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:

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.

Officially Marty’s Marriage (or any relationship for that matter) Tips have a permanent home.

There are quite a few people who have come to know me as the guy behind Marty’s Marriage Tips. These are very unofficial, sloppily put together memes, meant to bring humor to our relationship struggles. My experience in this area, together with an understanding and determined partner in my wife Teri, we have worked through the bump and grind that is a marital relationship, successfully, for 30+ years. (Ha, ha, ha, I said “bump and grind”.) It hasn’t always been pretty, as you will find out if you keep checking in, it has been a little tough sledding at times, and I am guilty of making some of the most obvious bonehead moves a married partner can make. However, I do have a good sense of humor, a fairly strong ability to communicate even in the worst of situations, and somehow despite my missteps we have been able to land on our feet through every difficulty.

I also worked for almost 20 years as a relationship manager working with Wisconsin Public School Districts bringing financial education to staff members. This during the tumultuous time of “Act 10” in Wisconsin. If you are just hearing about this, Act 10 removed Collective Bargaining for all public employees and brought in some extreme changes to the employment rules and retirement benefits. I was at the forefront of trying to help those whose world had been turned upside down overnight. But more notable, I had to approach District Administrators and local school boards for permission to bring this education to their staff’s, when they had been given the keys to “get even” for 30 years of collective bargaining in which they feel they had been regularly punched in the throat by the same union I worked with.

I was also a high school football coach, almost 20 years, 11 as an assistant and 9 as a head coach. While this in itself isn’t particularly notable, it might be how I spent those head coaching years. Along with some great supporting folks, (more on those guys later) as a head coach we took over two different teams during those 9 years who had not won a game the previous year and within 3 seasons we had them either in the playoffs or on the brink of a playoff game. Even more noteworthy, at one of those stops I was the head coach at Weston School District. During my time there we experienced something I hope no one ever has to go through again. 7 Minutes before the start of the school day, a Homecoming Friday, one of our Senior football players Erik Fichtel, died in a car crash on the way to school, and then as the school day started another student came in with two firearms and ultimately took the life of a great man, high school Principal John Klang. At some point you will learn more about these experiences from this blog, but they taught me many things about empathy, the value of time together, and making the best of every opportunity.

You are finding this in the Ridge and Valley Tours Blog because we are all about “Telling Our Local Story”. If you have also been following along you will have noticed we are all about the people. We are believers that we are all in this together to tell each other’s story and make this an experiential relationship between our farm and business partners and our participating clients. We want to get to know you and we want you to meet and relate with all of us.

If you are still reading this solely for the humor, you might be disappointed, I will share moments of very tragic and intense sincerity. If you are reading this for only serious marital, or relationship guidance, you might get annoyed by the moments of humor. However, I argue one of the important characteristics of a person who can commit to, and successfully navigate, a long-term relationship is they have a strong self-deprecating sense of humor. Don’t take yourself so serious that you can’t make fun of yourself or you run the risk of not being vulnerable or approachable and setting up a situation in which your business/marital/or other relationship partner will also be afraid to be real with you.

So as you read this, and I hope in the future, we have to agree to a couple of things:

#1. I am not an expert, I just have a ton of relationship experience in marriage, in business, and in friendships. I can tell you exactly what not to do and sometimes I can even tell you what you should do. But this is all through experience, I don’t have a degree, I don’t have a certification, but I have some interesting personal experience in dealing through stressful situations and building positive relationships.

#2. Relationships are fluid, I don’t think this will happen, (Marty’s Note: I am an insurance/investment guy so everything to me is “what is the probability of this happening” and I give this a less than 1% chance of coming to pass) but it is possible that by the time you read this my wife of 30+ years may have dumped me. All relationships are constantly changing, evolving, growing wether we like it or not. I will address the importance for us to change and evolve together later on, because much like death and taxes…..change among us will happen.

#3. You need to agree to be vulnerable in your relationships. This doesn’t mean you lay down and let your partner run over you, it means you have to be comfortable with yourself and do not attempt to hide your flaws by aggressive overcompensation through talk or actions. One example, If you are a poor day-to-day money manager, admit it, don’t try to take excessive control of the day-to-day finances to hide the weakness from your partner. That will only exacerbate the problem when it is found out,,,,and trust me from experience, it will be found out. (Or so a friend told me? 🙂

#4. Respect your partner’s admitted weakness and their trust in you when they are vulnerable. This is the old Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. All of the work we do to build a relationship, to improve that relationship and to build trust, can be totally thrown in the garbage with a few ill thought-out comments. Be sensitive to a partner’s vulnerabilities and their process of admitting they exist.

I hope you continue to follow, I also hope you read these particular entries and at some point say, “Dang, that just spoke to me and helped me understand where I am struggling.” I also hope at some point I bring that laugh you needed, just at the right time you needed it. I would also love to see you join us in person on a tour and meet some pretty awesome people.

Giddyup, Marty


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!