If news about the local foods movement seems to be everywhere these days, that's partly because so much of it is unfolding right before your eyes. Madison has the reputation as an epicenter of sustainable eating, a place where there's broad access to, and escalating support for, family farms and local fare.
But what about outside the capital city? Shouldn't the pleasures and benefits of local foods be available in Wisconsin's small towns, too? Absolutely, say participants of the Southwest Wisconsin Local Food Summit, held April 22, Earth Day, in tiny Belmont.
The event brought together farmers, rural residents, local leaders, nonprofit groups and others to work on expanding the sale of local products in the area. It was sponsored by Local Fare, a project of the UW-Platteville Office of Continuing Education that promotes a regional vision for increasing access to local foods.
"It's good that there's farm-to-school programs in Madison and that restaurants buy my produce in Chicago," said vegetable farmer and event organizer Rink DaVee during his opening remarks. "But what motivates me is that my son is going to go to school in Mineral Point."
During the daylong summit attendees explored how to align existing resources, increase the venues where Wisconsin products are sold and develop marketing strategies for producers. They also shared information about recent successes and coming endeavors in the region, including the following:
A burgeoning concentration of local-foods-minded restaurateurs in Mineral Point, such as the Old Royal Inn's Jim ("Webb") Jacka (his Earth Day menu featured watercress-sprouts salad, bison Salisbury steak and maple fudge) and Michael Hayes, who will reopen the historic Walker House this year as a sustainable dining establishment, and is working to develop a distribution system for like-minded area chefs.
Several developments on the grocery store front: local food-focused markets that have opened in the last two years in Spring Green and Paoli; the recent expansion of the Pine River Co-op in Richland Center; and a new, medium-sized store called the Driftless Market coming this summer to Main Street in Platteville. The latter, says co-founder and farmers' market vendor Robin Timm, grew out of a desire to find more places for her and another grower to sell their produce. The store will feature local meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and packaged goods, and will also house a deli and sell artwork created by locals. Operators hope to eventually market a line of their own jams, jellies, pickles and other value-added products, and start a catering operation.
An apple orchard being established in rural Hollandale for the purpose of making fine-crafted draft and vintage ciders. Growers Deirdre Birmingham and John Biondi hope to break ground on their cidery this year.
The opening this week of the U.S. headquarters of Canada's large goat cheese producer, Woolwich Dairy, in Lancaster. Cheese makers will craft fresh, soft unripened goat cheese using milk largely sourced from goat dairies in Wisconsin.
A grassroots effort to bring fresh local foods to the schools in Prairie du Chien, begun by full-time mom and former chemical engineer Kathleen Hein.
Plans for a larger food-processing facility at the Hodan Center Inc., a community rehabilitation organization serving adults with disabilities. Based in Mineral Point, Hodan produces a line of gift food items and has set a goal to source half their ingredients from local producers. The expanded processing kitchen would also be a place where area farmers could have their crops processed into marketable products.
As Timm notes, "Usually these kinds of things happen in Madison and bigger cities." But in rural southwestern Wisconsin, "We have a wealth of resources out here, and now more people are becoming aware [of it]."