What Is the Chaco? | 6 of Your Questions Answered

This week is pretty much Chaco week on the blog. Unless you happen to live in South America or have a husband who constantly references the regions of South America, you might be wondering a bit about what this “Chaco” is. Here are 6 of your Chaco questions answered.

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What is the Chaco?

The Chaco, often called the Gran Chaco, is a geographical region in South America. It’s hot, semi-arid, and landlocked.

Where Is It?

The Chaco isn’t bound by political boundaries and borders. The region is spread throughout parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. (Sometimes people use the terms Bolivian Chaco, Paraguayan Chaco, etc. to distinguish what country a certain part of the Chaco is in). The husband threw together this map for you and me.

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What Does it Look Like?

Although the region is defined by its shared geography, it can be divided into separate sections: either the Northern, Central, and Southern, or the Dry and Humid Chaco.  It really is hot and it’s full of cacti that I would have thought were found in deserts, but there are also entire areas (though less and less….see below) of dry forests with thorny trees, which blew my mind. I’d never seen something like it before visiting.  There are also many pastures for livestock and fields for crops (often to feed the livestock).  The Humid Chaco is a bit swampier and comes complete with the occasional palm.

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To get a better idea of what the dry parts look like, peruse this post, this post, or this post on the blog.

Who’s There?

People

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Relatively speaking, the Chaco is sparsely populated. Of course, there are cities and towns within it, varying greatly in size and every other measure.  Like good ol’ South Dakota (my second adopted home state), there may be more cows than people. That said, you might be surprised to learn about the diverse human population in the region. For starters, there are many indigenous groups still living within the Gran Chaco. At present, the omniscient Wikipedia lists 18 indigenous people groups who are living in the region. Beyond the indigenous people, there are many farmers and community members living in either the cities or throughout the countryside. Also notable, is the Mennonite population. Mennonites from Canada have been coming to the region since the 1920s to farm the land. With all this diversity, you can imagine how deep culture runs in the Chaco. There are local food dishes, Chaqueño folk music, and much more that I haven’t yet learned about.

Animals

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The non-human whos of the Gran Chaco are also noteworthy.

Though at first the Dry Chaco seemed like a harsh and stark environment for animals, we quickly discovered it to be teeming with fauna. There are deer, monkeys, hundreds of species of birds, tapir (did anyone else write reports about these in elementary school?!), snakes, spiders, crazy amounts of insects and with them anteaters and armadillos. And yes, there are even jaguars. I, personally, like the turtles and the hilarious/amazing locusts and grasshoppers.

What’s It Used For?

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Some of the land within the Chaco has been declared national parks or government land, etc. and therefore some of those natural grasslands and forests are being maintained. Obviously, these habitats play host to the animals mentioned above.

Much of the land is cleared for pastures or fields, as mentioned above. If it isn’t cleared, the land is still often used for livestock grazing. Don’t be surprised if you bump into a cow on your nature walk. 🙂 We also bumped into a carob (algarrobo) plantation during our trip.

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brahman cow chaco boliviacotton grown in chaco bolivia

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Why Does It Matter?

The Chaco is South America’s second largest wilderness after the Amazon (source). It stores many, many treasures (more of our cool flora pics coming tomorrow!) and has so much potential, but as you might have guessed, conservation efforts are needed. Estimates say that the 2,300 football fields of Chaco forest are being cleared per day. Slash-and-burn practices, though illegal, are hard to curb. Fires even dotted the horizon while camping.

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Clearly, as farm-kids-turned-adults, we understand the need for agriculture and support farmers. We love them! And food! But we also understand that agriculture needs to be as sustainable as possible and somehow work in harmony with biodiversity (now how do we make that happen?). With low land prices and new agricultural advancements, land is being bought and changed at crazy rates. This “development” is threatening the region’s rich biodiversity.  Why do we care about biodiversity in the Chaco? Because people depend on biodiversity, even when they don’t know it. The livelihoods of many people, those same people that were so helpful to us when we visited, depend on it.

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To learn more about the Gran Chaco, changes in the region, and some conservation efforts, read and check out the following:

And many more. If you have an article or link to share, feel free to e-mail me (I can add to the post) or leave in the comments for others to see.

Misty Morning | A Visit to a Chaco Farm

This is Part II of our camping trip to the Chaco in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Click here for Part I.

