Farm Fresh – Meet Your Farmer

Seibel’s Organic Dairy is a fifth-generation family owned and operated dairy farm near Bloomer, Wisconsin. Chuck and Diane Seibel bought the farm from his dad in 1983. Chuck transitioned the farm and became certified organic in 2001 in search of a healthier life style.  Their son Adam and his wife Chrissy joined the operation about ten years ago.  Around that time they all formed their pasture-raised organic meat business.

Why Organic?

Organic farming does not use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, which are designed to kill living organisms, can be harmful to wildlife, and can contaminate food, air, and water, as well as accumulate in our cells. Organic farmers also do not use synthetic growth or breeding hormones, which are often used to alter reproductive cycles and speed up growth. This means healthier, less stressed animals and less exposure to endocrine-disrupting hormones for those consuming organic meats. The Seibels do not use antibiotics in raising their beef, nor do they use any genetically modified crops. They seek to raise their animals in harmony with nature.  They feel strongly that their meat tastes better and has more flavor than other meats due to the humane way they are raised.

How Are the Animals Raised?

All of their animals are raised in well-ventilated facilities, all built since 2005.  From birth until two months of age, the calves receive milk, water, and calf starter, which is a mix of oats, corn, and all the right minerals to help them get off to a great start.  Calves are housed in a state-of-the-art calf facility with individual pens. From two to six months the calves eat oats and dry hay and are grouped in adjustable pens to comfortably house anywhere from two to fifteen calves Once the calves reach six months of age, they receive a majority of their feed from the farm’s rich, lush pastures.  If the weather is not ideal for them to be outside, they can come into the barn to cool off in the summer or warm up in the winter.

What Products Do They Sell?

Seibel’s Organic Meats, LLC, offers frozen ground beef, tenderloin, ribeye, New York strip, sirloin steak, round steaks, sirloin tip roast, rump roast, prime rib roast, and beef roast. Beef is also available by the eighth, quarter, or half.  They just recently began raising chickens.  Their chickens are fed all certified organic feed and raised with access to pasture.  These chickens are frozen whole and available year-round, however they are not certified organic due to processing plant licensing.  All items are available for pick up at the farm, but they ask that you call before coming to make sure someone will be there. All pricing is listed on their website.

Contact them at, call Chuck at (715) 568-2587 or Adam at (715) 933-2494. Visit them on the web at  or find them on Facebook

The Time, The Place is Now, and it’s in Eau Claire

When you ask Terry Vajgrt about local food, he lights up like he’s talking about his newborn baby. And The Informalist, in The Lismore hotel, opening this May, is his new baby. “This is really where my passion lies,” he said. “Here’s the thing. To me, it’s about hospitality. When I invite you into my home, I want to feed you THE best thing I can and give you THE best thing to drink.”

The Informalist will be a local food dining experience like no other. When you walk into the restaurant, the posh lighting, barn door tables and lounge booths, and the menu of local farmers’ home-grown goodness transports you out of your own world into one where eating is an experience, a culinary journey of growth and transcendence that happens on each plate.

Vajgrt and his wife, Paula Williams-Vajgrt, aren’t new to food—far from it. Owners of The Creamery in Downsville, Wisconsin, from 2008 to 2011, along with growing up on farms, the couple knows that this is where their organic food ethos comes from.

“We are very sure that that is a healthy way to eat and to be, in terms of our local environment, our local culture,” Terry said. They plan to draw on existing relationships with local farmers and get to know new farmers too, recognizing those farmers on the menu. “I always love farmers that are doing really unique things because it really brings art into farming,” he says. “It’s a beautiful thing. I mean, you go to a factory farm, and it’s a different experience than you go out to George and Emma’s farm out on D where they have 120 acres, and they’re producing animals or greens or whatever it is they’re doing—it’s just a different experience. And I really believe that from an economic standpoint, one of the worst things that could ever happen in Wisconsin is the disappearance of our family farms, and I think Big Agriculture has been in the forefront of that, pushing that. I understand the efficiencies that you gain when you’re big, bu if we are what we eat, then shouldn’t we care about how our animals are treated, what their life is like, how our plants are treated, how they’re getting their nutrients? People have gotten so far away from their food that they don’t know their food sometimes anymore. They don’t know where their food comes from.”

“Or they don’t question it,” Paula added.

In the restaurant and the coffee shop (ECDC, or Eau Claire Downtown Coffee), everything will be from locally produced ingredients, from scratch, or from suppliers who are sourcing their foods from other regional local farms. Vajgrt is glad to be part of trying to change the system toward meeting demand for more organic products. “If we can help turn that ship a little bit, that is our goal.”

People sometimes feel that organic food is too expensive, but Vajgrt suggests instead they ask, “Why is factory food so cheap?” Williams-Vajgrt added, “Why do we need an adjective in front of our food—organic food? Actually, better to think about, ‘What is food?’”

