Hundreds gathered in downtown Eau Claire Sunday afternoon to protest the death of George Floyd, who died Monday after pleading for air as a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Carrying signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace” and “I CAN’T BREATHE” and chanting Floyd’s name, protesters marched from Phoenix Park in downtown Eau Claire to Owen Park, where they held a moment of silence for the 46-year-old Floyd, attendees said.
“Black lives do matter, people of color do matter, and this police brutality and senseless violence happening all across America needs to stop,” said Gabby Geary, who attended the protest.
Most protesters in Eau Claire wore masks or face coverings. The Eau Claire City-County Health Department issued a public health order on Friday prohibiting large gatherings over concerns of COVID-19, but the order excludes “constitutionally protected public gatherings” and political and religious gatherings.
The protest Sunday in Eau Claire remained peaceful, attendees and the Eau Claire Police Department said.
No citations or arrests were made at the protest, Eau Claire Police Department public information officer Josh Miller told the Leader-Telegram Sunday.
“Protesting is one of the few ways that we can share our voices, and also show that people of all different races and genders and identities come out,” said Casaiya Keyser, who walked in the protest Sunday.
In addition to Floyd, other black people killed in the U.S. in recent weeks were remembered at Sunday’s protest, including Breonna Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician fatally shot March 13 in Louisville, Ky. by police who broke down her door to conduct a narcotics-related search warrant (a lawsuit filed by Taylor’s mother argued that the person police were looking for had already been arrested by Louisville police before the shooting happened).
“We’re out here for George, for Breonna, for Ahmaud, for all the countless people who have been killed in acts of senseless violence,” Geary said after the protest.
Georgia authorities arrested and charged a white father and son in May in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, 25, a black man fatally shot in February after a vehicle pursuit when the two spotted Arbery running in their Georgia neighborhood.
The protest in Eau Claire comes after nearly a week of unrest in other major cities across the country, including Minneapolis, police have failed to quell nights of looting, rioting and fires that followed Floyd’s death.
Four Minneapolis police officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death, and on Friday, Officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
But peaceful protests and looting have continued in cities across the U.S. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Saturday called on the state National Guard to help support law enforcement in Milwaukee, following protests that turned violent overnight.
Evers said in a press release that he authorized 125 Guard members to assist after receiving a request from Milwaukee city and county officials. They are worried about a repeat of the demonstration over Floyd and Joel Acevedo, who died last month after an altercation with a Milwaukee police officer.
In Eau Claire, a rumor about civil unrest gained traction on social media, but the city has disavowed a “fictitious social media post” that claimed to be from a group called Eau Claire Emergency Action Committee. The post advised local business owners of “civil unrest.” No such committee exists in the city or county, and the information is false, the city said in a statement.
Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories this week about farming and agriculture in the Chippewa Valley.
As the coronavirus wreaks havoc on Wisconsin’s agriculture economy and snarls supply chains, Chippewa Valley farmers say a farm-to-table program is gaining in popularity: “farm shares,” or community supported agriculture programs.
“The Chippewa Valley is a really special place for a diversity of food products and producers,” said Caleb Langworthy, who owns Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler along with his wife, Lauren.
Farm CSAs typically sell shares of their crops directly to consumers each growing season. Customers pick up — or are delivered — a box of vegetables, fruits, meat or other farm products regularly throughout the season. Some CSAs even hold farmers market style events, where consumers can visit the farm and pick out the products they want to take home.
Wisconsin farms have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus’ economic impact. The state’s dairy sector saw a $66 million loss in milk revenue in February and March; 25% of the Wisconsin hog market was lost as of May due to restaurants closing; and the state’s beef industry is projected to lose between $180 million and $200 million this year, according to a May 20 report from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Potato, cranberry, soybean and especially corn growers are also projected to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020.
But small local farms in the Chippewa Valley say their CSA programs are seeing a boost this spring.
“This year we’ve had more demand for produce,” said Shawn Bartholomew, who farms at Chippewa Valley Produce in Elk Mound, which offers a seasonal CSA of fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs. “We are sold out for our summer CSA. I’ve never gotten people still emailing us this late in the year. People are still reaching out to ask if there are shares available.”
Blue Ox Farm has also seen a run on its beef CSA shares this year, Caleb Langworthy said: “We’re sold out of our beef already, which is a little unusual for us.”
Blue Ox Farm offered a traditional vegetable CSA for about 10 years, but for the last three years has switched to lamb and beef CSA shares instead. Each year customers can sign up for a share of their flock.
Typically Blue Ox Farm CSA customers pick up their boxes at a public location, but as more people stay in their homes due to the virus, Caleb Langworthy has dropped boxes off at customers’ doorsteps instead, and has taken payments using online apps like Venmo or PayPal.
“Since they’re getting their share from us all at once, we really think that’s a service we can provide,” he said.
Sunbow Farm in Eau Claire — the longest-running CSA in the Chippewa Valley, beginning in 2004, according to owner Kristina Beuning — has taken on 125 families this year, instead of its usual 100. The demand has been “overwhelming,” Beuning said in an email to the Leader-Telegram.
“Our members have been extraordinarily generous and we now are able to add, free of charge to them, four families who lost jobs because of the pandemic,” Beuning said.
Bartholomew and Chippewa Valley Produce owner Dusti Larson have offered up to 110 CSA shares for the several years since they started the program. Each share lasts about 14 weeks, and the farm usually designates a weekly time and public location for customers to pick up their boxes, Bartholomew said. In boxes, customers may get broccoli, green beans, heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, basil, radishes, potatoes, onions and more. The CSA continues even after the weather cools, with produce that can withstand frost — kale, spinach and carrots included.
