Posts Categorized: People

Let’s Goa to India!

Ward and Jacky Budweg – with fellow biker, Jeff Friedhof – Take Tires to the World Once Again

Intro and Interview by Aryn Henning Nichols

 

Ward and Jacky Budweg are some of the most inspiring people we here at Inspire(d) know. Not that they’d want us to say that out loud (whoops – just did!). But c’mon – after traveling the world for three years, they had to know they were going to inspire a few folks.

“Our trip really wasn’t all that different from any other exploration – it’s all about getting out there for new experiences, no matter where or what you do!” Jacky says with her trademark enthusiasm and positive attitude.

That said, a trip around the world – on bike, no less – IS pretty amazing. On June 24 of 2007, they left Decorah with their bikes, tent, an arsenal of (light) tools – and each other, of course – for an adventure of a lifetime. Starting in Germany, they biked all over the globe, planting feet in 46 countries and tires in 40. Just over three years later, on June 30 of 2010, they peddled home to the Driftless Region (with local friends meeting up to make the ride with them)…but even before that ride back into the valley, they were gearing up for their next adventure.

“When we were in South America, there was a cyclist who said, ‘You guys have to go to India. It’s like no place you will ever go.’ They said it was just so different culturally than even China or Vietnam or Cambodia or any other Asia country …so of course, we had to go,” Ward says.

Jacky jumps in, continuing the story in a “he said/she said” way that they’ve mastered after collecting a many, many tales. “We couldn’t fit India into our trip at that point – we would have only had like two weeks – so we said ‘Let’s make it its own trip!’”

They’ve been planning India ever since – for more than three years now. It was in their minds in all the things they did once they “re-entered’ the US. They got flexible jobs. Tracked their spending. Got things ready. But it wasn’t just for India – India’s just the next trip.

“We know we’re going to travel like this as long as we’re able,” Jacky says.

They’re leaving March 3 and will be back stateside June 12. Friend and fellow biker/Decorah resident Jeff Friedhof will be joining them on the India adventure. Three and a half months is a little more doable than three years for the high school mathematics teacher.

“I’m taking a sabbatical to do this trip,” he says. “As an educator, I really feel it’s important to experience the world. And when you get a chance to travel like this, to a place like India, with world-travelers like Ward and Jacky, you take it. You have to go.”

Much like the world-tour, they’ve got a rough outline of where they’re going, but things are left pretty loose on purpose.

“As we were planning our [world] trip it was not where, but HOW we would do the experience. How many museums. How many miles a day. How much money. To what level are we going to take it?” Ward says.

The “plan” is this: They’ll land in New Delhi and go south along the coast to Goa, take a train back to New Delhi and bike the northern part of India, then bike to Nepal and back. They look forward to whatever’s going to happen, to happen.

“When you travel like this, you never know what little town you will go through, who will stop you, what you’ll get to experience,” Jacky says. “It’s the best way to do it.”

You can follow along on the peddling fun at Ward and Jacky’s blog fromthebenchesoftheworld.com.

What was the most surprising thing about your trip around the world?

Jacky: For me, it seriously was this: when we left, I was really scared, worried about riding along back roads, people pulling over and stopping us and what might happen. What happened was people did stop us, but they asked us if we wanted water. They gave us food. What I feared the most turned into one of the greatest comforts: People are good.

 

Ward: People’s willingness to take us in – afford us what they have. Even with the language barrier, they gave us everything they could. Really everyone was just so willing to give. One guy even drove past us, then turned his car around, came back, and got out. He walked over to us and gave us a bag full of something. He said, with a little English, “These are Korean donuts. You’ve never had these before.” And he was right. We hadn’t.

What was the most inspiring?

Jacky: Well, it’s the same as the first answer, really. And just like Ward said – what I found inspiring were the people with nothing that just want to give everything.

Why travel by bike?

Jacky: To be honest, I’m traveling by bike until I can’t anymore. I’m traveling by bike ‘til I’m 90. It opens all kinds of doors. Sure, the part where you go slow, can take pictures, stop and smell the roses – that part is great. But the best part is that it opens the doors for people to ask, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going?’ It starts conversations and then we get to know the locals. And on a trip like this, you want to get to know the locals. You trust the locals.

