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La Crosse County dairy breakfast reinstated after cancellation, but dairy industry woes remain

When the La Crosse County dairy breakfast committee decided Monday to cancel the annual dairy breakfast due to a lack of host farms, committee member Louisa Peterson cast the only vote to keep the event in the hopes that they’d find a venue last minute.

When news of the canceled breakfast hit Facebook Tuesday, it generated a torrent of comments expressing everything from promises to drink more milk and eat more cheese to support for farmers and sadness that a cherished annual family outing was no longer happening.

By Wednesday, Peterson felt she had to do something to save the dairy breakfast.

“It’s a storied tradition,” said Peterson, of Creamery Creek Holsteins in Bangor and secretary of the La Crosse County Dairy Promotion Group. “It’s unacceptable to let it go.”

Peterson asked her husband and their business partners about hosting again, though it’s unprecedented for a farm to hold the dairy breakfast back-to-back, and brought her proposal to the committee that evening. By Thursday, the dairy breakfast had been reinstated.

“It was short and sweet,” Peterson said. “Everyone was on board.”

Though Creamery Creek Holsteins has 11 weeks and two days to prepare for the June 15 breakfast — less time than last year — Peterson said many of the logistics remain the same, and they haven’t planted on the nine acres they used before to provide parking for the event.

“It’s important to connect consumers with the producers,” Peterson said. “It’s our goal to give people that on farm opportunity to connect what’s in the glass to what’s on the farm.”

But while this year’s dairy breakfast is back, the circumstances behind its initial cancellation remain.

Wisconsin lost 691 dairy farms in the past year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another 127 dairy farms have disappeared since the start of 2019.

There are currently 64 dairy herds in La Crosse County, down from 96 herds in 2014. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin milk prices was $16.20 per 100 pounds of milk in January, down from $19.30 per 100 pounds in January 2017. For reference, 100 pounds of milk is about 11.5 gallons of milk.

“There’s so much — I hate to use the word depression — but it’s a depressing market right now,” dairy breakfast committee member Melissa Schaub said.

And it’s not just La Crosse.

Although the Vernon County dairy breakfast is a go, Monroe County is still searching for a host farm this year.

There’s not a lot of interest in hosting “with (the) economy the way it is for farming right now,” said Niel Friske, one of the dairy breakfast board members.

Trempealeau County is also trying to secure a host after its original host had to back out, said Trempealeau County Dairy Promotion committee member Eric Schaffner.

The county traditionally hasn’t had problems finding a host farm, but fewer farms, low commodity prices and mounting repair costs from snow damage after a rough winter mean less income for farmers to spend on getting their farms dairy breakfast-ready, Schaffner said.

Jackson County has found a host, but “it was a struggle,” said breakfast chair Max Hart, also citing economics. “We always try to get one at least nine months ahead of the time and it came down to the wire.”

Hosting a dairy breakfast — inviting thousands of people to show up on a single morning to eat pancakes, scrambled eggs and a multitude of dairy products — is a big commitment.

To find a host for this year, the La Crosse County committee started with a five-year-old list of about 100 dairy farms in La Crosse County, Schaub said.

“As we were going through the list, there were five or six that we knew were selling out or had sold this past week,” Schaub said. “The farms that are still running are running on a whim and a prayer.”

Wisconsin lawmakers renew push to ensure 'milk' comes from cows

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Reps. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, and Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, have joined a new effort to to require non-dairy products to stop using terms like “milk,” “yogurt” and “cheese” on their labels.

When farms said no, their top reason for declining was that they couldn’t shoulder the extra labor and costs of hosting, Schaub said. “The farmers have so many bigger problems that they don’t want to focus on this right now.”

Perhaps it takes something as drastic as canceling the dairy breakfast for people to understand what farmers are going through, she said.

In Vernon County, Dale and Brenda Torgerson are hosting the dairy breakfast on their 40-cow farm for the first time.

It took a lot of convincing for him to say yes, Dale said. “I made it clear I have no money to spend on this and I’m not going to. It’s just not there. I’m not going to do unnecessary stuff to make it look like a fake farm.”

