The Results Are In for the 3rd Annual Local Hero Awards!
By Wendy Allen | Photos By Jim Klousia | Illustrations By Bambi Edlund 0
As a “people’s choice” award, the Local Hero Award winners were nominated by and voted on by you, our readers, which makes this award all the more meaningful to the recipients. Thanks to you for recognizing the hard work these organizations and businesses have put into championing farm fresh, locally-produced food.
In this third year, your chosen awardees hail from a different part of our region than they have in past years, demonstrating the strength of southern Wisconsin’s urban-rural connection. We are pleased and proud to represent a region that embraces its rural roots from Driftless hills and coulees to Capitol Square.
And now, we present your 2014 Local Hero Award winners!
Cate and Mat Eddy
Ridgeland Harvest, Viroqua
Cate and Mat Eddy of Ridgeland Harvest Farm grow certified organic produce and raise beef, pork and chicken on organic pastures. They clearly love what they do and love every bit of real food that comes from their patch of earth, whether bright and perfect or a little buggy and misshapen, because when they look around at the countryside, they’ve noticed “there is certainly not a lot of food for humans.”
Not only are the Eddys preserving rural culture through the food they raise, but also through preserving the farm’s historic red barn—this at a time when so many are falling into ruin to be replaced by modern, sharp-angled, steel barns. They raise money through fundraising and each year do a little more to keep this red treasure functional, safe and beautiful.
They primarily sell through their CSA, but you may also find them at the Dane County Farmers’ Market.
In their words: “It brings meaning to our world knowing we are feeding real people like you. We want you to witness the realness of our food. That it is rooted in a real place on this earth.”
Chef Luke Zahm
Driftless Cafe, Viroqua
You could call Luke Zahm the Driftless’s prodigal chef, growing up in the area, leaving to work in kitchens around the Midwest, then returning with his wife, Ruthie, and family to take over—and revitalize—Viroqua’s Driftless Café in 2013.
The café has been a fixture in the Viroqua community for many years and always had an aim toward quality, local food. Now under the energetic direction of the Zahms, its farm to table values and Chef Luke’s love of good food truly show in every dish. The café’s menu is committed to local—their many farm and artisan sources are all listed on the website—and changes with the seasons, taking advantage of the Driftless Region’s local abundance.
In his words: “Seasonal menus – locally sourced – written in chalk.”
Wisco Pop, Viroqua
When demand became so founder Austin Ashley could no longer call brewing his craft sodas a hobby, he and his wife, Hallie, took the plunge and launched Wisco Pop. Wisco Pop is craft brewed soda made with real ingredients: organic freshjuiced citrus, pure honey and real herbs and spices. No processed corn, no artificial flavors. Bonus points for their reusable packaging—a 5 gallon keg or a cute 2.5 gallon "pig" dispenser (which actually looks like a pig). Since their founding in only 2012, they’ve grown to distribute to 30 locations in Madison, Milwaukee and Viroqua, and recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money to put Wisco Pop in bottles.
In their words: “Nature has all the flavor needed… KEEPIN’ IT REAL,” and “A local beverage that makes it safe to drink soda again.”
Viroqua Food Co-op, Viroqua
VFC is a thriving natural foods cooperative that has, over the past 15-plus years, grown from humble beginnings as a simple buying club into a store and deli with more than 2,800 owners. Their current building incorporates green building techniques, and they focus on sourcing local and organic produce and products, and fair trade when applicable. The co-op also sponsors educational events and donates to local organizations; notably, the second Wednesday of each month is One Percent Wednesday, when the store donates one percent of the store’s gross sales to a non-profit organization selected by the membership.
VFC’s website not only informs about their products but educates about current food issues and what it means to be a cooperatively-owned business, tells the stories of the many local producers who supply the co-op, and supports the community by publicizing local food-related projects and events.
In their words: “Viroqua Food Cooperative strives to be an active partner in our community. We work to strengthen ties within the community and to provide alternative food buying options for Viroqua.”
Driftless Folk School, Viroqua
The concept of the folk school originated in the 1800s with the Danish writer, poet, philosopher and pastor N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872), who believed students should be taught practical skills and that education should be imbued with a spirit of freedom and cooperation. Folk schools are popular in Nordic countries, Germany and Austria, so it makes sense that one would find its home in Wisconsin, with our Norse and German heritages.
The Driftless Folk School is a unique educational organization that is preserving rural culture by offering experiences in agriculture, natural history, arts and crafts, and traditions of rural Wisconsin and other cultures, with a goal of inspiring lifelong learning. Classes include blacksmithing, wild edibles, carpentry skills, weaving and so much more. Many of the classes Driftless Folk School offers are “dying arts,” skills that have become unnecessary in the wake of modern conveniences, making them all the more important to preserve and protect.
In their words: “A folk school not only connects us to our past but it also helps us to connect to the materials we use and therefore to our environment, to our food, our shelter, and our own survival.”