Vajgrt feels the food culture here in Eau Claire is changing for the better. “It’s changed a ton. Certainly other places have led that transformation, but I think Eau Claire is right there now.” But he adds, “There’s an awakening consciousness in Eau Claire overall, I’d say. Look at what’s going on in the downtown area, look what’s happening with the arts. People are really looking at quality of life things now that maybe at one point weren’t quite as important or just wasn’t thought about. There are some real foodies in Eau Claire now. I love what’s happening now with Eau Claire and the feeling of the community. And by buying more local and focusing on our local producers, it helps to continue to build that community. I know that’s what these young entrepreneurs that have invested a lot of money in this place are all about. They’re about community. What Justin Vernon’s doing, and what the guys are doing over at The Oxbow. Why are they doing this in Eau Claire? It’s their hometown. It’s their community. They want to build that community. And thankfully we have people that are now in leadership roles because of their success in other areas, they’re bringing that success back to our food, our entertainment on all levels. You know, dining out is entertainment. That whole process. The time, the place is now, and it’s in Eau Claire.”

Another soon-to-open downtown restaurant featuring good quality food in Eau Claire will be The Lakely, in The Oxbow Hotel, with Chef Nathan Berg at the helm, and opening mid-summer 2016. Berg too has close relationships with local farmers, suppliers, and producers.  “At this point, their ingredients are as much a part of my culinary style as anything I could possibly do in the kitchen.  As a chef, it would be pretentious of me to think that I alone create the dishes that I cook,” Berg notes.

He also enjoys picking and gathering foods he’ll use in the restaurant. “Whether it’s gardening or foraging, I continually make an effort to go outside to either raise or hunt for foods because, without that, I feel that I would lose touch with food’s origin. Again, the majority of the work of great chefs begins well before their ingredients enter the kitchen, so I think it’s important to do that kind of work, if not solely as a decent reminder of the processes of nature that ultimately create the stuff that I too often get credit for,” Chef Berg says.

But there is another reason he is so fond of foraging. “I have a life-long goal of helping to foster the development of a distinguishable Upper Midwest style of cuisine. And any regional cuisine should be defined, first and foremost, by food that are not just local, but native to that region. So I’ve spent years researching the foods and dietary customs of the Native American tribes from our region, and that has helped me to understand what foods were always here, not just brought with the white settlers. Low and behold, many of the plants and foods that these tribes relied upon for their sustenance are things that seem common to all of us here in the Upper Midwest today: maple syrup, venison, corn, freshwater fish, cranberries, etc.

But there are also a pretty significant number of foods that wee collected and enjoyed by peoples like the Anishinaabe and Menomonee—mostly plant-based—that have been essentially forgotten over the centuries. Thankfully, despite a slew of past and present environmental threats, many of these foods are still growing out in the woods and marshes and prairies; things like fiddlehead ferns, ramps, wild huckleberries, wapato, cattails, and a wide variety of fungi. I love utilizing these foods in the kitchen because it gives me the sense of breathing new life back into some very old food traditions. But it’s equally rewarding just to search for them as the hunt itself brings with it the side-benefits of fresh ai, exercise, and a deeper connection to the land.” NOTE: Berg warns that you shouldn’t forage unless you are very well educated about what plants are safe and what might potentially cause illness or death!

The Oxbow Hotel design will have a Midwest Modern feel, reminiscent of the old lakeside lodges we’re familiar with here in the north woods. The Lakely will reflect that feel and the feel of the Midwestern supper club. Berg explains, “It will definitely be an updated take on those kinds of menus, but I’d call that the ‘soul’ of our menu.” He adds, “I think people will find somethings that they’re familiar and comfortable with, but there will also be some uniquely original creations that are reflective of where we live for the more adventurous diners. We’ve also got an incredibly cool, original idea that we’re developing but keeping under wraps until opening day.”

Berg thinks visitors and locals alike will enjoy The Lakely. “For travelers, I believe that our modern take on Upper Midwestern foods will really help to give them a (literal) taste of our area. But I think of this as being even more appealing to locals as it will be a pretty unique and adventurous addition to the local dining scene. I hope that folks get as excited by our updated interpretation of local cuisine as I am. With local diners, my goal for their dining experience is that they walk away with a bigger sense of pride for the culinary possibilities of this place that we all call home.”

Berg also feels the local food culture is improving. “Our local sustainable farming community is amazing, even in comparison to some of the best around the nation. Thankfully, the people of the Chippewa Valley do a damn fine job of supporting these great local farms on a consumer level. But as that consumer base has grown so large over the past ten years, there haven’t really been many restaurants focused on farm-to-table for these consumers to throw their support behind. With at least a few of them opening here in the very near future, I hope to see some strong support for these ventures (ALL of them…not just ours). If those thrive, then I’m sure it won’t be long until more and more start springing up and maybe even our old stand-bys will increase the amount of local products that they feature, leaving us with a restaurant scene we can be proud of.”