Paul Larson: Reports from a La Crosse County dairy farm

However, Dale hopes that hosting the dairy breakfast will help them find a market for their milk. They’ve been trying to go organic since 2014 because they weren’t making money from producing conventional milk, Dale said.

By opening his farm to people through the breakfast, he said he hopes that people will better understand the difficulties small family farms face.

“I want them to see we’re an average family trying to make it on a small farm, which is very hard to do,” Dale said. “It’s taken a toll. It just wears on you. My wife works two jobs. I work off the farm doing construction. It takes every bit of that money to keep surviving this way.”


Local
Outdoor Recreation Alliance shines spotlight on La Crosse recreation

The people of the Outdoor Recreation Alliance aren’t “they-sayers.”

When the volunteers and board members hear people saying, “They should do this,” or “You know what they should do,” they step up to make it happen.

“We all have this desire to live in a more vibrant community, in a community that values its resources, and public parks just play such a pivotal role in access for all levels,” ORA vice president Jed Olson said.

It began nearly 20 years ago with people like Ralph Heath and Kurt Schroeder. The group, then known as the Human-Powered Trails, saw a piece of city-owned property that didn’t have a lot of attention in 2000 and thought someone ought to put in trails for hiking and biking.

“It was a group of users who said, ‘Can we put trails here?’ and the city said, ‘Sure,’” Olson said. “In those days it was a gentlemen’s agreement and probably not even a handshake and away it went.”

Things are a bit more complicated these days — requiring legal agreements and easements — but fundamentally the group’s focus hasn’t shifted from developing and promoting outdoor recreation opportunities.

“We’re still that same group at the core, that group of users who say, ‘Can we get more people using these public resources?’” Olson said.

It’s a matter of practicality, said ORA member Robbie Young, who’s been helping coordinate events and volunteers and build trails for about 12 years.

“This is a thing that needs to be done, and we can’t all stand around and say somebody else should do it,” Young said.

In practice, that involves a lot of free labor. The all-volunteer organization has weekly Monday workdays throughout the summer to groom trails and remove invasive species on Upper Hixon Forest, they groom the ski and fat bike trails in the winter, and they host an annual clean-up of Grandad Bluff to pick up trash and remove graffiti.

The work ORA does is a huge help to the city of La Crosse, said interim Parks, Recreation & Forestry Director Jay Odegaard.

“They’re really kind of the hands on the ground, so to speak. They provide the volunteer support pieces that we can’t cover with staff,” Odegaard said.

Not only do they have a lot of people willing to lend a hand, but they also have a lot of local expertise. Their work developing trails has kept La Crosse at the forefront of trail design, with paths for biking and hiking that follow the natural contours of the land, rather than cutting through straight lines.

“Their kind of passion drives support for that outdoor recreation that benefits a lot of people,” said Odegaard.

The group is responsible for a bicycle pump track at Upper Hixon, as well as the recent renovation of Leuth Park. One of its latest projects is the connector trail between State Road Elementary School and Chad Erickson Park, a paved trail designed to boost access to the park and connect the neighborhoods.

“Our goal isn’t ‘Must touch dirt,’ our goal is to get people outside, whether that’s out in the woods or down to the beach or out on a snowtrail,” Olson said.

Their focus is on boosting accessibility and predictability. They want outdoor opportunities that are available to just about anyone and don’t require a huge time investment to take advantage of.

“You know what you’re going to get. You know you can get over here, do a lap, sit for a little bit, get some vitamin D and back to your house in 20 minutes,” Olson said. “You do it and go, ‘Oh, wait, that was awesome.’”

The idea is to give people from all economic backgrounds and most physical abilities the same opportunity.

“When you can give that power to people it’s fantastic. It’s heartwarming and it’s inspiring,” Olson said.

It allows ORA to reach more people, bringing in users from two-year-olds to people in their 70s and boosts the economy of the whole region.

