ASHLAND, Wis. – Quiet pride is most impressive. No loud boasting is needed because its reason is self-evident. We see quiet pride when a team excels but nobody takes credit. There is no need because impressive accomplishment speaks for itself. The glow of accomplishment is enough. And on occasion we see accomplishment that is self-evident in produce or products. The pride and care that goes into those goods shines brightly through the look, feel and taste of the goods themselves.
Once tasted, the quiet pride that comes from impressive accomplishment becomes a way of living. Some taste it through sports, some through their own industry or academic excellence, and others through military service. For those who have the taste, life changes. The pursuit of excellence becomes unending and life becomes richer with meaning because of it.
On a quiet gravel road in the country near the county line between the Wisconsin counties of Ashland and Bayfield, farm fields dominate the landscape. Cattle low in the distance. Gentle summer breezes sway the leaves on stalks of corn. On one small farm well-kept gardens surround neat buildings that include a high-tunnel greenhouse. During the growing season more likely than not visitors will find an industrious family at work in those gardens.
On a summer afternoon Scott and Laurie Weber, and niece Neve Halvorson, were tending the gardens on the Weber farm. Scott Weber paused to talk.
“We started Window Licker Cannery eight years ago as a business selling at the farmers market,” he said. “It all started with gardening. We bought a piece of property with room to put in a garden. Laurie has a background in gardening; she has a degree in greenhouse management (from North Dakota State University). She has always had beautiful flower beds. We got into vegetables. Once abundant harvests began we remembered how our grandmothers canned. So we just dove in.”
At first they gave away jars of canned goods to family and friends.
“I was at a farmers market in Minnesota and folks were selling canned goods,” Weber said. “I asked how they were able to do it legally. They introduced me to something called the ‘Pickle Bill.’ I did research and found Wisconsin has a pickle bill (that allows marketing of home-produced products.) Laurie decided we should start selling, and here we are.
“Cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and hot and super-hot peppers. We dabble in a lot but our primary product is pickles followed by pickled beans, pickled beets, pickled asparagus and salsa. The beauty of it is that we grow 90 percent of the products we can. At the beginning my quest was to come up with a plethora of canned vegetables for a ‘Bloody Mary.’ I love a Bloody Mary; we make our own Bloody Mary juice. We buy mushrooms from a local supplier. We grow some asparagus and buy more. We also buy garlic. Everything else we grow here on our farm.”
The Webers start their hundreds of plants from seed indoors. As the plants grow they are moved to a heated greenhouse – and later into a high-tunnel greenhouse and outdoor gardens.
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Scott Weber served in the U.S. Army in Military Police units. He also served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. Like most military-service members his military training began with boot camp. Most who have experienced boot camp consider it a memorable crucible that changed life for the better, though it may not have seemed so at the time.
“The name, Window Licker, comes from the good old U.S. Army,” he said. “I was on a bus being delivered to my drill sergeants with a bunch of other young men. A big burly drill sergeant got on the bus and said, ‘You windowlickers got three seconds to get off my bus!’ I grew up here (in Wisconsin). I’d never heard a term like windowlicker; I got off the bus laughing. That called attention to myself.
“The drill sergeant asked, ‘What do you find so funny?’ I said, ‘Windowlicker.’ And that became my name with the drill sergeants for the rest of basic training. It has stuck with me. So I called our business the Window Licker Cannery because of the humorous side of me, the light of life. The name helped it take off. As we sell it keeps growing. A key to business is to find a creative catchy name that sticks with people.”
Weber has participated in the Ashland Area Development Corporation’s training for veteran entrepreneurs. The training sessions are called, “Ready, Vet, Go!” They’ve have been held annually during the past several years with funding from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Weber mentors other veteran entrepreneurs in the group.
Window Licker Cannery has a Wisconsin Veteran Owned Business designation.
“Being a veteran, I think good old Uncle Sam teaches you how to dive in, work through obstacles, work hard and be dedicated,” he said. “Some folks buy veteran-owned-business products, but most people buy our products because they are awesome.”
Saturday mornings at the farm market in Ashland there is a large display of canned goods. Each jar looks like it just won a blue ribbon at a county fair. The family selling the canned goods can tell you what’s in them because they grew most of the plants from seed, harvested the vegetables themselves, prepared the contents of the jars, sealed the jars, labeled them and brought them to customers at the market. There is no need to brag because in each clear-glass jar the quiet pride shines.
Window Licker Cannery products are available at the Ashland Farmers Market and at regional festivals. Visit windowlickercannery.com for more information.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.