Three locally produced gift ideas from PFC!
Alpacas in Wisconsin
Wisconsin Driftless Alpacas is located just outside of Cashton, Wisconsin. Jan Hesson and Mark Blackbourn supply both the Rochester and La Crosse co-ops with goods made with wool generously provided by the farm’s team of gentle alpacas. These fine animals have taken pity on the poor hairless humans of the Driftless Region who go about the cold world without proper fur. In the winter months, the alpacas want to see you in a hat, or wearing soft, warm socks on your feet.
I was introduced to the Wisconsin Driftless alpacas by their human, Mark Blackbourn. The alpacas, Volcan, Wildfire, Iggee, Anna, and Madrugada have had Mark for over eight years now. They make sure that he collects their fleece once a year. Mark then sends the fleece off to a knitting cooperative (also in Wisconsin) where the wool is made into socks, mufflers, slippers, and hats.
Seven alpacas can be found at Wisconsin Driftless Alpacas, two males, three females, and two babies, or “crias.” The youngsters wear a darker coat now, but the color will fade as they get older.
After greeting me with a disdainful sniff or two, the alpacas went back to their busy day, leaving me with Mark to interact in our twitchy, overactive human manner. I ask Mark what sort of work the alpacas require. He says a typical day with the alpacas begins around 5 a.m., when he brings them their breakfast. Mark reports that he often lingers with them and they have a chat. Afterward, the alpacas have him tidy their domicile and fill their beverage containers (they prefer water), before settling into their day.
Bored with our chatter, the alpacas exited their residence to inspect the yards while Mark and I continued our talk. Mark tells me he spent 20 years teaching at Central High School in La Crosse—helping young humans socialize to their environment. “I retired from teaching just last year,” he says before excusing himself to go run about the yard with the creatures.
“The alpacas really prefer the cool weather,” Mark says when he returns from his jaunt. “The cold doesn’t bother them. On a winter morning, I’ll come outside and they’ll be out in the field, kneeling down like they do, all covered in snow.”
The alpacas are clearly hoping that humans get a clue and start growing some real fur—if they insist upon living in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In the meanwhile, the Wisconsin Driftless Alpacas have made their “Extreme Alpaca Socks” available to People’s Food Co-op. They are the next best thing to having your own fur during the long upper Midwest winter.
Jewell Hollow Woodcraft
Jewell Hollow Woodcraft is located just south of Richland Center, Wisconsin, and supplies People’s Food Co-op with cutting boards, drink coasters, and pizza boards made from Wisconsin hardwoods. The owner, Mark Bassett, has been crafting these beautiful wood pieces for about five years. He’s a skilled cabinet maker and carpenter and on the October day we meet for an interview, he’s called away for a meeting in Richland Center for input on renovation of the town’s theater.
“We use regional wood,” Mark says. “Four different kinds of maple, black walnut, locust. Woods that don’t collect bacteria. For accent colors we’ll use cherry and a small amount of nonlocal woods, wenge and padauk. We make sure our suppliers are growing sustainably. No clear-cutting.”
Jewell Hollow’s workshop is not large. “We have two full-time employees, producing about 200 boards a week,” Mark says. The walls are stacked with lumber already cut down to size and boards in various stages of completion. Some are only a pencil etching in the gleam of a bandsaw’s blade. The smell of freshly cut wood would make this an easy job to come to in the morning, I suggest. Mark says: “What smell?”
“The boards will last for years if you season them once in a while with mineral oil. Don’t soak them or leave them outside in the sun for a summer. We’ve never had a warranty issue.”
Andrea Gaustad’s photo cards and portraits
“I like the storytelling in photos. I’m inspired by step-by-step guides, the sorts you see in Bon Apétit magazine,” Andrea Gaustad says about her work. Besides making photos and portraits, Andrea is also a staff member of People’s Food Co-op in La Crosse.
Andrea’s a native of La Crosse. She went to Central High School, where she took Mark Blackbourn’s history class (see story about alpacas above). She got an A. She discovered photography in a UW–La Crosse class and found her passion.
Andrea’s original, one-of-a-kind cards are available in the card section of the store. The photos capture the beauty of the Driftless Region with images of the natural sights from the bluff country hiking trails that Andrea enjoys and unusual urban snapshots that capture the look of our cities. The photos are mounted on good quality recycled cardstock.
Other locally produced crafts
Besides the three craftspeople featured here, People’s Food Co-op also carries locally made products from Honeymoon Honey, and Simple Soaps, jewelry made by Gretchen Gausmann, PFC baker, and many other items made by your friends and neighbors in the Driftless Region.