Posts Tagged: Wisconsin

Adrian Lipscombe

By Sara Walters • Originally published in the Holiday + Winter 2020-21 Inspire(d)

Adrian Lipscombe of 40 Acres and a Mule

Photo courtesy Adrian Lipscombe

Farming in the Midwest is a deep-rooted tradition. Grounded in a history of agriculture, cultivating the foods that end up on our tables has long been the legacy of the region, particularly in the Driftless. But for the black community, the same isn’t true.

This striking reality presented itself loud-and-clear to Adrian Lipscombe, owner of Uptown Cafe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, earlier this year, and it eventually led her to launch a black farming initiative, 40 Acres and a Mule. But as passionate as she’s been about supporting the black farmer, it’s surprising to learn that she became involved in the cause almost serendipitously.

After the events surrounding George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis the summer of 2020, Adrian received a check in the mail. Confused, she thought maybe she had forgotten to collect from a catering job. But then came the requests for Venmo payments. Adrian, a black woman and small business owner, couldn’t figure out what it was for, so she finally asked. Turns out, people just wanted to support her during this moment of racial inequality and unrest.

Adrian went to bed puzzled. Should she take the money? What would she do with it?

A good night’s rest was all the inspiration she needed. Adrian woke and immediately knew, “I’m going to buy black land and I’m going to concentrate on black farmers,” she says, thinking back to that pivotal moment. As an entrepreneur and former city planner, Adrian immediately kicked it into high gear, reaching out to contacts on the East Coast – this epiphany happened early in the morning and she needed resources that were awake. “I was asking them, does this exist? And I learned that this is a real need. So I launched 40 Acres and a Mule within 24 hours,” she says.

40 Acres and a Mule strives to provide resources and connections for black farmers. The name comes from a term derived from Union General William T. Sherman in his 1865 Special Field Order No. 15. This reparations movement promised to pay restitution to African Americans for their enslavement.

This seemed fitting to Adrian as she began digging into the history of black farming. Reaching out to different organizations, she started to see that her community was a perfect example of where black farming could thrive, but hasn’t. “Wisconsin is a homogeneous farming community. But where is the black farmer today?” she found herself asking.

The fact that she asks these questions, launches initiatives within 24 hours, and is the first person people think of when they have extra money to support a business, is why Adrian is the epitome of a community builder. With roots in the South, she’s not a La Crosse native, but the city has welcomed her, and her leadership, with open arms. “La Crosse is such a great community. It’s the smallest city I’ve ever lived in,” she says. “People here are really sincere in wanting to help make it a better place, a diverse place, an equitable place.” Though she was surprised by the monetary outreach this summer, she wasn’t surprised that her community wanted to help. “They come out when there is a need – they get behind that and they support that. It’s difficult to do in a large city with a large population,” she says, joking that she wishes she could keep her beloved community the well-kept secret it is. “They all care and they’re all so genuine. It’s magical.”

What better place for Adrian to kick off 40 Acres and a Mule than a place “surrounded by organic farmers and great people”? Though her cause has garnered a wide following, media attention, and donations from across the country, it’s the day-to-day in La Crosse that Adrian credits with providing the support to press on, and to continue to be a black business owner in America. “Our restaurant’s relationship to the community has gotten stronger. Especially during a time like this. For people to come by and check on us. Just to wave at us in the window to make sure we’re okay. Here in La Crosse you have those opportunities to take deeper breaths, to understand what is happening in your community and the world around you,” she says.

When she’s not out researching, speaking with farmers, meeting with the media, raising awareness, and just generally spearheading the project, Adrian still has responsibilities at her restaurant. Like many small businesses during the pandemic, there has been so much pivoting that “my hips hurt” she laughs. Uptown Cafe has added outdoor dining and has made space to accommodate more bakery items. “We have to adapt,” she says.  “It’s an unprecedented time, we are able to chart the way. There’s going to be some mistakes but we’re going to find the good, too.”

That’s how she’s approaching 40 Acres and Mule, too. She admits, “What I thought was a gap is really like a canyon.” Black farming, black foodways, agricultural disparities, lack of education, lack of profitability, and lack of black mentorship in the industry are just the tip of the iceberg and Adrian knows it. Though she wishes she could do it all, “we’re focusing on what we can realistically do,” she says, adding, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we want the wheel to go faster.”