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The land we camped on really was great. Remote, but not too remote. Quiet and interesting. All that. It was full of photographs. But the farm that we were able to visit the next day for research purposes was nothing short of mystical with the morning mist and pasture grasses. Just look at it.

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A beautiful office, yet again. We were definitely thankful to the farmer for letting us explore his place. The guys for research purposes. Me for my usual reasons as well.

As mentioned in the last post, there was work to be done. And I pitched in a wee bit. More timing and location of observation points, naming the five Chaqueño trees I know (and then verifying if I was correct…wasn’t always :/), taking notes and photos for the husband. I also had the very important responsibility of marking the end of the tape measure with yellow tape. A task which proved to be nearly pointless in the end but made me feel slightly more important that the days before. Our comrade below, though definitely a fan and supporter of nature conservation, is not hugging the tree, but measuring it, I swear.

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Particularly during the ten minutes of bird observation at each point, I was able to explore my surroundings camera-in-hand. There were cattle and horses roaming through the pasture with us, peeking over the grasses. I also spied on what I believe were intimate relations of locusts. You can see for yourself. The pastures were a bit easier to make our way through than the forests, but still full of thorns. Really full. And you could even see where the farmhands had gone through and chopped and/or burned some of the worst offenders.

These pastures may have been easier to walk in, but both groups still ended up getting lost, even with GPSs. Once you get into these misty fields with clouded skies, there is no longer a north.

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locusts breeding

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argentina cow farm

Kind of a magical place. The farmhands looked like, dare I say, modern-day gauchos (I really didn’t think the hat was still worn, but I was mistaken),* the land was muy lindo (said the Argentines), and we were never given a proper tour of the place, adding just the air of confusion to make something mysterious.

We’re not sure how many actual farms we will have the privilege to set foot on during our stay (we’re just stealing many of their GPS points from the side of their fields…ha), but I would be thrilled if we’re able to find one with pastures that could be called más lindos.

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*I really have no idea how Argentine farmers would take being compared to the romanticized gaucho figure by a foreigner. But I truly mean no offense. I’m just going to cash in all the naivete that they’ve cast upon me as a gringa, apologize, and hope that makes up for it.

Better than a Petting Zoo | A Visit with the Neighbors

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In Montreal, I talked to my neighbors in the apartment building hallway. We lived next to each other for all of eleven months (eleven and a half at the prior place). I met Amos, the friendly young hipster whose mother and some adorable dog visited him from time to time. I met two other young gentlemen in the hallways. They seemed nice, but I promptly forgot their names, knowing I could either ask again if needed or simply make small talk in the stairwell while pretending either of us actually remembered each others’ names. We met the woman across the hall. We smiled and held the door when the other was carrying groceries. And then there was the one neighbor we actually knew things about. An older gentlemen, living with his son, who we chatted with about books, weather, our health, and whatever second-level small talk might arise. If ever (since moving away from our respective homes) we cared about a neighbor, he would be the guy.

But even that extremely (and I’d say many times over) pales in comparison to the relationships that my in-laws keep with their neighbors. They’ve been there for years. The neighbors have babysat their children. They have real chats about real life. They really know each other. Someday, in some city, town, or countryside, I hope to have this type of relationship with my neighbors.

It’s funny how a simple conversation leads to something delightful. One evening while home, Cece discussed how much she liked eggs, and a discussion of where eggs come from ensued. (We left the conversation pre-birds and bees, don’t you worry). My mother-in-law decided it was time to take a visit to the neighbors’ place to find out where the farm fresh eggs they’d been receiving were coming from. She called one night and asked when we might be able to come. The very next day, the ladies and children piled into that handy pick-up, drove a mile or so down the gravel road, and visited the neighbors.

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Earlier, there had been a discussion about taking the kids to a petting zoo. After this trip, a petting zoo seemed almost silly. Sure, if you don’t have access to chickens, sheep, goats, horses, and a donkey, you could go to the petting zoo. But if you have super cool neighbors with all that stuff who will let you bring children over…well, that’s a better bet.

sheep and kids

We spent time meeting animals on the farm, including cats, Rufus the dog, Dream the horse, goats, and sheep. Watching the kids interact with each other and the animals was hilarious. I can’t say I wasn’t ever nervous when a child came running over with a new kitten in tottering tow (poor little kittens), but I can say that all three of the kids seemed to love every minute of petting and holding the animals.

