Wisconsin consumers favor local food
December 29, 2020
Knowing how their food is produced has become something of a necessity for Rock County residents in southern Wisconsin. Food is Fuel, a non-traditional convenience store in Orfordville, attracts copious amounts of consumers every day who appreciate being able to trust the origins of their food.
“Honestly, I feel every rural community needs a Fuel,” said Jill Uhe, rural Orfordville resident.
Fuel, as it’s affectionately called by locals, has been open since July 2019 and is a convenience store that offers healthy alternative meal options and is filled with products from 40 local farmers. Owner Diana Grenawalt sells her family’s honey and beef there as well as other cuts of meat produced on small farms within 30 miles of Orfordville. Cheese from world-renowned Decatur Dairy, which is just down the road in Brodhead, Wisconsin, is a staple at Fuel. Grenawalt offers soft-serve ice cream and milk from a local farmer-owned company. The store’s fresh produce, which might be the biggest hit among locals, comes from a Wisconsin farm that specializes in growing potatoes but is also a year-round fruit and vegetable distributor.
“It is the best thing to be able to get fresh produce in Orfordville,” said Ellen Pautsch, a village resident.
Grenawalt, who had no interest in operating a traditional convenience store, approached Kevin Wellnitz with her idea for Fuel. Wellnitz owns the property where the store sits along with the 24-hour self-serve gas pumps just outside. He also owns Sather’s Service across the street. At the time, Grenawalt was trying to market her family’s beef while working full-time.
“I thought this idea might help bridge the gap between Orfordville residents and the local farmer, allowing them to sample products by the cut and ultimately purchase larger amounts directly from the farmer,” she said.
Although the store hadn’t yet been open a full year when the pandemic struck in March 2020, Grenawalt said it was experiencing steady growth before the pandemic began. When safer-at-home orders were put in place, locals appreciated Grenawalt’s offerings even more. She believes there is definitely more interest in supporting local businesses this year.
“I think the importance of shopping locally is to keep consumer’s money local,” she said. “When grocery stores were limiting meat purchases, we were connecting clients with local farmers so they could fill their freezers. I hope that our little store helped ease the worry of food insecurity for even just a few people during the covid crisis.”
Wunberg Produce owner Kenneth Wundrow supplies jams and jellies to Fuel. The Sharon, Wisconsin supplier said he is grateful for his connection to Fuel and the sales it has generated for his business.
“Our sales doubled this year,” he said. “The pandemic only benefitted us from a business standpoint.”
Orfordville residents and people who come through town on business or pleasure are enjoying the offerings of Food is Fuel.
“I can always find something I’m in the mood for on their menu,” said Hayley Wilson, of Janesville, Wisconsin. Wilson is employed with Parkview School District in Orfordville.
“During the spring when many were home sheltering, Fuel offered a safe, local place to shop for fresh produce and other items Orfordville hasn’t been able to purchase locally in a long time,” said Beth Schmidt, Orfordville resident and chair of the village’s economic development committee.
“I had a blast making gift baskets for Christmas using jams, seasonings, bread mixes, honey and candles that I bought at Fuel,” said Dawn Swenson, Orfordville resident.
“Fuel is the only place in the area we will buy meat off the shelf,” said Brian Zable of Brodhead.
“My three-year-old daughter also loves Fuel and calls it the ‘grilled cheese store,’” said Anna Mossestad-Engen of Orfordville.
“[I was] extremely happy to receive a gift card for Christmas,” said Vickie Marchant of Orfordville. “I love all the local products and am so appreciative of this small business in our little town.”