There are lots of avenues Adrian sees for increasing the speed of the wheel. At first, she thought it needed to be specifically just land for black farmers. But land is expensive, and though she still has her sights set on this, she has pivoted again (sore, sore hips) to address other issues for black farmers. She’s learned that many are over the age of 55 and have no one to whom they can pass down their legacy. Others are young and interested, but have no place to turn to for education and mentorship. She also acknowledges that historically, black farming has been tumultuous and violent. She wants to help control and shape this narrative going forward – to give it some positivity, to point black communities in the right direction, to make lifelong connections between black business and farmers. Adrian sees the Driftless as a great case study for change. She’s currently working to understand community needs, working directly with both black and white farmers to learn more about their work and the economics of farming.

Her short-term goal is to serve as a conduit between black farmers and available resources. She knows there are trustworthy organizations and systems that can help them, but the connection isn’t there. “It’s difficult for black farmers to find the aid that they need. It’s really huge that that is missing,” she explains. And ultimately, her long-term goal is to produce more black farmers in America. To help provide that education and open up that pathway to “give black people the chance to be farmers if they want to,” Adrian says.

As a chef, Adrian knows full-well the importance of supporting farmers of all ethnicities, so restaurants like hers can continue to bring quality dishes to the tables of patrons. “Understanding agriculture and understanding how food is produced is important to my job and my restaurant. I’m getting the chance to understand from the ground to the plate. Being involved in that process, to me that’s so joyful to know where my food comes from,” she says. “It’s like putting my hands in the soil.”

Adrian continues to build this community with the support of donors far and wide. 40 Acres and a Mule’s GoFundMe page has already raised over $131,000 as of printing. And locally, in the Driftless, people continue to do what they do best – provide support. “Farmers are mentoring me, both black and white. To have the opportunity to talk to them about where their food goes is an honor. It’s a rare opportunity.”


Sara Walters is a freelance writer and mom living in La Crescent, Minnesota. She is the daughter and granddaughter of lifelong farmers. 

Read the Summer 2018 Inspire(d)!

Lots of fun things to look forward to in the Summer 2018 Inspire(d):

4-H • Dunning’s Spring bridge / Stonemason Ted Wilson • Viroqua’s Growing for Good • Adventures in the Driftless • Summer “Fill Your” Bucket List • Wabasha’s LARK Toys • Sum of Your Business: WW Homestead Dairy, Paper Butterflies, & More!

A note from Aryn:

Thinking back on my childhood, summer was all about adventures. Oftentimes, those adventures were just exploring the woods in my backyard or going down to the nearby creek with my cousins to squish cold mud between our toes.

So there’s nothing that brings me more joy than watching my kid run around our backyard, barefoot, hiding behind ferns and playing silly made-up games with her friends, or climbing up the rocks at Dunning’s Spring in Decorah. (Read Kristine Jepsen’s story about the new Dunning’s Spring bridge, and stonemason Ted Wilson on page 42 – it is fascinating!)

This is the stuff of summer, you guys!

Need a little inspiration to get you started? You clearly came to the right place! Check out our Summer Fill Your Bucket List, and some great events you might want to add to your Adventure Calendar this season (ever heard of the Catgut Paddle? It looks awesome!). Adventuring Ideas start on page 34, plus there’s a nice round up of resources available for exploring our little corner of the Driftless (pg 64), compiled by recent Luther grad Elizabeth Bonin.

CLICK HERE to read the Summer 2018 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine!

I know one adventure we’re adding to our list for sure: LARK Toys in Wabasha, Minnesota. How is it that I’ve never been to this giant (seriously, it’s 21,000 square feet!) toy store? Reading Maggie Sonnek’s story about how the current owners took on this “Willy Wonka-style” job – and how it connects to a slower pace of life – was truly beautiful (pg. 55).

Another big part of my childhood summer was 4-H. At the end of the school year, I would pick a pattern with my mom, and together we’d sew a project (inevitably we’d run right up on the fair deadline in July – an early sign of my aversion to deadlines?). I would often submit a photograph or another craft too, or maybe even do a presentation (I got to go to Cattle Congress as a junior member!). I remember painting awesome trash cans with our 4-H club name (the Cherry Valley Chums) for the Allamakee County Fair and working the food booth with fellow members.

(Sidenote: I totally could have entered something crafty with the Paper Butterflies Project Roxie and I put together on page 21.)