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baby goat

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goat eating

brown horse

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two sheep salt block

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sheep

And we really did see where those eggs came from. One of our nephews walked right into the coop and picked up an egg. He made it look like he knew exactly what was happening. Maybe he did. There has to have been some cartoon about egg-laying, right?

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kids gathering eggs

farm fresh eggs

After this, we headed across the street for what was definitely my favorite part of the evening: bringing the sheep/goats in. Okay, it wasn’t so much bringing them in as much as opening the gate and letting them cross the road in some sort of beautifully routine and obedient fashion. Maybe not impressive to those who see it everyday, but super cool for me. And the kids, too. I mean, I didn’t forget that I was there for the kids 🙂

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donkey and sheep south dakota landscape

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Thanks so much to Bob and Lorraine for letting us come visit. And for being great neighbors. We certainly had a great time visiting. We even heard Walter exclaim, “This has been a beautiful day!” in 100 percent childhood seriousness in the middle of the visit. We didn’t disagree.

south dakota landscape

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One quick note: I’m writing from Buenos Aires! We made it safely and have ingested more delicious facturas (pastries) than we ever needed. And there may also be some ($5, yet quality!) Malbec washing it down. I’ll be updating on Buenos Aires/Argentina soon!

Memories in the Making | Family on the Farm

Throughout our week in South Dakota, family activities unfolded like crazy. Some simply passed undocumented (think hours of playing, couch snuggles, grilling, and swim time). Still, a collection of photos documented family activities was quickly amassed.

Early in our sojourn, we wandered around the yard looking for produce until we reached the apple tree, the tomato plants, and the cucumbers. At first, we were just taste testing. The apples were clearly on the sour side (see Cierra’s face below). This meant the apples were perfect for baking, though. We decided to pick a bucketful. Since it’s peach season, my mother-in-law had some ripe peaches on hand and planned on making a pie. If the crust was already being made, there was no way I’d turn down an apple pie. She hates peeling the apples; we (s-i-l and I) didn’t want to make the crust. Apple picking and pie baking made for one of my favorite afternoons on the farm.

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apples on tree

apple picking

girl picking cucumbers

pile of apples

peeling apple

flour sifter

peeled peaches

peach pie

pie crust

caramel apple pie

licking caramel spoon

homemade lattice crust apple pie

lattice work apple pie

A day later, Jordan’s brother, our sister-in-law, and their two boys joined us in Gregory. Because we are a family that loves coffee and can’t help but bother our teenage relative who works at the coffee shop, we all stopped in at Dayspring Coffee in town. Adults enjoyed coffee drinks; the kids slurped on Italian sodas. Everyone  decided it’s the prettiest place in town.

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I adore Cierra’s face in the following photo!

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dayspring coffee courtyard greogry

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All went well while there…until the blob ball “mysteriously” exploded, covering all things within ten feet in a neon pink slime. We tried to clean it as best we could. But don’t be surprised if you visit and find pink slime in the courtyard. Really, we’re sorry.

Later that day (or honestly, maybe the next?), out came the Slip and Slide. I found every single photo that I took of this entertaining, but decided to exercise a little restraint and show only one per child. Sadly, Walter didn’t make many runs, so no hilarious picture of him will be posted here.

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Another day, a group of us went for a mile stroll down the road. A rock-throwing contest started spontaneously. Be sure to check out the tiptoes in the rock toss photo below. Once we tired of that (okay, the adults tired and finally convinced the kids to move on), we became distracted by Fuzzy, or the World’s cutest caterpillar. Do I think he was that cute? No, not really, but I liked hearing the kids squeal that he was.

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Finally, toward the end of our week, we realized we really had to force ourselves to take some family photos. Like most families, we’re not always all together. When we are, a photo must be taken to prove it. Since we were enamored with Ranch/Yucca/Photo Hill from our South Dakota Safari, the photo shoot was moved there. We got our big group photo out of the way in the beginning, but broke off into siblings, boys, girls, brothers, and couples. Just because we could. Initially, the logistics of getting all of us ready and moving out to the field were intimidating, but once we got to the hill, everyone seemed to have a fun time.

