It's been a long while since I've peddled a long distance, and Saturday's Ride to Farm was just the right reason to do so! I can imagine nothing so grand as a rolling ride through the green hills of Wisconsin's Driftless Region, a meandering loop from Barneveld to Dodgeville to Spring Green and returning to Birch Lake Park. And if you are not from Wisconsin and that doesn't mean anything to you, picture this: limitless acres of cows grazing happily in lush pastures, tall green hay fields undulating in the wind, stretches of corn field with a barely visible haze of green as the late-planted crop finally begins to emerge, all framed by a vast blue sky parading an endless display of clouds. And that was just the landscape, the company was (as hard as it is to imagine) even better. We palled around with dairy farmers, agriculture teachers, and new and old friends who love bikes and believe in family farms.
In my estimation, there is nothing better than an organized ride. Or to be more specific, a ride planned and executed by someone else. Not only was this route gorgeous, but it was painstakingly pre-established and professionally mapped by a thoughtful crew. It's a nice feeling to sit on your saddle and not have to worry if you mistakenly have lost your way while admiring the landscape...as there are giant, neon green arrows and signs pointing you in the right direction at every turn. (But, of course, despite the excellent marking and cue sheet we still got off course, yet magically back on course, without even realizing we had gone astray. The upside: we encountered one of the best downhills of all times along the way.) However, every organized ride usually shines because of the tasty pit-stops along the way, and this was no exception.
It's not every day that you get to peddle up to (and I mean up) to one of Wisconsin's premier farmstead cheese operations to have s nack, as we did to Uplands Cheese. What can be better than taking in the farm, snacking on award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve, ogling cows in the grass, and meeting the amazing cheesemaker all within an hour? Not much. As you can see below, we really weren't enjoying ourselves at all.
We departed Uplands Cheese for another gorgeous 17-mile stretch of road into downtown Spring Green to a lunch of our own choosing. We passed Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, meandering streams snaking through pastures and dreams about what our retirement farm will look like. We stopped in to the Spring Green General Store for lunch and refreshed with delicious hippie food, chocolate and locally created Wisco Pop. Refreshed, we hopped back on the saddle for a short (as in 7 mile), windy-in-your-face jaunt to Cates Family Farm where we were greeted by a herd of friendly beer steer and the allure of Cates Family Farm Summer Sausage, which is hands-down the best treat to look forward to on a bike ride day!
Beyond the workout and the scenery and the delicious food, the hands-down-ultimate-best part of the ride was our reason for being there. More than once we were asked how we came upon this ride and why we were on our bikes. I got excited every time I had the chance to explain that I graduated from the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers (WSBDF), and how important the class was in finding our farm and attempting to navigate the FSA Beginning Farmer Loan Program. And from there we'd chat excitedly about our plans to raise heritage pigs, laying hens and perennial orchard fruit to the enthusiastic nods of whoever was stuck conversing with us. But it really is true, the WSBDF helped us find our bearings in the Wisconsin grazing community, finally hunker down and scratch out a business plan, and ultimately apply for a Beginning Farmer Loan through the Farm Service Agency. (Right! That's sort of a big deal and I haven't shared too much here yet, but I promise more word is coming soon). So we were excited to raise a combined (almost-but-not-quite) $500 to bolster this program, with much thanks to our generous friends and family who supported us and believe in the value of developing new farmers in Wisconsin.
The 53-mile ride was a wonderful celebration of farming, grazing, and support for beginning farmers in the state. It was amazing to ride among such an inspiring pack of bikers, and to feel supported in our journey to start our own farm as well. Three cheers to those who support beginning farmers, we can't thank you enough!
Originally posted at just.write.food