On a clear perfect autumn day, nearly 50 Willy Street Co-op members and their children were transported via Badger Coach to some of Wisconsin’s most breathtaking regions. As we snaked our way through the back roads of Vernon and Crawford Counties, this magnificent day didn’t disappoint.
At our first stop, Turkey Ridge Orchard, we were met with generous samples of fresh, un-pasteurized apple cider. They were served up by Alex Person, Faye Rodgers and Greg Welsh, the members of the Midwest Organic Fruit Growers Cooperative (MOFGC). Sampling the sweet fruits was a fitting introduction to the orchard, which was only a short walk or hayride away.
All three MOFGC members accompanied the tour into the orchard, taking turns telling the history of their orchard, it’s workers and how their cooperative was founded and structured. While the group explored the orchard, we were able to see most of the farm animals which have regular job duties in the maintenance of the trees and surrounding areas.
After the orchard tour, members of Willy Street Co-op were especially intrigued by the price structure of shares for the MOFGC and how to purchase them. Currently, there are three types of owner shares: Class A—one of seven owner shares (Voting), $35,000 and 7800 labor hours; Class B—(Non-voting), $100.00/per and 3); Class W—Worker shares (Non-voting) calculated per hour worked.
After enjoying an enormous lunch at the orchard, our tour bus headed to Harmony Valley Farm, which is outside of Viroqua, WI.
Owners Linda Halley and Richard deWilde kicked off their leg of the tour in the large packing shed area that, although silent on the Sunday we were visiting, becomes a hub of activity when the washing and sorting of harvested greens begins.
Linda and Richard spoke frankly about the costs involved with running a large farm including both the actual price of labor as well as the benefits their high morals dictate they provide. As one of the first in their farming community to offer amenities such as insurance and retirement plans to their workers, Richard and Linda acknowledge the contribution made by their staff and want to provide a good life for them in order to maintain skilled and steady help.
We had plans to visit the Viroqua Co-op, time would not allow us that pleasure after spending invaluable time at each of the two farms.
Finally, a special thanks is in order to everyone on the tour. The group’s thoughtful and inquisitive mood made this an especially rewarding tour for the farmers and organizers.