The Informalist is set to open April 28th for dinner service, with The Lakely opening this Summer.

More info at and

Growing Our Principles

Values in Action
Menomonie Market Food Co-op has supported small, local and cooperatively run farmers, food producers and vendors for over 40 years. Now we further deepen our commitment to our values by joining the P6 Cooperative Trade Movement.

P6 is a national movement focused on building equitable and just relation-ships between farmers, producers, retailers,and consumers. Currently a collaboration between six food co-ops around the U.S., P6 works to create strong,values-based economies.

Cooperation & Change
Principle Six (P6) is the sixth cooperative principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives”. Originallyestablished by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 and later by the International Cooperative Alliance, At Menomonie Market we view YOU as a powerful participant in our local and global economy: ENGAGEDEDUCATED EMPOWERED to use YOUR dollars as a tool for change. the seven cooperative principles serve to guide the business decisions of our co-op. P6 co-op members are hard at work creating strong local communities by promoting and living our values of creating healthy, just and sustainable relationships with farmers, vendors, our staff and the community at large.

A Step Further
In addition to finding a wide selection of P6 products in the store, MMFC takes the same P6 care in selecting the ingredients used to prepare our homemade Hot Bar and Deli foods. Whether you are joining us for weekend brunch, a business lunch or quick evening meal, you will enjoy delicious food and feel great knowing you are helping to create a vibrant local economy


Labels 101

By Emily Schwartz

Organic? Conventional? Local? All natural? With all of the different labels used to describe foods these days, it can be difficult to sort through all of them to make the best decision on what to buy at the grocery store.
The majority of today’s fruits and vegetables are conventionally produced. This means that they are grown using traditional or “common-place” methods that are generally accepted as “safe” and “acceptable.” These methods, which may include the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and genetic modification, have been used for years to produce larger amounts of fruits and vegetables to help meet a growing consumer demand for affordable produce with a quality appearance and year-round availability.
Many of the local fruits and vegetables available during our Wisconsin growing season are conventionally produced. Although local produce may certainly be organic, organic is not synonymous with being locally grown. Currently, there is no set definition for a food labeled as local; however, it often refers to a food produced within a certain geographical area. Depending on individual perspectives, a local food may be produced within a set number of miles or grown in a certain county, state, region or country where a person may reside. In general, local fruits and vegetables may travel shorter distances from the field to the store. This yields fresher and more flavorful produce. In addition, this shorter travel time gives fruits and vegetables less opportunity to lose important nutrients. Buying local produce may offer the opportunity to support your local community, as well as introduce you to the farmers growing your food.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mandates that a food carrying the organic label be produced using sustainable practices without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically engineered products. However, forms of organic pesticides and fertilizers may still be used in the growing process. To be able to label a product as organic, a producer must become certified by the USDA. This process may take years to complete and may mean that some producers are following organic growing methods even without the organic label on their produce.
With increasing availability of organic products, natural is another label that is increasingly being used to market foods. Unlike organic, there are currently no set regulations qualifying the use of this term. Today, as much of our food undergoes some sort of processing before it reaches our plate, it is hard to define a food as “natural” from a food science point of view. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only loosely defines a “natural” food as one that may be without added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetic additives. As this topic is of much debate, the FDA is currently requesting public comments and information to possibly formulate a set definition in years to come.
Regardless of what types of fruits and vegetables you buy, there are benefits to foods in each category. We at Festival like to encourage that all forms matter, but ultimately, the decision to buy organic, local, natural, conventional, or any combination of the above comes down to personal preferences and beliefs.
Emily Schwartz is a nationally accredited registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) serving the Eau Claire and La Crosse communities as Festival Foods’ Western Markets Regional Dietitian.

Drink Locally This Season

By:  Abbie Burgess

Localvores, take note: locally produced isn’t just for food anymore. Why just eat local when you can drink local, too? Historically, wine grapes couldn’t grow in Wisconsin’s cold climate, so only fruit wines came from the region. With the development of cold-hearty grape varietals, Wisconsin’s vineyard production has boomed in the last decade, making it one of the nation’s leading emerging wine regions. Here are five western Wisconsin operations making wine from local vines.

65 Vines Winery

Julie and Scott Andrzejczak’s winery in Roberts, Wisconsin, is on a property they refer to as “our little piece of paradise.” 65 Vines Winery, named after nearby Highway 65, has the distinction of being the first winery in St. Croix Count. The localized naming trend continues with the wines. Creative names such as “Tippy Canoe,” “Up a Creek,” and “The One That Got Away,” are inspired by the Kinnickinnic River.