“A lot of people have picked this place on purpose because we want to live in a place that has happy and healthy people. We know that connection with nature, exercise, time outside, relationships with others, meaningful work, all these are the key pieces to being ourselves a happy and healthy person,” Olson said.

Conservation is a huge focus for the volunteers, especially as they build trails meant to last for generations.

“If you enjoy the outdoors, then naturally you want to help maintain and protect them,” Young said.

The group takes into consideration everything from ecological sensitivity and endangered species preservation to invasive species mitigation and hydrology when building trails, plus keeping in mind the fiscal impacts.

“Even the economic impact of bird watching is enormous, so maintaining healthy habitats for migratory birds is one of the things you do when you build trails,” Young said.

Building trails for people to follow helps keep the land as a whole in good shape.

“Instead of just having public land that people use at their own discretion, just a little bit of development of that land tells people this is how you responsibly use this protected space,” Young said.

One of the first tenants of the “Leave no trace” philosophy of economic impact is to stay on the trail, Olson said.

“You need to give somebody expectations, guidelines, parameters to function within … A trail does those things. It tells them where to go, it gives them a specific experience, it tells them where not to go,” Olson said.

ORA has begun to explore expanding its outdoor support to other municipalities in the area.

“Most of us involved in the organization didn’t get involved choose to get involved or don’t love the La Crosse area for one neighborhood or one specific feature. It’s a whole package and this package extends from Minneapolis to Madison. It’s the Driftless Region,” Olson said.


ColtenB / Associated Press 

Milwaukee's Lorenzo Cain extends to rob Jose Martinez of a tying homer in the ninth inning Thursday.


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Mississippi River in La Crosse to reach crest next week
Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

A jogger heads south through Riverside Park March 28 along the flooding Mississippi River.

Moderate flooding in La Crosse is forecast now into next week as the Mississippi River experiences moderate to major flooding from St. Paul to Rock Island, Ill.

In La Crosse, the river reached 13.31 feet at 3:15 p.m. Thursday and is expected to rise another 1.2 to 2.2 feet before it crests between April 3 and 5, according to the National Weather Service.

Goose Island Park begins to flood at 14.5 feet; Viterbo Sports Complex at 15 feet. Lock and Dam 7 can’t operate at 15.4 feet.

Across the river in La Crescent, the river reached 641.87 feet at 3:15 p.m. Thursday and is expected to reach 643.5 feet around noon Wednesday.

The La Crescent police department has already closed off the upper and lower roads at the railroad swing bridge on Shore Acres Road due to flooding, leaving the emergency bypass open to traffic.

In Winona, the river reached 15.52 feet at 3:45 p.m. Thursday and is expected to climb another two feet by April 4.

Lock and Dam 5A goes out of operation at 16 feet; Lock and Dam 6 at 16.6 feet. At 17 feet, flooding will affect some railroad lines.


From Tribune files: Photos from the Great Flood of 1965
From Tribune files: Photos from the Great Flood of 1965

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Arcadia gets $4.3 million for flood work

ARCADIA — The city of Arcadia was awarded $4.3 million Thursday in federal aid to help prevent flooding in commercial areas.

The grant, announced by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, also is earmarked to improve infrastructure for stormwater management.

In his announcement, Ross said the project is expected to retain 105 jobs and generate $4 million in private investment.

“The Trump administration is continually implementing ways to prevent economic distress in the wake of natural disasters,” he said.“These improvements will help Arcadia fortify itself against flooding and build resilience for the city’s thriving industry, including its extensive manufacturing economy.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind was quoted in the announcement saying: “Wisconsinites are strong, but the damage done by repetitive flooding takes a toll on local businesses and Wisconsin families. This grant from the Department of Commerce will give Arcadia’s storm water management system the updates it needs to protect the city from flood damage, and give economic security to workers and businesses along the Trempealeau River.”

This city has faced numerous flooding problems from the Trempealeau River, damaging businesses and homes.

The project includes upgrades to stormwater lift stations and will make the area a more reliable home to the large number of businesses and employers it serves.

The project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Mississippi Regional Planning Commission. EDA funds the Mississippi Regional Planning Commission to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs.