Hello Wisconsin: Day 50
06/08 (Day 50)
I woke up to another morning of being overly exhausted but was quite excited for what was to come. It was 6:30 and the sky was not completely covered with clouds although I can’t say it was quite sunny. I was on the road around 7:30 and hit up the Dubuque farmers market on my way eastward. I was amazed to see the streets covered with booths selling local food, crafts, and goods. Dubuque amazed me again today with its excitement for local culture and with their excitement about creating a healthy planet. My host Rob from Dubuque Bike Coop was set up down there and I learned about some of the great stuff they are doing. They make it easy for anyone to own a bike. For around $75 you can get a solid used ride. You can even use a bike for 3 months with a deposit that will be returned when you return the bike.
My goal was to be at Keith’s organic farm at 10:00 and it was 23 miles away so I had to get out of the market rather quickly. That was a challenge with all the people wanting to check out my bamboo bike and the solar panels plus everyone who knows me knows I like to talk about the earth. I made it out of there and shortly after found myself crossing the Mississippi river into my homeland of Wisconsin. I was still quite exhausted so I wasn’t jumping for joy but I was quite excited on the inside. The ride to Cuba City was pretty easy on the body and the eyes with all the beautiful rolling hills full of lush green vegetation. I arrived at the farm around 10:45 and the sun was out in nearly full force. Keith welcomed me to his farm that had been there since 1848 and I spent three hours learning about his organic farm. He has about 360 dairy cows that he milks. Here are some of the great things about this Organic Valley farm and some information about dairy farming.
The cows are almost completely grass fed. They eat about 70 pounds of food per day, which is all grass from the pasture except 7 pounds of supplement grain. Each cow drinks about 50 pounds of water per day. This 120 pounds of input creates about 7 or 8 gallons of milk (60 pounds). They produce all of the grain right here on the farm and hey have 1,000 acres of grains growing including corn, alfalfa, oats, and sorghum. All of the grains are organically produced and if all goes right with the weather no feed has to be shipped in.
The cows spend the whole day out on the pasture except a few hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening when they are inside being milked.
The cows are very well cared for and of course no hormones are used.
All the manure and pee is moved to a holding pond using a gravity feed and they then use it to spread on the crops as organic fertilizer. This is a closed loop system.
Cows live for 7 or 8 years on this farm.
All of the water they use is well water, which means they are not diverting it from rivers or lakes.
These farmers also grow food for themselves on their farm, compared to industrial farmers who rarely eat anything they produce. The Wilson’s drink the milk they harvest and eat meat from cows they raise. They raise fruits and vegetables on the farm including apples, strawberries, garlic, pears, and greens. A lot of the other food they eat is from the network of Organic Valley farms in the area including eggs from Ihm’s farm in Lancaster.
This was a wonderful learning experience for me. I learned all about pasteurization, milk fat percentages, milking, diet, and so much more. This information is so valuable and I urge everyone reading this to start learning about where your food comes from. We need food to live and it is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of our lives along with water, shelter, fresh air, and exercise. We eat food multiple times per day every day. Doesn’t it make sense to have an invested interest in it?
I grew up in Wisconsin, the dairy state, and lived there for 23 years without visiting a dairy farm except for maybe on a school field trip. I too am guilty of not being knowledgeable of where much of my food comes from but I am changing that. It was an amazing feeling to drink milk that had come from the cow’s udders that morning. It was unpasteurized but had already been cooled in the holding tank and since I was there in the afternoon I did not get to milk a cow myself. I will do that on this trip and I will be able to tell you first hand that milk comes out of the cow at about 98 degrees, not cold.
I am very excited about Organic Valley’s acts of sustainability and very excited to continue learning about their co-op of organic farms and how their farmers are farming in a way that is better for the environment than industrial farms. Keith was a farmer through and through. He grew up on that land that homesteaded by his family in 1848. He was happy to be living off the land producing food that he could be proud to feed his family and the American consumer. I don’t think the man stopped smiling for a minute and I know he was excited every day to be a farmer doing good for the earth, his community, and his country. This is the kind of family that I want producing the food I eat.
When I parted ways with the Wilson’s I also parted ways with my cameraman Brent. I decided it was best for us to take some time apart from each other. In general we do get along quite well and work well together but we are both very independent people and we’ve spent the last 50+ days together. I was growing tired of always being with him and haven’t been able to enjoy his company or my days as much because of it. We also have very clashing viewpoints on many topics and a very different outlook on life. I hoped that when we reunited in Madison we would be refreshed and able to work well together again. So he headed east to Madison and I headed north to visit friends from college in their hometowns. I was excited to have the ability to get quality time with my Wisconsin friends without having to introduce someone that didn’t have a history with them as well.
It was freeing to pedaling solo and I imagined lying in a green pasture for part of the afternoon taking the sun in. Instead I headed to Platteville barefoot with the idea of relaxing in a park but ended up at Driftless Market, which was an absolute gem of a store. I felt free being there on my own and my ten minute quick stop ended up being a joyous and knowledge filled three hours. The store and the people inside filled my heart with happiness. I learned of all the amazing things they are doing for their community and the consumers and was thoroughly impressed. A few things they do that stuck out to me are:
30% of the food they purchase is from the local region.
The jams on their shelves are made in the store from fruits that are no longer good enough to sell. So rather than throw it away like 98 out of 100 stores I’ve been too would, they turn it into a desirable product.
The soups they prepare are partially made from vegetables that are no longer good enough to keep on the shelves. They treated me to a bowl of soup and it was exquisite.
They have a large diverse bulk food section. Buying in bulk makes sense because there is no packaging that needs to be disposed of and you can buy just what you need resulting in less waste.
Produce that cannot be used to make jams or soup is composted. They produce about 10 gallons of compost per day from the store and cafe. Standard grocery stores would throw this in the dumpster but they compost it which turns it into organic fertilizer which they then use on their plants at home. Some of which even ends up back on the shelves! They are so good at reducing and reusing here at the Driftless Market that they don’t even have a dumpster!
They have bulk Dr. Bronner’s soap and laundry detergent which means no wasting plastic bottles every time you need another bottle of soap.
They put 10 cents into a jar every time a customer does not use a plastic bag and that money goes to a local good cause.
I picked up locally produced sunflower seed oil, which will make my cooking so much better. I haven’t been able to find locally produced oil since California. The owners and employees of the store definitely practice the triple bottom line, which means when making decisions they take into account people, profit, and the planet. It was such a wonderful experience with them but I had to get going so that I would make it to Lancaster in time to get a good nights rest. I was very excited to be spending the night with the Carroll’s, who were the parents of a girl I dated in college. They weren’t going to be home until late so I had the house to myself for a while. I hadn’t been there for three years and in the past I would visit with Abby, the girl I was dating, so I thought it was going to be quite funny to be in their house by myself. They are family to me though and told me to make myself at home. Riding into Lancaster brought an interesting feeling into my gut. I felt at home being in a familiar city in my home state but at the same time felt like an outcast. I think this was because I actually had ties in this city and I had not had a real tie to any of the thousand or so cities I had passed through in the last fifty days. This familiarity in a place where I was still alone brought me mixed feelings. I arrived at the house around 7:00 sat around and relaxed for a bit and then curled up in the guest bedroom before 9:00. I was absolutely exhausted and so thankful to have this night to rest up and spend some time alone.