An Interview With Bree Breckel & Eric Weninger From B&E’s Trees

So, what’s your story? Where were you born? How long have you been here in the Driftless, What keeps you here?

Bree and Eric (The B and E of B&E’s Trees) were both born in the Driftless.  Although Eric left for college and then a job, the long-term goal, from the moment he left, was to return to the hills of Southwest Wisconsin.  Bree grew up just one ridge away from where our farm currently is.  Her grandmother’s farm in Crawford County, now owned by her uncles, has been in the family for over 150 years.  This place has always been home to the two of us.

Tell us about what you do for work or your business, and how long have you been doing this?
B&E have an organic maple syrup farm in rural Cashton, WI.  We tap our trees, harvest the maple syrup, and then age the syrup in Bourbon Barrels, sourced from Central Waters Brewing Co.  The syrup ages for at least two years, imparting the smoky, vanilla character natural to the white oak.  When the syrup is mature, the barrels are returned to the brewery to age their limited edition Maple Barrel Stout.  We have been mapling since 2012, and barrel aging since 2013. 

Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career with your business.
It is hard to pinpoint one project or accomplishment that is the most significant, because there are so many things that have brought us to where we are today.  Meeting the folks from Central Waters has given us the opportunity to create a high quality, innovative product from the resources of our farm.  By value-adding our syrup and being hands-on every step from the tree to the final sale we’ve added a huge workload, but also have taken the reigns in our own future.

Being featured on Wisconsin Foodie and other amazing media outlets has brought our story to more people than we could have ever reached from the farm and allowed us to not only maintain, but grow.  When Bree’s sister Larkin, her husband Dan and Bree’s friend Jeanette joined the team, their skills, dedication and hard work have improved, well, everything.  They have tightened our systems, improved communication and have brought our syrup and story to communities throughout the region through events and stores. 

They are so much the heart of what we are doing. 

The thing that I find most significant is that every step of the way, through every period of growth (and of course the associated growing pains), we have been able to stay true to a product and process we can be proud of.  Doing meaningful work with the people you love in a beautiful place, I can’t imagine a better life.

We’re constantly making things better, faster, smarter or less expensive. We leverage technology or improve processes. In other words, we strive to do more—with less. Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.
Through our lives technology has exploded, dramatically changing our relationships with people, things, and the earth.  Things have gotten faster, cheaper, more abundant.  And often that means disposable.  Not only single-use plastics, but superficial friendships, and a lack of connection to the world, to the things that are deep and meaningful.  We have more stuff, but are more alone than ever before.
We work to bring back the human connection. We want to inspire folks to come together to cook and eat and build relationships.  We want to cultivate an appreciation for quality, for savoring the good, not consuming the most.  Though we are always doing more with less at the farm- repurposing and repairing our way through most challenges- our proudest moments are when we hear stories of our syrup being used in the potlucks and celebrations and dinners shared among friends.

Tell us about one person that you’ve met, that stands apart from the rest or has influenced you, while here in the Driftless.
Sue Nobel, director of the Vernon Economic Development Association is a powerhouse in the food scene in the Driftless.  Although she manages a variety of programs throughout the county, we have gotten to know her through the Food Enterprise Center, a rehabbed warehouse that now serves as a food hub.

In 2009, National Cash Register closed its Viroqua plant, displacing 81 workers in our small town and leaving a shell of a building.  Sue looked around our region, where we have the highest concentration of organic farms in the nation, and saw an opportunity.  By 2012 she had renovated the space to include a series of commercial kitchens, custom build-outs and additional space for food and wellness related businesses to set up production.  Her work has been recognized nationally, including a Champion of Change award given to her by President Obama.

We absolutely would not be where we are without Sue.  She works tirelessly to give small businesses opportunities to succeed.  She builds resilience by asking tough questions, and sharing contacts of folks who can help answer them.  The Food Enterprise Center provides resources- a commercial kitchen, loading docks, and a network of other small businesses- that we would not have been able to build on our own.  She has developed the Food Enterprise Center from an abandoned shell to a vibrant hub, now home to more jobs than were lost when NCR left. She’s a pretty amazing person.

What do you wish other people knew about you or your business?
B&E’s Trees is committed to producing the highest quality Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup and other farm products (stay tuned!).  Our products bring people together to explore outstanding flavors in new and interesting ways, and most importantly spend time together.
The farm was founded in a love for the land, and for the people who work it.  Producing a product whose flavor and quality reflect the depth of care we put in every step of the process is a real privilege.  Through value-adding maple, we are able to sustain habitat for plants and animals that thrive in our contiguous forest.  We are off-grid, organic, minimal waste, and working toward producing a majority of our energy renewably. It isn’t easy, but we are always learning and striving to do better.

Sharing our woods is the most fun part of our work.  We host an Open House the third Saturday of March, and Rampfest, a sustainable foraging camp-out weekend, the last Saturday of April.  We are hoping to add more farm events through the year, to invite folks out to explore and eat and play and learn.
The key to making this whole wild idea work is the people who support what we are do.  Every time a person buys our syrup, mixes a B&E’s cocktail, or gifts a friend our Flight of Fancy, they are taking part in something bigger than the bottle.  It’s a pretty dang delicious way to pitch in!

B&E’s Trees
1201 North Main Street
Viroqua, WI, 54665