Local food, local art, small town entrepreneurs

Taking an occasional drive is a family tradition. We love to explore, and long ago took the advice of a friend to follow the squiggliest lines on the map. This time we squirmed our way to a fairly new and exceptional little store in Platteville we’ve been meaning to visit.

The Driftless Market is named after a unique geographic characteristic of the region, not one my kids. The store seems at the center of a region known for its deep river valleys, and the terrain reflects having escaped glaciation the last time that was the happening thing. The region’s topography makes a drive on any road a neat experience, and perspectives from the same road will vary widely with the seasons.

Like one of those old neighborhood stores your folks took you to when you were a kid, the market has a community feel to it as soon as you enter. You’re likely to be helped by an owner, any one of a small group of intrepid colleagues who together took the plunge into retail a few months ago.

Have a refreshment and chat. Maybe some soup or a wrap from the deli. Check out the photos, or a watercolor over by the window. (The tables are by the art – marketing genius!) The handmade cards alone bring lots of customers. Jewelry, mosaics, fiber art, stained glass, ceramics, rosemaling, woodworks…………..local writers even! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

I asked Heidi, one of the owners, if the art was mostly local. She said she knew every artist. Don’t ask me why I think so – but we could tell. All this different stuff felt the same, like over 40 different members of the same family. And there are already almost 50 local food suppliers.

Locally-produced foods dominate the grocery and deli – and as homey as the place is, this is a full-service store. If it isn’t local, it will likely be organic or from the greater area. It is hard to think of something that isn’t here. Great pizzas – the yogurt will devastate you. Bottled milks from Barneveld, Emu meat from Fennimore (true story!) and sprouts grown in his room by a UW-Platteville college student. You can see his pic: “student with sprouts”. I bet the Louvre doesn’t have a “student with sprouts”.

The Sham Wow guy would say, “But wait, there’s more!” They were just finishing a soap-making workshop when we visited, and classes are augmented by occasional tastings and readings. This is a neighborhood place defined by a community of sellers and buyers more than geography.

In retrospect I thought the owners as unique as the products. Running a retail store takes a huge amount of work, so what would prompt folks to add this to their current work or give up the day job to launch such a venture? It was a way for a farmer to sell more of what she grows or for an artist/farmer to leave the university job to engage her passion and meet the greater demand for food and art she saw at the local farmers’ market. For all it was the right time. I think it was a mission. I admire the commitment and entrepreneurial panache it takes.

Business is good and building. Word of mouth is bringing friends with more friends and folks from farther away. People talk it up when they get back home. Check them out at driftlessmarket.com.

Make some time, go follow some squiggles. Driftless Market is a neat place to visit and your area most likely has stores that similarly attract community-minded folk – people who think a marriage of locally produced food and art is satisfying and oh, so fun. Wisconsin is rich in places like the Driftless Market and the people who create them.

Rick Rolfsmeyer
Wisconsin Rural Partners
Hollandale, Wisconsin (Pop. 283)

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