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So, we are officially a real thing.

For the last 5 months Teri and I have been scratching out of the dirt a business idea that was the whole time simply a concept. From what we have learned, no one else has ever done it, we haven’t experienced anything quite like it, and we had the brilliance to kick off a tourism venture in a county that consistently ranks in the bottom 10, out of 72 counties in Wisconsin. Brilliant! (More on that later.)

For some time privately I was referencing to Ridge and Valley Tours as “The Fyre Festival of Richland County”. (For those who don’t know this reference, you HAVE to check out the Netflix show, “Fyre, The Greatest Party That Never Happened”.) Teri didn’t appreciate that I was doing that but up until last week, we had many shared characteristics with the Fyre Festival.

As I mentioned, this past Saturday that all changed. We actually took a group of 12 brave souls on a trip through the Driftless Area of Wisconsin to visit a dairy farm, a goat dairy, a cheese factory, a winery, and a micro-brewery. We actually had our own shuttle to accomplish this, with a paid employee. Therefore, I have promised to never refer to us in the “Fyre” context again.

We learned much during the tour, a few of those items;

We must have a time limit on the farms. If we left our guests to determine how long we spent with the calves and young goat kids on the farms, we would still be at one of the farms today. I still feel like that parent at a McDonald’s Playland dragging the crying kids out because they were not at all ready to leave.

There are some points of interest along the way that the guide needs to become more familiar with. (Yes, this is a self-improvement demand.) At least twice people asked me “What is that _____ ______ _______ along the tour route?” and my less-than intelligent answer was, “I don’t know.” Mind you, I was born and raised along the route, I thought I had some basic knowledge of pretty much everything you could possibly throw at me, but obviously I have more “learn’in” to do.

Install a visible map in the shuttle, with tour stops noted. Yes, I was born and raised in this area of twisting, turning, and double-backing roads of the Driftless, I am very familiar and have a fairly strong sense of direction. Very few of our guests have been raised in the area and even those who are familiar with the area are not familiar with the whole county.

While these are a few of the things we learned that might need improvement, we did learn one thing positive. We are on to something.

The reaction to the farm visits with the calves and kid goats was priceless. The imagery of the group sitting around the big dinning table at Hillsboro Brewing all talking to each other about the experience, each other, and sampling the beer; that is the vision Teri and I saw 5 months ago. It is a real thing, and judging by the comments following this initial tour we aren’t too far off.

I look forward to meeting more of our guests and introducing this Driftless Area experience to them. We have a very special offering coming up the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. For any active military member, or veteran, their spouse, or family, we are offering a 50% discount. We are a military family, we have spent many holidays apart due to our daughter’s military commitment. Therefore, we understand the importance of supporting not just the military member but the family as well. We hope to see a full shuttle of military families enjoying a Ridge and Valley Tour on the 25th. For the discount code just enter Memorial50 .

You can see more about that tour here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ridge-valley-tours-west-coast-may-25-memorial-day-special-for-veterans-and-families-tickets-56659400793

‘Twas The Night Before The First Ridge and Valley Tour……

Not a creature was stirring, not even the possums who get into our dog food.

Well, that’s not accurate, we are still putting in the final prep for our inaugural East Coast Tour. We are beyond excited for the first tour, we have gone down the checklist and checked it at least twice:

  1. Set up social media and begin to promote the tours.
  2. Purchase a shuttle bus-check
  3. Negotiate and renegotiate insurance-check
  4. Final information and discussion with partner sites-check
  5. Stock the shuttle with protective foot covers and carrying bags-check
  6. Research cheese factories, recall my farm upbringing, and research our Karst Topography and local history-check
  7. Hire and schedule a driver of the shuttle…….wait, what? Don’t panic, yes, I did that-check

It appears we are ready for the first tour, pretty much everything we should do in preparation has been checked off the list. I can remember back in January and February when we were contacting farm partner sites and getting the typical, “You want to do what?” response, it felt like we would never get to this point. But as time wore on we just kept ticking each item off the list.

The preparation for this tour season reminds me of a rock-picking illustration I have used to motivate my football players and co-workers alike, and it is very appropriate in this situation.

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable project I would tell my players or co-workers, “This is just like picking rock on the farm when I was a kid. If you look at the end of the field, with several acres in front of you and all of those rocks sticking out of the ground, it can be depressing and even debilitating. But if we put our head down, and pick that rock up at your feet and just keep moving forward, pretty soon you are at the end of the field. A project that seemed to be impossible is done. Just keep your head down and keep picking rock.”

Both Teri and I are very excited to share the stories of the farms and businesses with our guests. I can promise three things will will happen during a Ridge and Valley Tour.

  • You will laugh and be entertained
  • You will be educated and fascinated by our partner’s stories
  • You will have some great drink and food

Tomorrow can not come soon enough and we look forward to introducing our guests to our corner of The Driftless Area. We hope to see you soon.

Have a great day,

Marty

A look behind the curtain

When we started taking this tour idea, scratching it out of the dirt, and forming it into an entity and an actual “thing”, I promised I would do it in public. Of course things got busy and I fell short on that promise. So now it is time to catch everyone up a little bit. We knew our idea of an agri-tour that took people from farm to farm, to food processing, to the final product was a bit ground-breaking. Little did we know how leading edge we were.

First a couple questions. Did you know, insurance underwriters may prefer to insure businesses who transport dynamite on rough roads over a start-up agri-tourism business? I worked in the personal and commercial property insurance industry for a good 20 years of my career. I suspected this would not be an easy risk to cover, but the time it took, and the questions we had to answer, to find companies willing to even cover us surprised this grizzled veteran.