 

Ward: I agree with Jacky that you are more open to have people approach you and ask questions. But for me, as we traveled I soon learned that you do not end up in towns or cities that necessarily are looking to see travelers coming through their communities.   Your reception is not the same as if in a tourist city. There seemed to be a more genuine expression of their culture and how we should look at their town. By bike you are not always on the tourist route and that is what I like.

What do you think were the five most important things to have along (besides your bike and tent and each other, of course)?

 

  1. Piece of plastic. This is to sit on, make food on, cover your bags in a downpour, make a windbreak, put water in to bathe.
  2. Duct tape.  No explanation needed
  3. Tools. For bike repair and fixing other stuff for other people.
  4. Air pump. So many flat tires
  5. Salt and pepper and hot sauce. Rice and Pasta actually can be good with those.

 

Additional useful things: cutting board, paper and pen, sunscreen, and a stove to boil water and cook (“But if it breaks,” Jacky says, “Just use an empty tuna can, coil cardboard into it, and then fill it with wax! Ward’s mom taught him that. She was his Den Mother.”)

 

Useful “non-things”: Coded back-ups on personal and financial information and code words for dangerous or tense times. For Ward and Jacky: Danger = Birke; “Shut your mouth, I’ve got this!” = Mora

What do you say to people who say “I could never do that!”?

 

Jacky: Anytime you want to do a trip – any exploration – overseas, in the US, even in Iowa – it’s great! What we did was a trip we wanted to do, but it doesn’t make it any different from that six-month trip you took, or that two-week trip you’re planning. It’s all good. It’s all about getting out and experiencing something new.

 

Ward: Our trip was not a competition where there are people more fit and talented that could have accomplished the same thing. Our trip was a goal of experiencing the world on its terms. We had to adjust our terms as how we would engage all of the cultural nuances. It was hard for me to always be as the Argentineans and the Spaniards. Time moves pretty slow. The toilets of the world also are not for everyone. Not taking a shower for five days would be tough for a lot of people as well. Also the daily food of rice and pasta and pasta and rice would have a lot of people not join the adventure. But as Jacky also said everyone experiences things differently and it is your trip and your experience – we should all embrace that.

 

 

 

Aryn Henning Nichols loves hearing stories about world travels. In her lifetime, she hopes to visit many more countries than her current seven. Better get “planning”!

Go Ahead: Have a Cow

By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Oct/Nov issue of Inspire(d) Magazine, updated Aug. 2014

Have you spotted the new cow mural on the Oneota Cow-op? (The puns have been udderly ridiculous here in Decorah…) Her name is Irene and she was painted by Waukon artist Valerie Miller. We got to interview her back in 2010, so here’s a little #tbt!

ValerieMillerworking

“How now?” probably wouldn’t be the question artist Valerie Miller asks the Brown Cow, if given the chance. More likely it would be, “Could you please hold still?”

You see, Valerie paints cows – brown and every kind in between. She carefully captures their expressive eyes, subtle body language, and sometimes not-so-subtle attitudes and pairs them with bright, barren backgrounds in a pop-art-meets-the-farm sort of style.

So, of course, it makes perfect sense that she and her husband, artist and furniture designer Josh Miller (J.L.Miller Company), would call Waukon home. For Valerie, home again.

Although it was Josh’s idea to move back to the area to start their gallery,  (Steel Cow), in Northeast Iowa, Valerie was equally excited – and not just for of the abundance of cows.

“It is nice here – it is a beautiful, quaint, small, Midwestern area that has more subjects than I can ever paint – plus it’s home,” she says. “It feels good to be surrounded by friends and family.”

After pondering various locales to plant roots, and a 3-day trial run in Montana, coming back to Waukon was – to quote Goldilocks – just right.

“There isn’t the quantity or variety of the big cultural activities here you find in larger cities such as museums, art galleries, theater, etc. but on the other hand we are in the middle of the country and it is easy to go anywhere from here. People like to talk about others, but at the same time if something important is being spread, it spreads quickly and we are proven time and time again we have an enormous support system here in Northeast Iowa. It is cold, but we get to wear our favorite sweaters and scarves,” she says, going on. “For me, a huge pro is being able to see my family on a daily and weekly basis – oh and there are a lot of cows.”