Using locally grown grapes is important to the Andrzejczaks. “We’re trying to introduce people to products made from cold-hearty grapes,” Scott says. “We want to sell a really good local product that’s custom crafted in small batches.” The 900 vines on the one-and-a-half acre vineyard are still maturing and have yet to be ready for their first harvest. In the meantime,the winery supports neighboring vineyards by sourcing grapes from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

65 Vines Winery seeks to stand out in the region with its sustainable practices. To help customers go green, the winery offers an exchangeable bottle. Pesticide use is kept to a minimum, with the long-term goal to become certified oganic.

Local wineries offer visitors the chance to take a break from routine. “People want to see the grapes, see where it’s bottled, find out how to pair it with local cheeses and sausages,”Andrzejczak says. Customers can even adopt a vine for the chance to customize an engraved plaque in the vineyard marking their vine, allowing them to be part of the grape growing experience. “Check out your vines, come taste the grapes. It gives a sense of place on the local scale.”

Villa Bellezza

This Lake Pepin attraction stands out with its distinctive Italian-style architecture. This is no surprise, since Julianne and Derick Dahlen turned their vacation home in Pepin into a vineyard after becoming inspired by friends in Italy. They invite visitors to “experience the Mediterranean on the Mississippi.” The Dahlens enjoy sharing the beauty of the area with vineyard guests, many of whom discover Pepin for the first time while visiting the winery and vineyard.

Villa Bellezza is open year round for wine tastings and private events. Julianne Dahlen says that the winery produces 60,000 bottles per year. About a third of the grapes come from two vineyards on premises, and the rest are grown locally up and down the river valley. “I hope more wineries come to this area and it becomes a destination,” she says. “It’s an exciting time to be part of this developing wine region.”

Autumn Harvest Winery  and Orchard

Nestled in the heart of Wisconsin’s apple orchard country, the McIlquham family has been growing apples since the 1920s. In 2005, third-generation owners Marykay and John McIlquham added a winery, becoming Autumn Harvest Winery and Orchard. This year, their cousin Chad and his wife Jean took over ownership and became fourth-generation McIlquham apple growers.

Jean McIlquham says their Chippewa Falls winery is continuing the Wisconsin tradition of fruit wines. The orchard’s own apples create several varieties of Autumn Harvest Winery and Orchard wines, and the blueberries, pears, blackberries, and raspberries grown onsite are also used in winemaking. The grapes are sourced locally when possible. One of their popular wines is made from Honeycrisp apples. “Everyone loves Honeycrisp, so why not drink it?” McIlquham says of the sweet wine. “Apple wines are great even for guys who only drink beer.”

The McIlquham’s six-year-old daughter Violet, has inspired many of the family-friendly features of the orchard. With a gift shop, corn maze, wagon rides, pick-your-own apples, and a wine tasting patio, the McIlquhams strive to offer something for everyone. The winery and orchard are closed in winter, but the wines are available at local retailers year round.

River Bend Vineyard  and Winery

A big red barn with a meticulously landscaped patio for outdoor seating welcomes visitors to River Bend Vineyard and Winery in Chippewa Falls. The rolling hills are dotted with active farms that yield fields of cornand soybeans. Despite the rural setting, it’s easy to get to from the highway. It’s a popular second stop for tourists of Leinenkugel’s brewery. Owners Donna and Al Sachs were part of the Wisconsin vineyard boom of the last decade. In 2006 they planted cold-hearty grapes developed by the University of Minnesota and were open for business by 2009. “We specifically wanted to have a real vineyard setting,” Donna Sachs says, “that makes visitors say, ‘Oh my word, this is what I would expect to see in California!’”

Sachs says that interest in local wines is growing steadily. Production has doubled since River Bend Vineyard and Winery opened in 2009, and Sachs anticipates that trend continuing in the years to come. “A lot of people are really into local foods, which helps enormously.”

Cottage Winery and Vineyard

What stands out immediately about this Menomonie winery is the European-inspired architecture. “Depending on where they’ve traveled, visitors will remark that it looks exactly like Italy, England, or France,” says owner Teresa Jorgensen. In reality, the buildings are all new construction complete with the geothermal heating.  Tom Jorgenson, Teresa’s father and co-owner of the property, became inspired after a trip to Europe with his wife. As a contractor, he created his own little piece of Europe in Menomonie to share with other wine lovers in 2012.

With gorgeous views of rolling hills surrounding the European-inspired farm, guests comment how peaceful and relaxing it is. Cottage Winery and Vineyard offers tastings of both locally produced and worldwide wines. “We’re a winery-meets-wine-bar,” Teresa says. “You must come out and do a tasting to see what you like!” The winery is open through December.