The talented vendors at the Cameron Park Farmers Market have come by their skills in a variety of ways. Some are carrying on long family traditions of farming and craftsmanship; others had their passion sparked by friends or teachers; still others are entirely self-taught. Whatever their backgrounds, the vendors are all happy to share their stories and their expertise with you on market day!

Der and Nao Ying

Like most of us, when Nao Ying and his wife, Der, think back, they remember the “good times” as well as the difficult ones. They remember the Hmong lifestyle of their youth in Laos. By age 8 or so, Nao Ying was working with his family on the planted land they had cleared on a mountainside, growing vegetables for their meals. It wasn’t to last, however, as his family would need to escape to Thailand to relative safety from the army invading their homeland.

In 1993 or 1994, Nao Ying and Der, and their young family moved from Thailand to La Crosse. They had some relatives here, there were people willing to sponsor their immigration here, and there were community services already in place to help Nao Ying and his family get settled. Even so, they had more mountains to climb: finding work, learning English, earning enough money to get by, and getting used to a society very different from what they left behind.

With determination and a strong family, Nao Ying, Der and their children have become strong threads in the socioeconomic fabric of the La Crosse area. Nao Ying is a supervisor at Northern Engraving. He and Der have eight children and a daughter-in-law, Sandee Xiong, and all have been involved in working 4 acres of land north of Holmen for eight or ten years now, growing vegetables and fruits to sell at several area farmers markets. They sell strawberries and raspberries, and a full range of seasonal vegetables.

Many of those vegetables are the same or similar to those they grew in Laos. Bee Yang, Nao and Der’s son, says his parents grow some favorite vegetables for their own use, which stem back to their youth: bitter melon, mustard greens, winter squash and summer squash vines. Mustard greens are used in salads or stir fried with pork or chicken. Squash vines are the clippings of young vines, which are boiled with chicken or pork, lending an herbal but sweet taste to the dish. Bitter melons are sliced and cooked with eggs or in stir fries or soups.(tncms-asset)3fb8a752-a1a1-11e7-90e3-00163ec2aa77[2](/tncms-asset)

Nao Ying and Der instilled the values of family, culture and education in all their children. They taught them to work together as they grew and sold vegetables at market. They taught them to choose a career path and complete the education required for it. Several of their children are now studying in fields including archeology, computer science and business at UW-L, UM and WTC. And they still help sell the vegetables from the family’s acreage at nine farmers markets in our area: Cameron Park (Friday and Saturday), Galesville, Onalaska Festival, Bridgeview Plaza, Holmen, Trempealeau, UW-L and Hmong Community Center.

Kickapoo Gold

Both Phil and Sarah Gudgeon’s family histories include a hundred years of making maple syrup from the sap of trees on their forested lands near La Farge in the Kickapoo Valley. Their ancestors and other settlers tapped the trees on their farms and made maple syrup and maple sugar for family use.

Sugary maple sap runs from a tree’s roots up to its branches as the tree wakes up from winter dormancy. In southern Wisconsin, the sap moves most when February and March days are sunny and temperatures are above freezing but drop below freezing again each night. The sap generally runs 4 to 5 weeks. Once a tree buds, its sap is no longer fit for syrup.

In the whole of the US, climate conditions are right for sap runs in the Northeastern states and in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. (You’ll find sugar maples growing in middle and southeastern U.S., but no sap runs which can be harvested.) Our neighbors to the north, Quebec and Ontario, have the climate for sap harvest also.

Phil and Sarah took their family tradition to a commercial scale, bringing Kickapoo Gold maple syrup to market in 2002. Their focus is on product quality and forest sustainability. The syrup comes from sugar maples on the hillsides of the Kickapoo Valley region, and Kickapoo Gold offers several grades of syrup. (Syrup grades, for the most part, designate color and taste, and are determined by the temperature of the sap from the tree and changes taking place in the tree as it breaks dormancy.)

Harvesting sap requires a seasoned knowledge of forest management, tree selection and timing. When Phil and Sarah bought their farm in 1977, the forested land was heavily overgrown with oaks. These were logged out and sugar maples given a chance to thrive.