(Have we mentioned she likes cows?)

Valerie’s history in Northeast Iowa is long – she and Josh even set up their studio and business in the building Valerie’s great-great-grandfather built as a furniture store way back in 1925. Plus, it is where her passions were first fostered.

ecow mural 20082

“I have always been interested in art and painting,” she says. “Ever since I was a little girl I was enamored with animals and I dreamed of being a painter.”

It’s safe to say Valerie Miller is officially a painter. Through talent, hard work, and business savvy, the little girl’s dream has become a grown-up reality.

“I am very fortunate that I am able to share my artwork with others and I hope it can help them lighten their day and bring smiles to their faces through the images I paint.”

QUEENIEMiniMooCanvasPrintWinArtMany of those images are of Queenie, Valerie’s favorite cow. So what makes her so special?

“First of all, she is beautiful! I have painted her over and over again – so many times in fact that I keep having to give my paintings of her different names of so I don’t have 20 paintings named Queenie,” Valerie says. “I also like what she represents – she is –was –from a small local family farm and was the matriarch of their herd. She kept her head high – for a cow anyway – and did a fantastic job leading all the cows in her herd in their daily activities.”

Despite branching out in animal varieties (dogs and other pets in the past, plus a horse may have been spotted on a wet studio canvas recently), Valerie doesn’t paint people. And no matter what, cows will continue to hold top billing.

“I feel like I still have thousands of cows left in me to paint,” she says.

The upcoming Northeast Iowa Studio Tour running from October 3–5 (2014) is a great chance to check out Valerie and Josh’s work and gallery at 15 Allamakee Street in Downtown Waukon.

“If any of you readers do get a chance to go on the Studio Tour – you should. We would love to see you in Waukon, of course, but all the artists have been working very hard throughout the year and this is an important weekend for the participants,” Valerie says. “A must-see stop is Nate and Hallie Evans from Allamakee Wood-Fired Pottery. They make amazing pottery, Nate is now offering glass pieces – which are brand-new and pretty cool – and their place has a special feeling all it’s own.”

The Millers are grateful to have friends like the Evans right here in the region, and that activities like the Northeast Iowa Studio Tour happen, along with many other arts initiatives.

“When I was a kid, there wasn’t as many art things as there are now and this is great for everyone,” Valerie says. “The more art, the better our lives.”

———–

Aryn Henning Nichols used to be a bit afraid of cows when she was little, but she’s since recovered. I mean…who’s ever heard of a human-eating cow? That’s right: No one.

Did you know? Supporting other artists is important to the Miller duo, as well as supporting the environment. They are part of an alliance of businesses that collectively give 1% of their annual sales to support a fitting natural environment organization, such as Seed Savers Exchange, which received support this year. And YOU can support their endeavors by “Having a Cow.” Learn more at steelcow.com

Kick It Up With Kickapoo Coffee

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By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Feb/March 2010 Inspire(d) Magazine

The room is literally abuzz. If caffeine were palpable, you could carve your initials in the air at Kickapoo Coffee headquarters in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Cups line a shelf, half-filled, grounds stuck to the lip after a morning cupping session.

Caleb Nicholes and TJ Semanchin, co-owners of Kickapoo Coffee along with Denise Semanchin, are busy tasting espresso. A basket (or gruppa) of ground espresso beans is thrust under my nose, “Smell like blueberries?” Caleb asks. He moves on like a mad scientist, working quickly and making plenty of noise as he grinds, whirs, and thwacks the various tools it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee. Oh, that elusive perfect cup.

 

“We totally geek out on coffee,” says TJ. “The other day we used the same type of beans, brewed the same way, but with three different kinds of water. And the coffees were all completely different from each other.”