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Before we came home, we had talked about what we should all do for our family vacation. Whether it be out of laziness, a lack of organization, or wisdom, we decided to spend the whole week on the family farm/ranch. Sure, I love the Black Hills and would have appreciated another trip out there, but I think most of us would agree that we made the right decision to stay in one place, enjoy the farm, and maximize our together time.*

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*Other than the photos in this post and the last, my photos from our SoDak trip are from a farm visit to the neighbors’ place during the week. But I decided I’ll save those pictures for a separate post, because, well, it just seems to make sense to me. And that still counts as together time, even if off the property.

Home on the Range | A South Dakota Safari

This is where my in-laws live.

south dakota ranch

It’s no joke. This is a walk on their land, just down the gravel road.

My parents-in-law live in south-central South Dakota. A week-long visit on a working ranch is the dream of many. I’ll admit that sometimes we take it for granted. Mostly in the winter.

But during mid-August with mild temperatures, there are few places I’ve stayed that seem as beautiful.

south dakota ranch wild grasses

country landscaping russian sage

Usually during visits, it seems like we’ve got so much scheduled in (picture your typical holiday schedule).  This time, although I wouldn’t necessarily classify our time as entirely relaxing (Jordan’s sister described the house as the scene from Home Alone when every room is full of family), we had much less scheduled than we normally do during our short visits.

There was time for swinging on the front porch, sipping a coffee in the breakfast nook, lounging underneath the walnut tree, and strolling out to the corralled horses.

horse nostrils

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horses south dakota

horse by red barn

red shed

red barn window

One of my favorite moments during our time is what could be described as a South Dakota Safari. I wanted to go out for some photos and a bit of nature, and my father-in-law obliged. Soon, there were seven of us (Lola, the dog, included) piled into the pick-up, out for a nature/ranch tour. While on safari, my camera showed no restraint, taking photos of landscapes, plants, livestock, and wildlife.*  We sat smiling in the back of the pick-up, tossing pistachio shells out the back between photo ops, making new memories instead of catching up on old ones.

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south dakota ranch dog in pickup

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south dakota ranch dam

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beef cattle south dakota

Sorry, I know there is something entirely too “city person” about taking a cow pie photo, but somehow it seemed appropriate.

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angus bull south dakota

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At one point, we climbed a hill on the property for a better view. We enjoyed ourselves so much there that we forced the whole crew back up for family photos a couple days later (I’ll share a few soon!). The views were great, the weather perfect, and the mood light.

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south dakota ranch scenic view

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cassie on ranch

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Lola was honored a la Simba by Mufasa Emilee.

simba dedicatino of dog

Alas, we returned to the pick-up, worked on those pistachios again, and made our way back to the house for supper.

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The land truly is beautiful. And vast. And–if you find moments to sneak away down the road by yourself–peaceful.

Tonight, I had the most wonderful jog. During four miles on foot, I met one vehicle and waved at one neighbor. I was chased along the fence by a herd of cattle. I was baaed at by some friendly sheep. And greeted again by two deer and my pal, the rabbit who I continue to see. I loved all of that, but mostly, I was just in awe of the peace that surrounded me in between those moments. If we overlook those South Dakota winds, of course.

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*During our “safari,” wildlife which was spotted includes two white-tailed deer, one rabbit, hawks, woodpeckers, and many other birds.

 

Friends at the Farm

Meet Jenny and Finn!

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You might’ve seen them on my Instagram account a few days ago. Jenny is one of my dearest and best friends. It had been a full two years since we’d seen each other, and that was a meager four hours. Since then, she has added a member to her family. Jenny and Finn sojourned for six days on the farm.

We did play in a volleyball tournament while she was visiting, but besides that, we kept our schedule pretty free. No agenda was needed; we simply wanted to enjoy each other’s company. We walked the country roads, chatted, cooked together, and visited the sheep.

Naturally, I had the camera handy and enjoyed having new and willing photo subjects. The photos below are farm photos and photos from our strolls during their visit.

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Love his baby double chin in the next photo!

