Thursday, June 17, 2010

Farm Fresh Atlas of Southeastern Wisconsin

Farm Fresh Atlas is invaluable (and fun) resource
By Sheryl Popp

From pumpkin farms to fresh eggs, from roadside stands to organic produce, look into the Farm Fresh Atlas of Southeastern Wisconsin to find a place to buy these items locally. I came across the Atlas several years ago, and thought it would make for a great story.

To learn more, I spoke with Rose Skora, agriculture educator for the UW Extension, Racine/Kenosha counties. She was pleased to share the history of the Atlas, now in its sixth edition. There are five independent atlases in the state: Eastern, Western, Central, South and this one. The idea for a southeastern version happened at a meeting in Dane County that Rose attended. At that meeting were representatives of the UW Co-op system, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Town & Country Resources Conservation and Development. "The last two are grass roots organizations supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Slow Food of Wisconsin," said Rose. "Everyone who was at the table was there to talk about local food issues and educational issues." She was referring to the importance of sustainability, or sustainably grown food. Sustainable food growing practices, and the products thereof, benefit the consumer, the producer and the environment. "At the time," said Rose, "we were focusing all our efforts on farmers. But if the consumer base doesn't support their (the farmers') effort to market locally, it can't work." The focus group decided the Atlas was a great idea, and why reinvent the wheel? They contacted the appropriate people at the Southern (and oldest) Atlas, who supported the idea of a southeastern Wisconsin version of the publication.

"Each year in the off season," said Rose, "representatives from the different atlas areas have a collaborative meeting, but each version is its own entity. Our first year was a challenge. No one had a database of direct marketing farmers, so we used a lot of state agency lists. Also each committee member used their own mailing list. It was a lot of work to put together, and also to get press releases out to promote it." Rose went on to say that now, the Atlas is a recognized entity, and farmers contact them. "Having a waiting list of people to get into the Atlas is a nice problem to have," she said. "The business side of it is still a challenge. For example, it's eight pages longer this year, and we have to find the funding to pay for the printing costs. All our funding comes from the listing fees the farmers pay."

The Atlas is a year round guide. It reaches 80,000 consumers. It lists what products a participating farm produces (eggs, meat, flowers, etc.), whether they sell on-site or participate in farmers' markets (and which ones), if they're organic, a U-Pick or a community supported agriculture (CSA) site. A map shows the general location of each. Indexes list business sponsors and southeastern Wisconsin farmers' markets. Listees pledge their commitment to the following principals, developed by the Southern Atlas people: reduce synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, conserve land and water, treat animals with respect and give them access to the outdoors, support local and sustainable business partners and provide safe and fair working conditions for employees. Further, they are family or cooperatively owned. In the last several years, 70% of the advertisers have reported they have had known sales as a result of the Atlas. There is also complimentary email arriving on the Atlas' site from consumers. "That's the really exciting part," said Rose. "Seeing the enthusiasm and interest from customers who use the Atlas and know it helps keep farmers on their land. It's the key driving component for doing it."

Rose mentioned that Alan Linnebur, Agricultural Agent with the UW Extension for Washington County, is the local distributor of the Atlas, and the link with participating farmers and other participating businesses in the county. He can be reached at to learn more about listing in the Atlas. He also highly recommended getting the perspective of several of Washington County's listers. I spoke to Diana Susan, at Meadow Creek Elk Farm, and several folks at Wellspring, a CSA in Newburg. Diana sent these comments:

Many years ago when we became a part of the Farm Fresh Atlas, we realized it was more than marketing our elk meat to consumers; it’s about being a part of a movement that links neighbors to one another, resulting in building a stronger, healthier community.

We believe that offering products and food that is produced locally, we are a part of an enduring stimulus plan that will energize the community allowing dollars to be recycled over and over again.

The customers that visit Meadow Creek Elk Farms are eager to purchase our elk meat, knowing that what they are eating is free of hormones and antibiotics, but they also are there because they want to contribute to a better environment by supporting local agriculture.

I drove to Wellspring, having never visited before, and because it was an opportunity to take some photos on pack-out day. Jeff Schreiber, farm manager, was busy working and directing the volunteers who very efficiently washed and packed the day's produce. "This is a great resource for us," he said. "We have had direct results from the Atlas. We have four or five drop off sites, and about 30 members that pick up here. Today, we're packing about 100 boxes." They had a great variety of early produce, lettuces, spinach, chives, radishes and different greens. Some workers trade labor for part of the cost of their share. I also chatted with Angie Restler, executive director of Wellspring. She believes Wellspring is the first organic CSA in Wisconsin, having begun in 1988. The 36 acre property was purchased by Mary Ann Ihm in '82. It was her dream to launch this type of cooperative farm. "Half of our 100 shares are half shares, so we reach 200 families," said Angie. There is so much more going on at Wellspring that I have agreed to feature Wellspring's operation in an upcoming In Good Taste story. Look for that this summer.

You can request a copy of the Atlas online at You can also simply look up all the information on the main website. Many of the folks in Washington and Ozaukee counties are at our local farmer markets, but making farm visits is really a lot of fun too. Whenever I have done this, I always feel a lot more connected to both food and producer, and have learned more than one can on market day. There are more than a dozen listings in these two counties, with many others just a short drive away.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

To continue their mission of helping others, Washington County Red Cross needs our help
By Sheryl Popp

The Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross always depends on the financial support of businesses and individuals to operate. Since the Stonebridge Apartment Building fire in West Bend last April 2, the need for funding has accelerated. I visited with Kim Maggraf, executive director of the Washington County Chapter, to learn more.