Therein lies the most difficult aspect of the Kickapoo crew’s – and any other coffee roasters’ – trade. The bean is merely an ingredient to be properly prepared, like asparagus or sweet corn. It’s sometimes compared to the nuances of wine grapes: the origin of the bean, growing and cultivation practices, and ways it’s dried, stored, and roasted are all of utmost importance. Every coffee-producing region makes a different tasting bean and every roaster processes it in its own unique way. But the finished product, the cup, is not up to any of this. It’s up to the barista or the mere at-home-coffee-drinker to heat the (right) water correctly, grind the beans to the perfect consistency, and steep it not too long, but not too short. It’s not bottled and corked with an “open on” plan.

“You send the coffee out and trust that the consumer will prepare it properly,” TJ says. “There are so many variables.”

But Kickapoo closely controls the variables on their end to help you start with the very best ingredient. That begins for these roasters with a melding of Fair Trade AND great-tasting beans. And they’re quick to note these things are not always synonymous, although they’re striving to make it more so.

“The Fair Trade price is just the floor – it only covers the cost of farming,” TJ explains. “We want to do better than that, treat the farmers better, and we want to help them learn that if they put a little more work into the quality of their beans it will really pay off.”

They became owner-members of Cooperative Coffees to help further this cause. A fair trade importing business owned by 23 like-minded roasters, Cooperative Coffees sets the bar higher for the fair trade world. According to the Kickapoo website, the Coop’s pricing minimum is 10 cents above fair trade standards at $1.61. (“A price that in practice we routinely exceed,” Kickapoo says.) They also offer farmer-partners pre-harvest financing. Kickapoo imports more than 80 percent of their coffees through this avenue.

As Kickapoo and the other Cooperative Coffee partners grow in popularity, it’s the hope that consumers will realize these beans are not just good politics, but are the best-tasting as well.

“It’s about getting those two things to combine and cross. It’s at the core of what we do,” TJ says. “And we do it for our own sake too – we love to drink a good cup of coffee.”

This commitment has helped get their business buzzing (pun intended). Kickapoo Coffee was named 2010 Micro Roaster of the Year by Portland-based magazine, Roast, and has received favorable nods from Consumer Reports and Coffee Review. In just over four years since their first roast in November of 2005, they’ve grown Kickapoo to produce 1700 pounds of coffee each week – and last year they even saw a profit: no small feat for any new business. It seemed that fate led them all to the tiny Wisconsin town of 4,400 people.

With Organic Valley headquartered in La Farge, Wisconsin, just 15 miles from Viroqua, many locals were knowledgeable about what they put in their bodies and where it came from. TJ, originally from Buffalo, New York, came to know Viroqua through his work with Minneapolis-based roaster Peace Coffee, where he pushed for social change in the industry for years, spurred on by his travels in Latin America that focused on sustainable development. He was convinced that fair trade, organic coffee farming could change the face of rural Latin America. When he and his wife, Denise, were planning on expanding their family, they also planned on a move.

“I didn’t see myself in a city long term. Viroqua was on the radar for a long time,” says TJ. “It’s a hotbed for organic farming. We planned to move here and start our own roastery.”

Unfortunately – or so it seemed – someone had “beaten them to the punch.”

Caleb had begun Kickapoo Coffee with his sister, Haley Ashley, after having roasted coffee at home for the past five years. Originally from the West Coast – Oregon and then Idaho – Caleb has spent most of his life dedicated to food and drink, including three years as a boutique European wine importer. This work took him all over Europe, but it was family that brought him to Southwest Wisconsin.

When TJ decided to introduce himself to the new Kickapoo Coffee roasters, it appeared Caleb’s talented palette was a perfect match for TJ’s years of experience.

“I knew right away we could work well together, so I asked if they wanted to join forces,” TJ says. It turned out there was nothing unfortunate about the combined Kickapoo team. They all bring various talents to the table: Caleb is the head roaster, in charge of roast profiles. Denise, currently taking a leave to be a stay-at-home-mom, maintains marketing and outreach. Hallie is the office manager, doing much of the business-end/paperwork-side of things, and TJ is a self-proclaimed “Jack of All Trades,” being able to pinch hit in any of the positions should it be needed.

“No one’s really sure what exactly I do around here,” he says, joking.

The roastery is housed in Viroqua’s old train depot, a formerly vacant historic building that Kickapoo restored. The restoration process, like their business, was focused on sustainability. They reclaimed studs, salvaged trim and wainscoting, installed efficient heating and recycled insulation, and sourced local carpenters for their custom storage bins and cabinets.

