The Abundant Life
by Charlene Elderkin, Marketing & Membership Mgr
a·bun·dant life n. A lifestyle unique to southwestern Wisconsin’s driftless region, characterized by: 1. a copious quantity of choices in food, education and healthcare. 2. love for and plentiful access to wildlife and nature including class I trout streams, hiking, biking and equestrian trails, camping, hunting. 3. a wealth of family farms, both traditional and organic. 4. a great spirit of community volunteerism and cooperation.
Viroqua – Abundant Life is the slogan used by the Viroqua Partners in promoting the greater Viroqua area. Although some may not think of life in the Driftless as “abundant” in terms of economic wealth (our county being at the bottom of the state in terms of yearly income levels), those of us living here have redefined abundance to go beyond economic wealth. The “wealth” (see definition of abundant life above) we have is shared, and it is contained in the things we can’t own: the beauty that surrounds us, the friends and neighbors we love, and the creative work we do together.
The abundant life we share includes choices in many areas that are normally available only to those who live in metropolitan areas. How did it come about that in Viroqua, a small city of 4400, we have all these options? It helps that Viroqua is the county seat, and that the nearest larger city, La Crosse, is 35 miles away. Thus this community can resist the option of going somewhere else to shop, recreate, or educate its children. But there is more to it than that.
Here in the land of the abundant life, we decide as a group what choices we want. If something we want is not available, we work together to create it. It generally starts with a small group of people, usually without any legal mandate, who have a strong desire to create a better life for our community. Many of the choices we have on a daily basis that make this rural community unique are a result of the work of small groups of our neighbors.
Wasn’t it a small group of people who wanted to have a hockey program that made it happen? And later succeeded in building the hockey arena? How many of us have attended a concert or play at the renovated Temple Theater? We couldn’t have that experience if it weren’t for the committed efforts and long hours of a small group of people – known as ARTT.
Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School was formed by a small group of parents in 1979 – with only three students. The idea that parents could come together to create educational choices for their children grew beyond PRWS – resulting in a total of four elementary schools and five high schools in Viroqua.
Every time you consume Organic Valley cheese, milk, butter, eggs, etc, you are reaping the benefits of a small group of organic farmers who came together in 1989. Ever had a picnic in Eckhart park? Rescued an animal from the humane society? Attended Wild West Days or a Twinkle parade? Or gone to one of our dozens of churches, for that matter. The abundant life we lead is a direct result of the work of small groups of our neighbors joining forces to achieve mutually acceptable goals.
A recent example of this spirit of volunteerism took place September 30th, when over 70 volunteers workers of all ages met at Sidie Hollow County Park and constructed a brand new 2.2 mile “Shared Use” trail. The project was hosted by Vernon Trails, a non-profit organization committed to developing and protecting safe roadways and rails, while continuing to create access for trail users. Many individuals and small groups worked with Vernon Trails to make this happen, with no mandate other than the desire for a new trail.
This spirit of cooperation is evident in the abundance of cooperatives in Vernon county – there are 19 – providing electricity, telephone services, agricultural products, banking, marketing, insurance and food. The existence of the Viroqua Food Cooperative is no exception to this. Though we now have over 2000 active members, it did not start out that way. We have the choice to shop at the Co-op because a small group of people came together to do the work and raise the money necessary to create one.
Viroqua Food Co-op is a part of the definition of abundant life. We provide our community with food choices – locally grown, organic, and locally produced goods – that are not available elsewhere. We can do that because we exist here in the heart of organic country- where we have more organic farms per capita than any other county in America. And we do this through the power of community – the support of you, our members – who live here out of your love of the beautiful land and the beautiful people of the Driftless region.
Choosing to shop at your food Co-op ensures that you will continue to have quality food options in the future. Your dollars go to local farmers and producers who in turn are able to be economically sustainable and continue to provide you with the products you desire. “The reason this store thrives” says general manager Jan Rasikas, “is because people come together to make it happen.”
The more we exercise our right to choose, and work together to expand our choices, the more abundance we experience here in the Driftless, where we write our own definition of the abundant life.