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Yesterday I discovered a patch of ramps clustered around my wood pile. I was tickled to find that my yard supports these wild-growing leeks. I snagged a trowel and my husband, and we went to work harvesting a healthy armful of green leaves and white bulbs. I cleaned the wild produce in the kitchen sink, and my excitement grew as I considered the new flavors I could introduce to my cooking. I should clarify: I had never actually tried ramps before. I had only ogled friends’ images of their own ramps jealously on Instagram. To me they were a distant farmers market commodity, available only for a few weeks every spring. I was also satisfied with the fact that the new ingredient had come from the ground, and I had actually picked it myself. It’s a unique reason to appreciate living where I do. When I lived in the city, yes, I had a garden, but finding surprise ingredients to add to supper never happened.
Folks who live in rural Door County live here for all kinds of reasons, but the twenty and thirty-something’s I know share common ground. We care about what we eat and want to be part of where it comes from. We want to feel like a part of a community, and we are thrilled by the opportunities available to us here.
Last Monday I had burgers with my friends Craig and Allison. They talked about their decision to move to Door County just over two years ago. They came with a much better-developed appreciation for where their food comes from than my own. In fact, they moved here for Craig’s job at Waseda Farms. Craig wanted to work with livestock, specifically organic livestock. When the farm he had worked for in New Glarus shut down, he saw it as an opportunity to pursue his interest. His cousin, a restaurateur in Egg Harbor, introduced him to Waseda’s owner. After an eight-hour interview in the dead of winter, Craig took the job. He and his now-fiancé, Allison, moved into an apartment in Egg Harbor a few weeks later.
Allison also found several part-time jobs using her skills as a cook and baker as well as her background in early childhood education. As a couple in their mid twenties, they had a bit of a hard time meeting people at first. Working on a farm and in a kitchen, they didn’t have much time to meet people. Craig’s 50-60-hour workweek was demanding; though he appreciated the full-time year round work. Then Craig started shooting hoops with a group of guys on Sunday evenings. He changed jobs and now works on a goat farm in Sister Bay. Lately, he’s been gathering ramps to flavor the delicious creamy goat cheese. Allison has just started a position as the cook for the Peninsula Players. Craig and Allison are planning their wedding, and they’re committed to keeping it as sustainable as possible, right down to the edible centerpieces.
Despite some challenges, moving to Door County fulfilled a dream they’d had since they began dating. Craig’s family had spent summers on a sailboat during his childhood, and Allison had also visited the peninsula. They knew they wanted to try out year round life here. They told me about a favorite adventure they’d had. This year on Valentine’s Day they took their dog Paige on a hike in Peninsula Park. They decided to take advantage of the solid ice and venture all the way across the bay to Horseshoe Island. That type of adventure is not available just anywhere.
My friend Annie remembers visiting Cave Point as a high school student and standing at the edge of the coastline waiting to be splashed with the waves. Last week when we had a conversation outside the Y in Fish Creek she marveled that people come from all over to see Cave Point. Unlike Allison, Craig and me, Annie is a native. She’s lived in Door County her entire life. Her parents are both from the peninsula and much of her extended family lives in west Jacksonport. Annie moved away to attend college in Oshkosh, but chose to move back. “Ultimately, this is where my heart is,” she told me. Annie admires her parents, who she said are “really hardworking people and they always worked to give us every opportunity.” Annie credited her parents’ examples for her own multi-faceted career as a personal trainer and cross country and track coach.
An avid runner herself, Annie’s favorite place to hit the pavement or the trail is Whitefish Dunes State Park. There, she told me, she can run on the beach, jog on a flat trail or power through hilly terrain. I wondered whether she ever stopped seeing Door County’s natural beauty. She admitted that yes, she might take it for granted sometimes because this is what she’s used to. Annie said she can refresh herself with the specialness of this place by slowing down and reconnecting with the relationships she has here. Annie cherishes the supportive community she lives in. She said that when someone is sick or something goes wrong, the community rallies to help.
One surprise she found when she began working at the Y was the number of people her age in Northern Door. Annie said many of her siblings’ friends have chosen to return to Door County to raise their families. We talked about why this is: there are great schools here, and it is a safe place. Annie shared another insight from a conversation she’d had with another friend. She observed that there are opportunities here that aren’t possible in other places, like owning a business. “There are so many young business owners and entrepreneurs, just people with bright ideas.” This idea came up in conversation with my friend Cindi.
Cindi and I talked about Door County in the dining room of her gorgeous rustic home in the woods outside Sister Bay. Cindi, her husband Jeremy and their four kids moved to Sister Bay from Appleton just over one year ago. Like Allison and Craig, they were fulfilling a dream to have a residence here, and it came to fruition sooner than expected. Jeremy’s job in Sturgeon Bay brought their family north, and he eventually chose to start his own asset management practice. Cindi has found that in a community of many business owners, people help one another out.
Cindi talked about their family’s easy transition to peninsula life. The kids joined scouts last summer and made friends before starting school. Cindi said friends asked her whether she wouldn’t go “stir crazy” during long winters in Door County. Instead, she said their family goes sledding and skiing on their property and attends kids programming at the Ridges and Peninsula School of Art. Cindi said that “because it is a small community that you know more about what’s going on.” I asked her how living in Sister Bay feels different from living in Appleton. “I think it’s more laid back up here.” She explained that when she and her family go places, like out to dinner, they see people they know in Sister Bay, whereas in Appleton that was not usually the case.
Cindi told me her favorite season is the fall, but then immediately described all of the things she loves about summer in Door County. She likes to pack a meal and take her family to one of the many beaches for swimming and a picnic supper. “You don’t have that every place. We probably haven’t tried some of the beaches...Every season has its bonus.”
As I said goodbye to Cindi and her youngest son that afternoon, she pointed out an abundance of ramps that slope down under the trees in her front yard. Not having discovered my own supply of ramps at that point, I was delighted to see so many of them. Cindi said she wouldn’t do much with them and encouraged me to take some home. I dug around in the dirt and gathered a fistful. In Door County, this little onion is a signal that it is really spring and the earth that so many people here rely on is coming back to life. For me, it is a delicious reminder of the commonalities I share with the other ramp-eaters here. Cindi shared an insight from an older friend of hers who also moved to Sister Bay from Appleton: “people who live here, that’s one thing that everyone here has in common. You choose to live up here, for the most part.”
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