The result is a bright, warm space that has a comforting feel and retro appeal. The vintage 1930s German roaster (that even runs on handmade Amish belts!) and complementary mint-green vintage canner help this aesthetic along, and the sustainable good looks continue with their packaging: reusable, recyclable steel cans containing 80 percent post-consumer recycled steel that bear the artwork of Viroqua-based woodcut artist. And their one and five-pound coffee bags are biodegradable.

(UPDATE: Kickapoo has moved on up! Their new (and gorgeous) headquarters are located at 1201 N. Main St., Suite 10, Viroqua. They host public cupping events regularly, so like them on Facebook to get the next one on your calendar!)

Although they ship coffee all over the county, they’ve also gained local popularity. The bulk of their beans is hand-delivered or shipped within a 200-mile radius.

These smart business practices don’t stop with their roastery; they also strive for a sustainable home life, working just four-day weeks so they can spend time with family.

“It’s kept us really efficient,” TJ says. “I don’t think we’d get any more work done even if we spread it out over five-days.”

Of course, it makes sense. Family values fit right in with the laudable vision that has made Kickapoo Coffee what it is.

“We’ve been very clear about what we set out to do,” says TJ. “Having and staying true to that vision makes it easy to make decisions in our business. We know what the right thing to do is before the question is even asked.”

Find lots of great information about coffee, Fair Trade, Kickapoo and more at www.kickapoocoffee.com

Aryn Henning Nichols spent many mornings attempting to achieve the perfect cup of coffee after this interview. She was successful about half the time. Must be something in the water…

Where to get Kickapoo Coffee in the Driftless Region:
Decorah: Oneota Community Co-op, Magpie Coffeehouse
Winona: Mugby Junction Café, Bluff Country Co-op
La Crosse: Pearl Street, People’s Food Co-op, Root Note, Sip & Surf
Viroqua: Chilito Lindo, Driftless Fair Traders, Harmony Valley Farm CSA, OZone, Viroqua Family Market, Viroqua Food Co-op

Below is a run-down on the best brewing and storing practices, directly from the coffee masters themselves (see more info at www.kickapoocoffee.com).

Brewing is a critical aspect of making great coffee. It is extremely important to follow a few basic guidelines related to water quality, temperature, equipment and grinding. Below is a list of general coffee brewing principles. For more specific brewing recommendations, please click on one of the brewing icons.

WATER
Excellent coffee requires excellent water ­– there’s no way around it. Do not use distilled water; instead use filtered water, spring water, or Artesian well water. Minerals are important for coffee flavor so reverse osmosis water, while filtered, will not yield optimum results.

TEMPERATURE
Coffee tastes best when brewed between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Most drip coffee makers don’t quite hit this temperature. You can achieve this range on your stove by bringing water to a boil and letting it rest for a minute or two. Do not use boiling water – it will cook the nuances out of the beans.

 GRIND
For best results, we recommend a burr grinder because it produces a much more consistent grind (though a blade grinder is still preferable to pre-ground coffee). As a general rule, coffee should be ground finer for quick extractions like espresso, medium for the auto-drip method and coarser for slower extractions like the French press. Measure your coffee first before putting it into the grinder and only grind as much as you need per brew. Once the coffee is ground, its flavor will immediately begin to deteriorate.

 STRENGTH
A general rule of thumb is 2 rounded tablespoons, or 8 to 10 grams, per 6 ounces of water. If you like a weaker or stronger cup, adjust the amount of coffee you use, not the grind of your coffee. A grind that is too fine under a long extraction period will taste bitter and over-extracted, while a grind that is too coarse will taste weak and diluted. Remember that the full expression of the coffee will become most evident as the coffee reaches lukewarm temps, so drink slowly and appreciate your brew as it cools off. If it is too strong, or too weak, this is when you will taste it most.

 STORAGE
Coffee should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place (like a kitchen cupboard). Our coffee cans are ideal storage vessels so feel free to use them throughout the season. The only time storing coffee in a freezer is appropriate is when you have more than a few weeks’ supply. If you do use the freezer make sure to put the coffee in an airtight container.