Sugar maples have a relatively shallow root structure; good leaf cover on the ground is important. Modern-day tubing from tap to tap and down the hills to collection points saves greatly on soil compaction and root damage which was otherwise inherent to the collection of sap buckets on carts and wagons.

Phil taps trees on their own farm and in the forests of other area landowners with whom he and Sarah has agreements to do so. All of the trees tapped for Kickapoo Gold are in stands of trees which are certified organic.

A Kickapoo Gold driver uses a stainless bulk truck (retired from milk hauling) to transport sap from collection points to the “sugar house.” There, the sap is run through a filter and pressure gradient to remove eighty-five percent of the water; this makes the next step of boiling the sap much shorter and energy efficient.

The hot syrup (200˚F) is filtered and run into stainless barrels for storage. Stainless containers can be well sanitized prior to filling, and nothing harmful nor able to alter the taste of the syrup will leach from the stainless walls of the barrels. Bottling goes on year-round; the stored syrup is heated and transferred to glass bottles while still very hot.

Phil and Sarah Gudgeon market Kickapoo Gold on Fridays at Cameron Park, through retailers locally and in the Madison area, and online. They also bottle for a couple of private labels. For more information about Kickapoo Gold products, events, and retailers, see their website and their page on FaceBook.

Simple Soaps for Simple Folk

“I believe good things take time and patience,” says Shanna McCann, and she shares her joyful spirit with those who she teaches, talks with and shares her craft and talents with.

Shanna grew up a dairy farm girl in Wisconsin, and life moved her to Minnesota, where she came to own two milking goats. The rest is history.

That’s what sweet milking goats can lead to…they love life (and sweet treats), birth twins and triplets whose antics make one laugh out loud, and produce milk so rich with certain ingredients, that they simply inspire us to make something with their daily gift of white goodness.

In 2007, early in her goat ownership, Shanna used her goats’ milk to make some soft cheeses for herself, but one day, a friend showed her how to make a batch of bar soap. Shanna knew she could incorporate goat milk in soap, so the experimenting began. Now, she has become an experienced crafter of goat milk soaps, and if you were to ask her about her daily schedule, it nearly begins and ends with goat chores (visiting, feeding and milking her does), and includes several hours of soap making, packaging and marketing in between.

If you haven’t tried a goat milk soap, you’re in for a positive experience.

Shanna’s soaps are made with certified organic oils of coconut, olive, palm and castor, plus her goats’ milk and essential oils (and sometimes fragrance oils) in each batch. A 4-ounce bar of soap contains about an ounce of goat milk.

The fatty acids in goat milk are particularly friendly and healing to our skin. Unlike longer chain fatty acids, the fatty acids in goat milk penetrate the surface of our skin, to condition and heal it. Fat soluble vitamins naturally in the milk ride along and benefit skin health. Glycerin, which forms naturally in the bars of Simple Soaps, is a skin moisturizer since it coats the skin and attracts and holds on to water molecules.

Shanna also makes solid lip balms and solid lotions. These are made without goat milk. The base oil is certified organic beeswax, solid at room temperature. These products also contain certified organic shea butter, cocoa butter and sweet almond oil.

In Dover, Minn., just west of St Charles, Shanna has a store at which she makes her products, sells them, and assembles orders to ship to online customers. At her store, you will also find numerous hand-crafted products for sale, made by other local artisans: candles, wood crafts, jewelry, quilted items and more. Find Simple Soaps for Simple Folk at Shanna’s store in Dover, Minn., at Cameron Park on Fridays, at the Winona and Rochester farmers markets on Saturdays, at the Craft and Vendor Marketplace store on Main Street in La Crosse, People’s Food Coop in Rochester and Bluff Country Coop in Winona. Shanna offers online purchasing at her website: Her soap making classes and November open house are detailed on her Facebook page.

Julie Larson farms with her husband, Paul, in rural Mindoro. They are vendors at the Cameron Park Farmers Market.


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