Coon Creek Watershed producers join Rural Business Innovation project

Embark Maple producers Eric Weninger, Bree Breckel - contributed photo

COON VALLEY, Wis.– Coon Creek Watershed-based Embark Maple is looking forward to trading ideas and growing alongside other rural businesses as a newly accepted member of the 2024 Rural Business Innovation Lab cohort. 

The Rural Business Innovation Lab is funded through Community and Economic Development Associates and aims to support rural businesses in accessing the expertise and resources they need to start and scale their work. Its 2024 cohort kicks off this month, but for Embark Maple, a family farm that aims to share the joy and energy of their woods through their maple syrup, operating their business sustainably and resiliently amid uncertain economic and environmental conditions has long been a priority.

Embark Maple producers Eric Weninger, Bree Breckel and Sylvan – contributed photo

“On the farm side, resilience is very physical,” said Embark Maple co-owner and founder Eric Weninger. “It’s how we’re working with the land and slowing the flow of water to reduce flood impacts downstream.”  

On the business side, Weninger explained resilience has to do with reducing their contributions to climate change, while also adjusting their practices in response to increasingly severe weather and increasingly variable harvests. 

For Weninger, the opportunity to connect with other rural businesses adapting to similar challenges is especially important. As part of the Rural Innovation Lab, he’ll have a chance to collaborate with the ten additional Upper Midwest producers the program recognized this year, including the newly formed Driftless Seed Supply, based in the Rush Creek Watershed. 

“I always look forward to the relationships with other-–especially rural—small businesses and entrepreneurs. Even when you have differing products, it’s amazing what you can learn from the challenges that other people have worked through,” Weninger said. “It’s the connections and it’s the relationships.” 

Embark Maple producers Eric Weninger, Bree Breckel – contributed photo

Relationships and community matter a lot to Weninger, who also serves on the board of the Coon Creek Community Watershed Council, a local conservation non-profit. As the Coon Creek Watershed faces unprecedented environmental challenges, like increasingly severe floods and droughts, Weninger knows that collaborating and sharing ideas with and in community is critical to weathering the physical and economic uncertainties of the changing climate. 

“The roots of our business is the forest and our farm,” Weninger said. “We’re acting very locally, and doing what we can globally, to be a part of our watershed and be a part of our community.”

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