The Watershed Café: A River Restaurant’s Sustainable Story

By Summer Kelly, The Watershed Café

“Earth Day is a meaningful holiday for me,” says Rita Rasmuson, owner of The Watershed Café, her eyes alight with enthusiasm as she bustles about creating the day’s made-from-scratch triple berry buckle and her famous quiches. “It is one of the most understated, yet most important days of the year, especially for those of us along the St. Croix River.”

Earth Day was founded by a denizen of the St. Croix River watershed, environmentalist and U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson, from nearby Clear Lake, Wisconsin. Senator Nelson was also instrumental in the 1968 National Wild and Scenic River System legislation, established to preserve and safeguard the diverse habitat and ecology of rivers of special national importance. The St. Croix River was included among only eight when the system was first established.

The St. Croix River Valley is home to a vibrant community of conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, state parks, extensive hiking and water trail systems, and people supporting the local movement. The Watershed Café was built on the vision of a locally and sustainably sourced restaurant along the St. Croix River, one that honors the surrounding natural resources.

“My hope is that we work together to protect the rivers, the land, and the community,” Rita states passionately. “This is where our food comes from. To eat fresh food and eat locally, we need to use sustainable business practices, educate ourselves and one another, and cultivate partnerships that support environmental stewardship.”

Rita upholds those standards with a mindful, whole foods mentality. The Watershed Café works closely with four farms within 10 miles of the restaurant to source much of its fresh produce, dairy products, meats, and cheeses. Other products are sourced from within a 100-mile radius whenever possible. Striving to support small, family-owned-and-operated businesses with shared values is key. Through the restaurant’s suppliers, Rita seeks products that meet her ecological ideals. Even the restaurant’s to-go packaging is environmentally friendly.

“Everyone is welcome at The Watershed Café,” Rita exclaims. “We bring sustainable, organic/natural, local, and whole foods to the table for all to enjoy. We invite you to share in the delicious comfort food and good company at our Watershed Café!” The Watershed Café is located at 99 North Cascade Street in Osceola, Wisconsin. For more details, please visit www.thewatershedcafe.com.

Summer Kelly is a local gardener and plant-enthusiast with a passion for marketing and environmental sustainability. Crossing paths with Rita and Steve of The Watershed Café is the best thing that has happened to Summer in her free-lance marketing career.

New Sustainability Fair Kicks Off Earth Week

The Chippewa Valley Sustainability Fair will include several events throughout Earth Week, April 15–22. This year’s theme is Action, and the fair will offer ways you can take action to address environmental challenges facing the world.

The week will feature a Youth STEAM Fair at the Lismore in downtown Eau Claire. Middle school students will present their projects in all areas of STEAM as well as sustainability, air and water quality, human-environment interaction, and waste management. Open to the public and free.

Another opportunity during the week is the fourth annual Jam It For the Planet, Saturday, April 21, in downtown Eau Claire. Come for the great music and stay for the cause!

This music and educational event celebrates women leaders, as well as Mother Nature, by showcasing the gifts, talents, and abilities of area women who will perform on stage, share in discussions, and lead learning opportunities. The event is family-friendly, with a kids’ interactive music show, an Earth Day superhero meet-and-greet, a kids’ creation station, and much more.

The Jam It series has historically featured a great lineup of musicians performing for Planet Earth. Visit www.jamitfortheplanet.com for more information.

Another week-long effort will be the Week Without Waste challenge. Residents throughout Eau Claire County can pledge to not create any landfill-destined waste during their curbside garbage collection for the entire week.

To learn more about the fair, visit https://chippewavalleysustainability.org/.

