From grass-fed burger nights to barn concerts, a long weekend in this Northern Wisconsin town, just four hours northwest of Milwaukee, can easily put you in touch with the local landscape – literally.
Start by checking into Vernon’s new-ish hotel, The Oxbow Hotel, in the heart of downtown Eau Claire where the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers meet. (Feeling hungry after the drive? Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor is across the street in all its retro glory.) By dining at the hotel’s The Lakely, you’re already supporting local farmers as many dishes fold in locally grown ingredients, such as the Koldtboard, a build-your-own meat, fish and cheese platter with crackers and crostini in the Scandinavian tradition. From Marieke Gouda’s cheese and Together Farm’s shaved ham to Bee Alchemy’s honey, there’s a concerted effort to source from within the Northwest part of the state. These boards are designed for sharing.
Saturday morning’s downtown farmers market (one of the state’s largest) isn’t just about fruits and vegetables or cheese, although Inga Witscher, Wisconsin Public Television’s Around the Farm Table host, sells her St. Isidore’s Dairy cheese, the milk stemming from her seven Jersey cows in Osseo. A section of the market is dedicated to artisans and you won’t find typical or blah art here. Instead, hand-dyed skeins of yarn, embroidered deer-skin moccasins (by a Native American), gorgeous pottery for the kitchen, and jewelry that will turn some heads (in a good way) are sold by locals. Along those lines, The Local Store – across the street from The Oxbow Hotel – sells only products (jewelry, cutting boards, you name it) either made by a Wisconsinite or celebrating the state in some way.
Just outside Eau Claire, in Mondovi, lies fertile farmland now hosting fun agri-tourism experiences, such as Burger Nights at Together Farms (hosts a full bar with beer, including Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy; and wine by the glass). These are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, starting in May and through October. Owners Andy and Stephanie Schneider run the farm while also parenting their two young children and have learned the ropes in raising their own meat as they go. Pairing with the grass-fed and grass-finished burgers are sides like cheese curds, poutine and slaw – along with live music on Friday and Saturday. Pick up some bacon-onion jam in the farm store before you leave.
For a more Zen time, check out Farm to Fork Retreat/Dancing Yarrow’s events calendar. Like Together Farms, it’s in Mondovi, and hosts Zumba classes, campfire conversations and astrology chats. As well, you can drop by for pizza night on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays although Thursday comes with entertainment (open mic). Another entertainment option on the farm is live music (select Fridays and Saturdays). Not ready to go home just yet? The farm books guests into a seven-room lodge (divided into a two-bedroom Cozy Nature Nook and 5-bedroom spread) and an adorable one-room cabin. Or, pack a tent and you can sleep outdoors, on its 15 acres.
Supporting all of these ventures is Farm Table Foundation in Amery, which is linked with Happy Turtle Farm. This is a site for barn concerts (the next one is Sept. 25). At the foundation’s headquarters are a farm-to-table restaurant and classes and workshops to coax you into homesteading or culinary happiness. Examples are foraging for plants and turning them into tinctures, making sausage, or mastering the art of Oktoberfest-worthy pretzels. Circling back to the region’s success in fostering musicians like Vernon, rapper, singer and Minneapolis-based writer Dessa was a special guest at the foundation’s benefit earlier this month. Dessa’s book, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, published in 2018 and “Bullpen” served as former Presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar’s campaign rally walk-on song. The connection to Eau Claire’s farmland is very organic: her mother, a Latina born in the South Bronx, owns Bull Brook Keep, a grass-fed beef farm in Clear Lake.