My second question; Have you tried to do a basic internet search to find a true farm-to-fork experience in which you travel from farm to farm and then eventually end the experience with a meal? There are several farms across the United States who offer an “on-the-farm” experience. Typically it is on one location and not very often true operating farms with cattle, and very rarely with a meal at the end. In our quest to find our market we actually bumped into one other business actually doing anything like what we are attempting. Feel free to check out the Oregon Farm Loop, they are even somewhat self-guided: https://oregonfarmloop.co

When insurance underwriters do not have a past to look back upon they get nervous, and anyone who has worked in the insurance industry knows that is a bad thing. They don’t have a history to determine what is the risk we are really insuring here? How much should I be charging to make sure we cover the actual risk of a claim occurring and how much will that claim be? For instance, if you have ever added a new driver to your auto insurance, all you need to know is this is how they determine an underage driver’s insurance premium; “It isn’t a question if the 17 year-old is going to have an accident, it is when is it going to occur, and how bad is it going to be.”

Fortunately, Teri and I had great resources and people willing to work with us. My hat’s off to two local insurance agencies and agents, Dillon at Richards Insurance and Jeremy at Wallace, Cooper, and Elliot Insurance were both fantastic to work with. They never once laughed at me, at least in person, when I suggested this idea and the possibility of getting insurance. I know they both at least once thought to themselves, “I had always thought Marty was a bit off-center, but man he is dreaming in color now.” Very much to their credit, they are both very knowledgeable and worked very diligently to find us coverage that covered our risk quite affordably. Even though we learned this is truly a ground-breaking venture, the cost actually came in a little lower than I had anticipated.

So, the moral of this blog post: Call your insurance agent to find out the least expensive business risk ahead of determining what you think your next business venture will be.

Marty’s Relationship Rants: How do you see other people?

I hope we are all here for positive growth in relationships whether they are marriages, business, or just friends. We have to start with this basic premise, “I like people”. 
Seriously, if you don’t like other people how do you expect to grow relationships or even why are you reading this? If you think in your mind, “People are idiots, I really don’t like or trust them, what a bunch of jackwagons.” Take this book back right to where you bought it and get your money back. You are wasting your time and money, just go back home, lock yourself in your room with your laptop, firearms, and 6 months worth of canned institutional food and wait for the inevitable apocalypse that you are sure is coming when everyone turns on each other. (FYI, I have more faith in humankind than you do, that apocalypse isn’t coming.)
I know people like this, heck my father-in-law is a self-admitted “people hater”. He just doesn’t like other people, less is better should be his motto. Through his life experiences he has developed a distrust for people and doesn’t really care to be around others, especially those he doesn’t know. It has also infected his family relationships to where he has hurt relatives with his avoidance of family gatherings and significant events. Not necessarily because he didn’t like the family member involved but there were just too many people. Also, he would have to run into people on the way there who he is convinced are idiots and slackers.
We have to have a basic love of others, a curiosity to meet others, and a curiosity to learn about them. Ultimately a strong healthy relationship isn’t about what that relationship gives me, but how I can bring that other person, or people up. How can I improve the outlook, standing, or happiness of that other person. I have found if I want a great personal relationship with Teri, a school district I am working with, or a good friend, don’t worry about what they are going to do for me. Just be there to help when they need help and work to bring them up, the rest takes care of itself.
I ran into a new series on Netflix, “After Life” starring Ricky Gervais. (This is not a recommendation of this show, Teri and I are only one episode in and we don’t know what we think yet. If you want a Netflix recommendation watch “The Umbrella Academy”, if only for the music soundtrack.) Gervais is a cynical, clumsy, newspaper reporter who turns to sarcasm and open insulting of others to deal with the loss of his spouse to cancer. How many people do we run into who deal with others through sarcasm and open insults and they can’t even blame a past experience for their current approach? In the series Gervais’ character argues “I have proven treating others with kindness and fair play do not reward me with anything. As a matter of fact that makes me a mark for others.”

I am convinced there are many on this earth that do believe this statement. However, I don’t, and I never have. I was fortunately raised to treat everyone with the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would have them treat yourself.” One of the byproducts of a pastor mom, you get lectured repeatedly in your youth about life lessons and your conduct. Of course, there were other reasons I needed lectures about my conduct too but hey, I was listening, I just did not chose to put it into action until my adult years. Once I reached adulthood, sometime in my mid-20’s-maybe 30’s, I truly began to treat others as I hoped they would treat me.

Applying the Golden Rule isn’t easy, some people actually get suspicious when you treat them well and there is no visible positive outcome for you. Some even try to reject your kindness. Also, do not think for a second there is any kind of 1-for-1 reaction when you treat others with kindness. “Gee, if I lend someone the money they don’t have to get their lunch I will immediately find $20 in the dryer at home.” That isn’t how any of this works.

Building relationships, treating others with kindness, sewing those seeds of positive results takes time. Think of it as farming, if you grew up on a farm you will get this quickly. Many farmers plant crops in April and May and then hope those crops will survive a flood, drought, hail, weeds, the neighbor’s cattle who routinely get out and mow it down, and every other brand of pestilence, just to get a reward 4 months later. There is no emotion in that reward, just food for cattle or humans who never say thank you. There is so much that could go wrong during that time but yet the farmer wakes up every morning to prepare the ground, plant the seed, cultivate, and remove the weeds, with the faith that in the end an inanimate plant will reach maturity and produce a healthy crop.

Why aren’t we willing to do that with everyone around us? Also, it has been my experience in many cases, those people who we have planted seeds with, helped them survive their droughts, floods, and hail storms in life, do genuinely show appreciation in the end. I have experienced it repeatedly. It may not happen immediately, I have had some individuals come back and thank me 20 years later for an act of support or kindness that at the time I didn’t see as significant beyond just walking through my normal day.

Positivity towards others doesn’t cost us anything, it doesn’t hurt, we have an unlimited supply, we just need to chose to use it.