Next Step Energy: Consider Solar Power for Your Farm or Rural Home

Because of climate change and other fossil fuel issues, many farmers are looking to solar energy to power their farms. The Union of Concerned Scientists notes in their article “Up with the Sun: Solar Energy and Agriculture”1 that “solar energy can be used in agriculture in a number of ways, saving money, increasing self-reliance, and reducing pollution.” Francis Thicke, who operates an alternative-energy-powered organic farm in Iowa, lists some of the ways solar might be used on a farm:2

  • Powering pumps to provide water for animals in grazing paddocks
  • Solar for the farmhouse
  • Heating hot water in the milk house
  • Heat for greenhouses
  • Solar-powered electric fence chargers

Next Step Energy, serving a 60-mile radius around Eau Claire, Wisconsin, since 1982, has done many solar installations for farms. Joe Maurer, project development for Next Step, says, “We’ve installed for all kinds of farmers, but our typical clients are small farmers looking to hedge against rising energy costs while taking advantage of tax credits, depreciation, and USDA REAP grants. Next Step Energy has the capability to do very large systems, but our typical install is around 8kW to 12kW.” Maurer explains that Next Step’s solar installations are not per individual applications but rather for total load management. “Ninety-five percent of systems are grid-tied electric systems, so functions on the farm are not broken down. What I mean is solar powers the total load, not separate individual applications. Most of the systems we install are grid tied. This has the advantage of allowing the farmer to sell excess power back and have the farmer’s account credited by the utility company. This is why grid-tied solar energy is generally more popular and practical than battery systems.”

Next Step’s website explains what they do: “We are a full service installer of renewable energy, high efficiency radiant heating systems. We specialize in consultation, creative design, and installation of solar electric, solar thermal, and unique heating systems.” The company does site assessments, system design and installation, consultation services, as well as providing service and repairs to systems installed.

What are some advantages to using solar on the farm? Maurer says, “Burning less fuel, having a stable energy bill, and promoting a positive environmental image. Plus it’s fun to manage your power. Solar has that effect on people. Once they realize they are making money by producing energy, they start shutting off lights and figuring out ways to reduce the electrical load. They can monitor their own solar production on their smart phone or computer. It’s fun!”

Installing solar is a long-term investment. “But,” Maurer notes, “the price of solar has never been lower. That’s a fact, not a sales pitch. Prices of solar have dropped 75 percent in the last five years. Prices are at an all-time low largely due to worldwide popularity and acceptance of solar as a viable way to produce clean power.”

What does Maurer like about working at Next Step? “I work in project development and also work as an independent film maker. The two jobs fit together nicely. I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their stories.”

To talk with Joe Maurer about solar for your farm, contact him at joe@nextstepenergy.com or call 715-830-9337. Visit their website at http://nextstepenergy.com/.

Sources:
1. Union of Concerned Scientists: www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/smart-energy-solutions/increase-renewables/up-with-the-sun-solar-energy.html.
2. Thicke, Francis: https://mosesorganic.org/farming/farming-topics/miscellaneous/farm-used-buckshot-to-meet-energy-needs/.

Foxes of Wisconsin

Photo by Ruth Forsgren – Gray fox kits at den near youth camp driveway

Article by Jim Schwiebert, Beaver Creek Reserve Naturalist

Wisconsin is home to two members of the fox family: the red fox and the gray fox. Both types of foxes are about the same size. Gray fox average 10 pounds and are between 32 and 45 inches long. The gray fox is a mix of gray, red, white, and black fur. The hairs along the middle of the back and tail are tipped in black. Sometimes if a gray has a lot of red fur it can be mistaken for a red fox. But, gray fox never have black feet like red fox do, and they also have a black tip to the tail instead a white tip like the red fox.

Gray foxes are not usually seen as often as red fox. Gray fox live in older, thick-forested areas, often near streams and rivers. Red fox are more often found on edges of fields, where they are more visible. Gray fox are more nocturnal (active at night) than red fox. Gray fox make dens from a hollowed tree, rock crevice, or brush pile. They eat a variety of foods including rabbits, mice, vole, chipmunk, eggs, insects, and fruit.

Gray fox are the only fox that can climb trees. They have semi-retractable claws, which means that they can pull their claws partway in somewhat like a cat. The gray fox climb trees to get away from predators like coyotes, to look for food, and sometimes to sleep. Gray fox are also good swimmers.
Gray fox usually have four to five pups that are born in the den in late March or April. The pups are blind at birth and have brown fur. Both mom and dad help with raising the pups.

