore, then coming to the realization this farm made it into that statistic. All I can say is support your local dairy farms they have and always be a huge part of this country. And this one, in particular, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Silence speaks very loudly. In this silence, perhaps we can contemplate how we can stop the statistics from rising in SW Wisconsin. We have to hold a special place in our hearts for the family farm and seek ways to support them. Draw attention to their plight. And find a way forward, celebrating agri-tourism in Wisconsin.