Customers enjoy the produce’s freshness — veggies, fruits and herbs are harvested either the day before or the day of delivery — and that Chippewa Valley Produce doesn’t use herbicides or pesticides, Bartholomew said.
“Our produce is grown at the highest standards we have,” he said. “We eat the produce, and our kids eat the produce.”
Sunbow Farm grows all-organic produce — a wide range of spring, summer and fall crops — and also doesn’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizer, Beuning said. Its boxes are custom; members can use their dollar value to pick out what produce they want each week.
Selling produce, meat or other products through a CSA might be a supplement for some operations, but it gives farmers a better profit margin than selling to larger companies, Caleb Langworthy said.
“That increase in margin is really helpful, because nobody’s really making it rich farming,” he said. “That difference of making the 20% that a store might mark up is just really crucial to a farmer’s bottom line.”
By buying a CSA, most people understand more deeply the relationship between their food and their land, Langworthy added.
“I’m going to produce a different tomato than a farm down in Eleva, because we’re in different soil and different climates,” he said.
CSAs find success in tough ag economy
There’s been an upside for farm CSAs to the economic fallout caused by COVID-19, Bartholomew said.
“I think with COVID-19, people want to secure their food source,” he said. “By supporting your local community by buying into a farm share or CSA share … but you’re helping your local community and you know it’s going to be here.”
Bartholomew believes more people have begun starting their own gardens during the pandemic, since potting soil, fertilizer and seeds are in especially short supply this spring.
“Everything’s been delayed,” he said. “It’s a negative for us, but it’s great to see people are out there having their own gardens and trying to eat better food.”
CSA owners said they see plenty of repeat customers year after year, and enjoy the chance to meet their customers at farm days.
“They just want to come out and see what we’re doing … and experience it firsthand,” Caleb Langworthy said.
Caleb Langworthy credited “a really tight-knit CSA” community in western Wisconsin for Blue Ox’s success.
“In our little world we stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said, especially praising Spring Hill Community Farm in Barron County, which has been in business since the 1990s.
“It’s not just about growing produce,” Bartholomew said. “Anyone can grow produce. It’s about building that community of people that support farming.”
George Floyd looked out for people.
That was the recollection of local resident Susie Draeger, who spoke Sunday afternoon at a virtual event remembering the man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has ignited violent protests throughout the U.S. and even internationally.
The George Floyd Remembrance Vigil and Community Discussion was sponsored by the group Uniting Bridges, which works to foster inclusion in the community. It was organized by UW-Eau Claire professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton. According to the announcement on Facebook, the event was designed to remember Floyd and offer a discussion of how to take further action against hate crimes and police brutality close to home.
Draeger, an Eau Claire native, met Floyd after she moved to Minneapolis and began frequenting the salsa club Conga Latin Bistro, where Floyd worked in security. Describing herself as being shocked when she learned Floyd died and how it happened, Draeger talked about how he helped the young club attendees in the neighborhood of East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
“It took a good security guard to keep us 20-somethings safe at the end of the night, and Big George, as I called him, looked out for us,” she said with a laugh. “He was the person who made sure you got to your car safe, he thanked you for coming, he knew when he hadn’t seen you for a while.”
When a clubgoer would lock their keys in their cars, Floyd would stay with them until their help arrived.
“He always had our back,” Draeger said, “and I think we were all wondering last week, when that happened to Big George, who had his? I know he always had my back.
“So let’s do that now, for each other,” she added. “Let’s listen, let’s heal, let’s have each other’s backs.”
City Manager Dale Peters described himself as “sickened by the death of George Floyd and the systems that allowed it to happen.”
While Eau Claire has not experienced “the depth of division and tragedies found in other communities,” Peters added the city has work to be done on that front.
“We have the power to change the narrative, and we have the power to change the systematic problems,” he said. “The question is, do we have the will because it will take all of us, especially those with influence and power, to make these changes in nonviolent, constructive ways. And I hope and pray that the answer to that question is a bold, resounding and sustained yes.”
Like Peters, Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus expressed his revulsion at Floyd’s death.
“With the rest of our community, I watched this past week in disgust and in horror as George Floyd’s life was taken from him,” Rokus said. “These were not accepted, not trained police practices. What we witnessed was callous, what we witnessed embodied a lack of value for human life and for human dignity.”
Rokus said he recognized that “our community is hurting, as many others are across our country. There’s hurt about what happened in the past, there’s hurt from what we’re seeing right now. I stand with our community as a partner against police brutality, as a partner against violence and as someone who’s committed to building and strengthening trust within our community.”
Rokus outlined the “very intentional steps” the department takes to prevent brutality and build trust:
• Hiring the right people.
• Making certain officers are properly trained.
• Accountability and transparency.
• Proper review of use of force situations.
• Engagement with neighborhood and community groups and organizations.
Also like Peters, Rokus added that the department is aware more work remains to be done and pledged to “continue the conversation and build on the framework” that helps make Eau Claire a successful community.
Other speakers and the program, which was led by Ed Hudgins, included David Shih, UW-Eau Claire faculty member who spoke as a representative of the regional chapter of the ACLU; UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt; Eau Claire City Councilwoman Emily Berge and state Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire.
Musicians Justin Arnold, Irie Sol and Naalia, and poet Dylan Carrier also shared their art during the program for the alternately diverse purposes of voicing hurt and outrage and helping to bring about healing.