If you are snowshoeing or cross country skiing in the woods this winter, you may be lucky enough to see one of our state’s two members of the fox family, or some of their tracks

Blue Boxer Arts: Knit Away Holiday Stress

When Jamie Kyser and Erin Klaus, business partners and friends, moved Tangled Up In Hue from 416 Barstow (the current Blue Boxer Arts location) to 505 Barstow, they had an empty store space that was still under a lease. While considering their options, it occurred to Kyser that she and Klaus had always talked about opening a bead store in Eau Claire. Ever since the one on Water Street closed, they had felt that Eau Claire needed one. And in addition, Yellow Dog Knitting used to be located a couple of doors down, and when that closed, lots of people came into Tangled Up in Hue’s former location asking what happened to the yarn shop, so they knew there was a market for it. And if that wasn’t enough, they had an immense amount of beads from jewelry making, so it seemed like an opportunity to give the idea a shot. So, they opened a bead and yarn shop—Blue Boxer Arts!

 

Blue Boxer Arts follows the same format as Tangled in that they support and offer local products. They have a whole section of the store devoted to local fibers, hand-spun and dyed yarn from local farms where the sheep are raised and sheered, and the wool is processed and spun into yarn. They also have roving, locks, and loose fibers. (Roving is a long narrow bundle of fiber that is mainly used for spinning fibers into yarn. It’s been processed and dyed or can be natural colored.  It can also be used in weaving or needle felting. Locks are actual hair locks from, say, an angora goat or llama, and loose fibers are just that—they have been processed from the animal and can be found in a bag or ball.) In addition, the store carries Plymouth-brand yarns and various others, and they currently offer a large selection of “natural” beads: wood, clay, porcelain, bone, nut, etc., but are expanding to also incorporate stone, glass, crystal, pearl, and more. The store also operates as a collective, meaning they have items on consignment as well.

 

A wide range of classes are available, about two a week. All of them are currently focused on the fiber and jewelry arts, as that is the type of product currently offered in the store. All classes can be found on the website (http://blueboxerarts.com/events.html) or the Facebook page, which has the most up-to-date info. The instructors range from store staff to outside experts and hobbyists, but anyone can come in and apply to teach a class here. If someone has a special skill they would like to share in a class, email blueboxerarts@gmail.com for more info.

 

With the holidays coming up, we all tend to brace ourselves for the accompanying stresses. Knitting or crocheting, however, can be a stress-relieving activity. Kyser believes all forms of creativity can be calming experiences: “I personally crochet (I have knit but am not an avid knitter) and participate in many forms of fiber arts and other crafty avenues. Each of these activities helps to sooth my soul and bring me balance and peace. It’s a way for many to reset from the day or take out frustrations. It makes me feel fulfilled and whole.” If you’re new to knitting and crocheting, don’t fret! As a beginner, and as with learning any new skill, knitting/crocheting can be a chore and may even be frustrating at first. But once the basics are learned and the rhythm is found, the fun starts, and it becomes a new way to cope with stress.

 

According to Kyser, knitting and crocheting can be more than just stress relieving: “I believe, too, that knitting/crocheting can lead to a meditative state. In meditation, the goal is to clear your head of all thoughts and brain chatter. In the act of knitting, and the repetitive nature of it, it can certainly lead to this. In some cases, when following a pattern for instance, you need to count your stitches, switch colors, or change stitches (knit, pearl, etc), and this can require more concentration and thought, and it can also be good to concentrate on something other than work and other stresses of life.”

 

She advises: “The concentration involved with these art forms as well as just keeping your hands busy and the satisfaction of completing a project can all be so good for the soul and help with stress during the holidays and year-round. This time of year it can help you check the gift-giving portion of stress off your list, knowing that you are making something for someone that took time and love and effort.”

 

The benefit of shopping locally is important to both Kyser and Klaus. Kyser notes: “With each step, knitting and crocheting with our products can give you the satisfaction and joy of shopping locally, which is so important in our current climate. The community thrives when local businesses do well.  Because we offer products and services that are locally made/produced, a portion of the money spent in our store goes back into the community, which fuels the local economy, and it’s a win-win for everyone.”