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Waseda Farms Black Angus Cow

Photo Credit: Waseda Farms

Sustainability; what exactly does it mean. People hear it and tend to assume their political stances right away. It’s a term that evokes strong reactions because it is often used to describe ways in which we humans can do a better job managing our lives and our surroundings. Nobody wants to hear that, it makes us feel guilty. But I don’t think this term needs to carry any political connotations, nor does it need to inspire guilt.

There are so many ways we can use the term sustainable. One could argue that first and foremost our own lives need to be sustainable before we can go spreading a larger message of sustainability to others. Getting enough sleep, exercising, getting paid a fair wage to work, hopefully eating well, being kind to others, being philanthropic within your community and the wider world. One could go on for hours! I write this fully aware that my life at times seems unsustainable, and that my attempts at sustainable business practices fall far short of perfection, that I still drink bottled water, that I fly on airplanes. STOP! You get the idea. Nobody is perfect, but we sure as hell can try to make positive changes in how we choose to treat ourselves and our environment.

I originally came at sustainability through the use of my tastebuds. I would travel to Italy and eat dishes while researching for Trattoria Stefano, then return home, and attempt to make those same dishes. The meat was dry, or tasted and smelled strange, the salad lettuces had no flavor, the bread was lifeless. Something was wrong! When I asked Tony Renger, then owner of Willow Creek Farms Berkshire pastured pork, why my conventional product I was getting tasted funny, he said what you are tasting is “urine, other waste, disease, filth and overcrowding. And if you lived like they did you would taste the same way.” That was 1996, and it stuck with me forever, perhaps more than anything in my life, except numerous lines from the movies Naked Gun and Airplane. Actually true.

During the pandemic we never ran out of beef, lamb, pork, eggs, or flour for our bread. We simply picked up the phone and called the farm, or the mill. We now buy a whole local 100% grass fed and finished steer every week, usually one or two local pigs, a lamb, last week a goat, and soon our first local pastured bison. Every pizza at Ritrovo uses cheese made fresh daily with local curd. We buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of local vegetables each season from local farms. The beans in our soups are from Doudlah farms in Evansville, WI. The flours in our breads come from Meadowlark Mills, an organic mill in Ridgeway, WI. Their rye which is in our Dinkelbrot and Miche breads, is also in our flagship beer Snail Ale, made by McFleschmann’s in Appleton, an idea I thought would help the rye farmer as well as the mill. Without the mill, the farmer won't grow rye, and the farmer needs to grow rye and other grains like buckwheat, which we also buy, to give the nutrients back to the soil as part of proper rotational farming. To me this is sustainability!

In closing, every time we choose to spend money eating in restaurants or shopping for groceries, we can have a positive impact on our local environment and economy, and most importantly our bodies. It is one micro way we can all practice sustainability! We buy and use local products, or carefully sourced imported products, to ensure that we support stewards of the earth who work so hard to bring us the tastiest foods in the world. Sustainability just tastes better!


Fresh Vine Ripe Tomatoes from Local Producer Springdale Farms

Photo credit: Springdale Farm

Plates from a Trattoria Stefano cheese dinner using Marcelli raw milk cheeses. A truly sustainable operation as they graze on pastures in the wild National Park of Abruzzo! Photo credit: Aliza Baran for Milwaukee Magazine.


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