I found my happy place this weekend. A place where no one honks when you take a wrong turn, where crowds cheer when you talk about cheese, and where the locals celebrate the end of their marriage by stapling handwritten cardboard signs to intersection road signs, pointing “This way to the Davis/Matthews divorce party”. That was my experience this past weekend at the Kickapoo Country Fair in La Farge, Wis.
In its tenth year, the Kickapoo County Fair now draws an average crowd of about 10,000 people over a period of two days. Everyone from the 450 Organic Valley local dairy farmers and their families, to national organic experts, to tourists from the tri-state area, gather on the grounds of Organic Valley Headquarters, eating local food, talking about the latest national food industry news, and listening to a variety of local and nationally-known music groups including The Squeezettes, the Lawful Contra-band, Brett Dennen and Synister Dane and the Kickapoo Disco Cosmonuts.
It’s quite a sight to behold. Tents full of vendors, stands full of food, stilt walkers dressed as giant fairies, and educational seminars galore – with topics ranging from “organic eating on a dime” to “the basics of home energy performance” to “gardening by the moon” — all taking place over the course of two days.
I was on hand to lead the “Wisconsin Cheese Renaissance” seminar, where I talked about farmstead and artisan cheesemakers for an hour to a crowd of about 100 people. Of course, the cheese stole the show — we tasted Hidden Springs Creamery’s Driftless Cheese, Marieke Fenugreek Gouda, Organic Valley Raw Milk Cheddar, and Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar. I left home with 10 pounds of cheese and returned with an empty cooler.
Then it was on to a two-hour beer & cheese tasting, where Mark Knoebel of Sand Creek Brewing Company and I led another 100 people through a series of 10 beer and cheese pairings. Let’s just say that after drinking eight glasses of beer, I don’t remember too much of what I said about the last two cheeses, other than people were cheering when I exited the stage. I figure this is a good thing.
Often after I agree to do these kinds of things, I regret having said yes — knowing it will take two days out of my schedule, put 300 miles on my car and time away from my family. But this event was amazing. I got to meet and talk one-on-one with so many interesting people — everyone from Woody Tasch, who’s leading a Slow Money effort, to Tim LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute. I also got to reconnect with several industry folks I hadn’t seen in awhile – people like Peter Weber, founder of Potter’s Crackers, the best artisan cracker around. I also have to give a shout-out to Mark Dohm, chief volunteer at the event, whom I haven’t seen much of since our days working together at the Exponent, college newspaper at good ol’ UW-Platteville.
After spending two days eating nothing but healthy food and talking endlessly about how many toxins are being built up in our bodies from all the corn syrup-induced foods being force-fed down our throats from corporate America, I really had a craving for a Diet Coke. So on my way home I stopped at the local Kwik Trip to get my caffeine/sugar fix.
Standing in line, holding my commercial, corn-syrup-laden, toxin-inducing beverage, I felt kind of guilty. What if someone I had talked to all weekend walked in only to see my giving in to corporate America?
My fears were nearly realized when the man standing in front of me in the check-out line, dressed in jeans, a cut off t-shirt and leather belt with “JACK” branded into the back, turned around to politely talk about the weather with me to pass the time. I had taken him for an organic farmer and was trying to hide my soda. Then I looked down, noticed he was holding a bottle of Mountain Dew and a box of Glazer Donuts, and inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. It just goes to show that it’s easy to talk the talk, but really freakin’ hard to walk the walk. I’m still trying.