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dad on tractor

black sheep

sheep ram

sheep against barn

sheep red's baby

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farm red barn wisconsin

july corn wisconsin

july corn wisconsin

old truck wisconsin

wisconsin july field

wisconsin soybean field cat

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old white barn

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Wish I knew what he was thinking here:

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orange lilly

hay wagon

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cherry tomatoes on vine

bee on daisy

weeds against red tin shed on farm

kohlrabi being cut

cherry tomatoes in hand

By the time they had to leave, we realized we’d better document the fact that we were together!

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Six days seemed to fly by. I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t water a bit at the airport. So thankful she and Finn made the trip to visit. Jenny is my person. I dream of a day or situation when I can see her and her family on a regular basis.

sunset on farm in wisconsin

From Dairy to Cherry | Door County Day 3

Check out previous posts to view our Door County fish boil and sailing excursions.

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Our final day in Door County seemed to be the busiest of all. Somehow, we still managed to squeeze it in while still feeling like we were on vacation. The first half of the day was spent on the beach, but the second half was spent talking agriculture (viticulture is agriculture!) and farming. I am home.

We started early, heading to Whitefish Dune State Park ($7 entry fee) and Cave Point County Park.

Dad and I made our way along the Red Trail (that’s the actual, creative name) to the largest sand dune of Old Baldy. The round trip hike from the parking lot totaled 2.8 miles and was an easy path. We saw a few trail runners along the way. Mom decided to take advantage of the beach time.

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whitefish dunes

whitefish dunes old baldy

whitefish dunes hike

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Cave Point County Park was much more impressive than we were expecting. The three of us found ourselves wandering down the rocky beach for about 45 minutes before we realized how far we’d walked.

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cave point door county

cave point door county

cave point door county

cave point door county

cave point door county

Mom went rock climbing.

cave point door county

door county beach

After wandering on the beach, we chose one of the several wineries in Door County to visit. Our stipulation was that we needed to actually be able to walk in the vineyard. Simon Creek Winery fit the bill.

door county winery

It’s funny/sad that people feel they have to pretend to know what they’re doing when tasting wine. I don’t know much about it. Not even enough to comfortably pretend. I don’t even swirl with confidence. But it’s still fun to walk in vineyards and ask questions. We might not know to ask about hints of oak, but we can ask about growing seasons and harvests.

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simon creek vineyards

simon creek vineyard

I bought a gift bottle of port for the husband who is busy working in Montreal. And then obviously lurked in the vines with it.

With beaches, lighthouses, sailing, wineries, and fish boils off the list, we had to find cherries to round the trip out. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any time to research where we should go for cherries and we weren’t sure if it’d be worth driving around without direction to find them, especially since we were on the early cusp of the season.

But then we saw this stand. Complete with an orchard.

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And we chatted with the lovely woman below who told us they had no tart cherries on offer (the DC specialty), but the sweet cherries on her other property had just been picked for the first time this season.

The woman and her family also sell some of the other produce from their farm at the store. We talked about soil types, organic certification requirements, and generational farming. We also learned about the agriculture visa program in the county, which allows agriculture students from abroad to gain experience working for the year.

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door county cherry stand

cherries door county

Our final planned stop was at a fully-operational dairy farm, doubling as an educational farm. There’s a dairy bar and petting zoo, but also a huge cow, which my aunt said we had to stop at. We were a little nervous we wouldn’t be able to find this cow-that-you-will-know-when-you-see, but alas, we saw it.

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Really, without the cow, it’d still be a neat stop, particularly with children, but fine for anyone wanting to buy local dairy and cherry products at the shop.

door county farm

door county farm

door county farm

Finally, with cherries, wine and local dairy products in hand, we only needed to stop for lunch before leaving for our return drive across the state.

Mom had been eyeing a food truck near our motel since our arrival. The food truck has a definitively hipster vibe to it, and Dad was more than amused by the macabre doll head attached to the front. So much so that he mentioned it to the owner, who had to find a way to explain its presence. Ah, but hip cannot be explained. It seemed like the perfect way to cap off our time, especially considering that we’d already made connections within the local hipster community the night before. We didn’t even flinch when we read the “Sturgeon Buena” sign in the window. 

food truck sturgeon bay

sturgeon bay food truck

I loved our time in Door County. It was hard to believe that none of us had visited before. It was so Wisconsin, yet had its very own distinct feel. Sure, it’s touristy. But I figure we know why now.

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Now that I’ve got these recaps finished, I’m just getting my Madison sister road trip photos sorted! Look for those soon!