So yes: Fair time was the best! I think the Einck kids featured in this issue of Inspire(d) think the same thing (pg. 14)! Sara Friedl-Putnam tagged along with these three Decorah siblings as they took care of some of the animals they’re showing at the Winneshiek County Fair – from chickens to dogs to sheep to goats! Going through the livestock barns (and the 4-H building) is one of my favorite parts of the fair, and it was fun to get the background on what it takes to get there, and learn some of the history behind my beloved 4-H organization as well (pg. 14).

We’ve got lots of other great stories woven throughout this issue too – Growing for Good in Viroqua, Wisconsin (pg. 26), WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon (pg. 51), a wonderful probituary, and more.

We hope you have a great summer, friends, and that this magazine helps inspires you to get out adventuring!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

CLICK HERE to read the Summer 2018 issue of Inspire(d) Magazine!

Probituary – A Notice of Life: Eleanor & Tilford ‘Tip’ Bagstad

Interview by Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Spring 2018 Inspire(d)

Eleanor and Tip Bagstad were both born on Norwegian-speaking farmsteads in the coulees of Vernon County. Eleanor recalls the farm life, tending nine acres of tobacco, playing piano, as well as playing “teacher” with her eight siblings. Tip grew up in Timber Coulee, and farmed his whole life, in addition to “two or three other jobs… always”. Tip also ski-jumped as a youngster, including a trip to the National Jr. Ski Jump Competition in the early 1950s. At age 48, Tip picked up the fiddle and started learning old time tunes by ear. Eleanor played piano most of her life, and family friend Beatrice Olson, a retired dairy farmer, also happened to be an accomplished accordion player. The trio started playing in 1982, after being invited to play at a Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center meeting. A small article was written in the local paper, asking “Could it be, ‘The Norskedalen Trio’?”

The trio went on to play all over the upper Midwest for three decades, including Westby Syttenda Mai, many trips to Nordic Fest in Decorah, community dances in La Crosse, and The Yankton Old Time Fiddlers festival. The group was invited to perform at the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Wisconsin Folklife Festival in Madison, WI. They contributed several tracks to the album Deep Polka: Dance Music from the Midwest, put out by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and also produced their own albums.

Tip also took up Acanthus and chip carving later in life. He was awarded a gold medal in carving at Vesterheim Museum’s National Exhibition of folk art in 2000. The couple has two daughters, Bonnie and Kimberly, who are both accomplished in regional health care fields. Eleanor and Tip’s 62 years of marriage are a testament to hard work and the courage to take on new challenges at every step of life.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Tip
– My Dad always used to say that it isn’t always what you make in the year, its what you have left at the end of it.

Eleanor – We were always told from home to be friendly when you meet people.

Tip – It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice!

What did you want to be when you grew up? What do/did you do?
Eleanor
– I always knew I wanted to teach. When we were little we’d all play school, and I always liked to be the teacher! After normal school, I went on to teach at 5 of the country schools in Vernon County, and played and taught piano too.

Tip – Well, my brother and I did construction work for several years, building many tobacco sheds and such. I hauled milk in the coulee for a few years when we were first married. I later took a job leading up habitat restoration crews for the Wisconsin DNR. For 17 years I led crews to restore trout habitat. Our crew helped create the LUNKERS structure, and several trout stream restoration ideas. I also always had cattle on the farm.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
Well, probably food and water. Maybe our instruments!

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
We like lutefisk and lefse, but not every day! We enjoy if for special occasions though. And we’ve often had good trout to eat over the years.

Tell us about…

Your wedding day:
We were married June 2, 1956 at Coon Valley Norwegian Lutheran church. We had 600 people at the reception as we both had a lot of relatives. It was an afternoon wedding, and of course at that time there was no dance, as it wasn’t allowed – we just had a big reception in the church and then everyone went home.

Your First Job:
We’ve both done many things, but both of our families raised tobacco. Eleanor’s family had nine kids, and nine acres of tobacco, which is a lot of tobacco. It was a big job, growing, tending, and harvesting. And then there was the work in the tobacco houses – Bekkedal, Lorillard, King Edward – we did that for years.

Your favorite memory:
We’ve been fortunate to travel to Norway three times. Our daughters came along as well, and they spoke Norwegian because that’s all their grandparents spoke. And of course playing music all over the Midwest for 30 years – so many great people.