| I was raised in Tokyo, Japan one of the world's largest cities.|
Having never lived outside of a city my whole life, I recently moved to the farming community of Viroqua, Wisconsin USA. I didn't know what to expect, but what I found changed the way I looked at life and food. People here take the Environment into consideration constantly. They have the most organic farms of anywhere in the USA, they buy local products from farmers' markets and co-ops, which helps local farmers continue providing organic goods for us and it helps the Eco-System too. In the surrounding hills, life moves slowly, people aren't in a hurry because they're all farmers. Farmers work hard growing, harvesting and looking after animals very carefully, but unlike city people they never have a day off so they take their time. Growing organic foods and creating a community consciousness sounds simple, but in fact it's not. Otherwise, they would be all over the world. When I lived in the big city I hardly thought about organic anything, of course, I knew about the word organic and was a bit interested. However, I mainly just thought of organic in terms of being better food for my body. I only occasionally purchased organic foods because it was expensive. At that time I had never met an organic farmer or learned of the real differences from commercial farming. However, now that I'm living here with farmers and hearing their stories and seeing the differences, my simple way of thinking about organics and local foods has changed a lot.
I was raised on an organic dairy farm in one of the many beautiful valleys of Wisconsin. We have a spring on our farm and a river through our cow pasture. I spent my early childhood playing in mud puddles and building hay forts like every good country kid.
My parents let me play wherever I wanted on the farm, because they were Organic farmers and they knew that there were no invisible dangers on our farm like pesticides (farm chemicals). My family grew most of our food on our farm. So I learned to garden and process food early on.
I can still remember peeling and canning sweet, sticky peaches or picking and freezing green beans by the bucket full. We learned to drive the tractor before we could reach the pedals. Our family, like all the farm families in the 80's, had a hard time financially, so my father gathered together farmers and formed a cooperative, Organic Valley.They worked hard to bring organic farmers a fair price so that farming could be a sustainable occupation for families. Today Organic Valley is the world's biggest organic farmer cooperative and my father (George Siemon) still serves as CEO.
| Now I understand that organics is a lot more than chemical-free food, it's about supporting a sustainable way of life and helping to save our environment. My dollar spent on organic food is a vote for a clean ecosystem and a healthy future for our children's ecosystem. Most people reading this have seen "Inconvenient Truth" and you know that it's time to start thinking about the next generations and preserving our ecosystem. I knew as well, but I didn't change my way of life until I came here and met the organic farmers of Wisconsin. They didn't tell me I had to save the earth and change my way of life, they just showed me how they are doing it and I was inspired to try and help.|
Through The Little Country School, I would like to give you the opportunity to have hands-on experiences with nature, food and farming. So that when you go home you can be the one that inspires others by living a local organic life.
Keiko and I set out to create The Little Country School, which gives everyone access to this land of bountiful living. We hope that you can come and learn some "folk skills," making the things you need to live, with your own hands (instead of buying them). We want you to feel the soil run through your hands, take a nap by a little creek, eat wild food from the forest bottoms and relax your soul to the tempo of the earth.
During my high school years, my good friend (Jacob Hundt) and I got the idea to start our own high school. Our community was very innovative and open to new ideas. After a long summer of planning and organizing we opened the 'Youth Initiative High School' in 1996. We spent our last two years of high school running the school that we were attending. It is still going strong today. I set out traveling in 1998 and went to many European countries, as well as, all the South and Central American countries. I lived and worked in Argentina, Colombia and Australia. While I was working on a project in Mexico, I met Keiko, my wife! She brought me to Japan two times, as well as, Fiji and Australia. After traveling the world, I always come home and realize that it doesn't get any better than righ here in the tangled valleys and tumbling hills of Wisconsin
Maybe that's why the 'Kickapoo' is the most winding river on earth, because it knows that there isn't any where better to rush downstream to. The four very distinct seasons keep the colors and smells fresh and new. The food is as local as the people and tastes as rich as the area is fertile. The woods are like huge gardens full of edible wild fruits, greens, mushrooms, flowers, nuts and game. People here enjoy reviving and using skills of self-sufficiency by baking bread, canning food, spinning yarn, raising gardens, and much more. People call Southwest Wisconsin the heartland because it's a place where your heart can reconnect to the land and the land can steal your heart.