Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Sturgis of Organic

Harley riders have Sturgis. Film fans have Sundance. Cheese enthusiasts have the American Cheese Society.

All are destinations for like-minded folks to meet, share and celebrate their interests. So here's one more -- if you appreciate organic food and are looking for a bit of local flavor, then you now have your own Sturgis. So get in your car, jump on your bike, or stick out your thumb and flag down a ride, because Organic Valley is once again hosting the Kickapoo Country Fair, the Midwest’s largest organic food and sustainability festival of its kind.

Organic Valley – a farmer-owned cooperative of more than 1,300 organic family farmers nationwide – actually launched the Kickapoo Country Fair six years ago as an annual celebration of life in the Kickapoo River Valley in southwest Wisconsin. A few people came, pitched a tent and bonded over organic food. Today, it’s become a major event venue where thousands of fair-goers from across the country gather to hear and meet nationally recognized organic leaders, celebrated musicians and renowned authors.

The goal? To connect around food, arts and regional culture. And, if you're like me, to mostly eat really good food.

Held Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26 in tiny LaFarge, Wis. (pop. 750), the Kickapoo Country Fair features two days of food, music, bike and farm tours, cooking demonstrations, theater, kids’ activities, dancing, author readings, and a keynote panel featuring organic pioneers.

I know what you're thinking. Why would I want to go hang out with a bunch of granolas and what does this have to do with cheese?

Because Organic Valley is an important player in Wisconsin's dairy industry. We have more organic dairy farms - 433 to be exact - than any other state in the nation, and these are not great days for organic dairy farmers (or any other dairy farmers for that matter). With milk prices once again at cyclical lows and feed prices at all-time highs, it's actually costing Wisconsin dairy farmers more to produce milk than they are getting paid for it. In fact, according to a recent report, organic dairy farmers are losing $3 per hundredweight of milk and having to borrow money just to keep running.

So I'd encourage you this year to head on up to the Kickapoo Country Fair to support the state's dairy farmers and celebrate local food. As an added bonus, I'll be leading a Wisconsin artisan cheese tasting at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The event as a whole is a great way to celebrate connections to friends, culture and community. Weekend passes, which include access to all activities, are $10 for adults, $8 for kids 12 and under, and kids five and under are free. Buy them online here.

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