This was not my first visit to the Red Cross in West Bend. In December of 2004, I chatted with the previous director and two local volunteers who had spent time in Florida, helping people recover after a number of hurricanes. As its new director, Kim was pleased to point out that the office has grown to encompass not only West Bend, but all of Washington County. That happened almost two years ago. Obviously, serving the entire county can stretch resources further than before. The mission of the American Red Cross is to prevent, prepare for and respond to, disasters. "We provide disaster services, disaster preparedness classes and emergency response services to the entire county," explained Kim. "That includes CPR training, first aid training, defibrillator training, swimming and lifeguard classes and babysitting training. We offer classes to the general public, businesses, schools and at area recreation departments," she finished. Classes are regularly provided in schools, and to businesses as they need it. "Businesses will generally try to have at least one or two employees per shift who can use a defibrillator and who are trained in CPR and first aid," said Kim. Regularly posted community training classes have fees associated with them to cover Red Cross expenses. Classes are held at various county locations. A brochure of summer offerings is now available, or visit for a listing.

Another vital role of the Red Cross is one I had not known about. "I don't think most people realize that we provide emergency services to members of the armed forces and their families in times of crisis," said Kim. I think, like me, most people believe that soldiers and other armed services personnel are more accessible to their families than during any other period in our wartime history. We see commercials about picture phones, and we're solicited to send all kinds of holiday messages to soldiers. "People also think that the military knows where everyone is at all times," explained Kim. "But these days there are just so many unknowns, especially in highly dangerous areas. So that kind of information is not always readily available. The Red Cross is the only organization that can provide these services. So, say a person serving overseas has an emergency at home. A family member can contact us and we will ask the military to help locate the service member. The US Armed Services trusts that the Red Cross will have investigated the situation quickly. And if the emergency is something like a medical crisis, we have to document it. In a recent case we just handled for a West Bend family, the military went through five units in five cities before they found the person we were looking for." Red Cross personnel are on call 24/7 for this service. Another way they offer assistance to families of active military personnel is emergency financial assistance, for example, travel expenses. "Often this is the form of a loan however," added Kim.

Kim Marggraf is making a daily commute from Sheboygan to perform her duties as director of the Washington County Red Cross. She doesn't mind the commute too much, since the drive down Hwy. 28 is enjoyable. "I was looking for a new position with a non-profit organization whose mission I believed in," she explained. "I happen to know the executive director of the Milwaukee Chapter, who let me know when this position opened." The decision was made last November, and Kim began working part time in January and full time last March. She has a professional background with non profit agencies, event planning and fundraising, so she was well equipped to take on this job. However, if she wanted a challenge, she got one. "I was still part time when Haiti happened, and hadn't been here very long on a full time basis when the West Bend fire occurred on April 2," said Kim. "We really had a lot of donations made to us after the Haiti disaster. We would like to recognize DCI Cheese in Richfield who donated $45,000 - $100 for each employee," she continued. "We're very grateful for all of the donations, and the situation there continues to be serious. But we still need monies directed toward Washington County too."

On April 2, some Red Cross volunteers were on the scene of the Stonebridge Apartment fire almost instantly. Others went to the office to help handle logistics. Area residents, according to Kim, gave generously to the families who lost everything. Donations included money, food and clothing, which was to go directly to fire victims. Other donations were made to the Red Cross, to be used by them for fire assistance. But the Red Cross' expenses still exceeded $10,000. "There were 60 homeless people after the fire," said Kim. "We provided them three nights of shelter if needed. We gave them a cash allowance for food, clothing and medical expenses. Our disaster budget has to be replenished." I asked what would happen if another disaster occurred in Washington County tomorrow. "We would be there," said Kim. "We would find a way because that's our mission and our commitment. We might have to cut down on staffing, or ignore building repairs and maintenance, but we would help." Another component of disaster assistance Kim thinks people might not know about is after care. The Red Cross offers counseling services, continuing into the weeks following the event, and also provides links to other service agencies that can offer more assistance. In addition to volunteering your time, or writing a check, there are two upcoming ways to assist The Washington County Chapter of The American Red Cross. The first is Culver's Walk for the Red Cross, on Sat., June 12. You can sign up for the walk at, or for more info, call 262-334-5687. Check in is at 9am and the walk is at 10am. The fee is $7 for individuals and $15 for a family. Not only do you get a great walk along the Ice Age Trail beginning at Culver's (as little or much of the five mile loop as you would like), you can also have lunch or a treat at Culver's and they'll donate 10% of all orders to the Red Cross. On Sat., June 26, Noodles & Company is donating 25% of all sales to the Red Cross when you mention the Red Cross with your order, between 11am and 7pm. How could helping out be any easier than ordering a bite to eat?

Kim provided the following fun recipe with a healthy sounding twist.

Sunflower Crisp Cookies
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups cornflakes
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup salted, roasted sunflower nuts
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg & vanilla. Crush cornflakes; there should be about 3/4 cup. Blend in flour, salt and 1/4 cup of the cornflake crumbs, reserve remaining crumbs. Stir in sunflower nuts. Chill dough thoroughly. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in remaining crumbs to coat evenly. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375ยบ for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.