Merle Richter (far left) and Ann Seibel (second from left, kneeling) were part of the Tour ‘de Farm executive committee that planned a 37-mile bike ride on July 8 to bring awareness to farm safety, honor the memory of Seibel’s husband and son, Ram and Jeremy, and highlight agriculture in Chippewa County.PHOTO SUBMITTED
Merle Richter (far left) and Ann Seibel (second from left, kneeling) were part of the Tour ‘de Farm executive committee that planned a 37-mile bike ride on July 8 to bring awareness to farm safety, honor the memory of Seibel’s husband and son, Ram and Jeremy, and highlight agriculture in Chippewa County.
BLOOMER, Wis. - After dairy farmers Ram and Jeremy Seibel passed away as the result of being overcome by manure gases on their Bloomer, Wis., dairy farm in 2015, their family and friends wanted to create a way to simultaneously honor their memories, bring attention to farm safety awareness and highlight agriculture in Chippewa County.
Ann Seibel, Ram's wife and Jeremy's mother, and Merle Richter, who taught agriculture education at Bloomer High School for over three decades, drew inspiration from a bike ride they had done last year in New Glarus, Wis. The inspiration turned into a bike ride in the Bloomer area, which took place on July 8.
"I had Ram as a student and retired just before Jeremy had started coming up through the ranks in FFA. He went on to become FFA president," Richter said. "We had 19 people from Bloomer who rode in New Glarus and said, 'Why don't we do this locally?'"
Thus, the Tour 'de Farm safety awareness bike ride was born. Seibel and Richter, with family members, friends, WAXX 104.5 farm broadcaster Bob Bosold and Chippewa County UW-Extension agriculture agent Jerry Clark formed a 13-member committee to spearhead the dream and make it a successful reality.
"The vision we had was to make it a big thing," Seibel said.
While any funds raised would go towards the two "Forever in Our Fields" Ram and Jeremy Seibel scholarships from the Bloomer FFA Alumni and the University of Wisconsin Farm and Industry Short Course, of which Jeremy was a graduate, the focus remained on safety awareness.
The objectives and goals of Tour 'de Farm, in addition to promoting safety awareness on farms and agribusinesses and honoring the memory of Ram and Jeremy, were to highlight local farms' contributions to the community, encourage an appreciation for the outdoors and physical activity, highlight local FFA chapters from Bloomer, Chippewa Falls, Cornell, and New Auburn and 4-H clubs and enjoy a taste of Wisconsin with a treat on every farm stop.
"If we made any money at all, it went toward scholarships. We did not want to make money, and weren't worried about the scholarship at that point, so safety awareness was the big thing," Seibel said. "We had a low registration price of $40 just to cover the cost of the t-shirts, chicken dinner, snacks, insurance and other incidentals that each rider would receive for participating in the ride."
Richter, an avid cyclist, spoke with five farmers in the western part of Chippewa County and created a route totaling 37.1 miles that connected each farm, as well as the starting and ending point at the golf course in Bloomer.
Each farm would host a tour, as well as an educational demonstration highlighting a different aspect of farm safety.
"We also created a route for non-bike riders," Richter said.
The committee was expecting anywhere from 100 to 150 riders, but initial registrations remained low for several months leading up to the June 19 deadline.
"We had only 17 riders for months," Seibel said.
Then, it exploded.
"We ended up having to turn people away during the last couple of days before the ride," Seibel said.
Richter added that, while his cycling friends were skeptical of the idea at first, they became supportive.
"All of them rode except for one," Richter said.
The amount of support from community members and local businesses blew up, also. Between monetary donations and gifts of food and snacks for each farm stop, the cost of covering those snacks and the chicken dinner at the end of the ride was completely covered.
"With donations that we hadn't planned on, we're at a profit of nearly $6,000 and can raise the amount of the scholarships," Seibel said.
With hot and muggy weather in the days leading up to the ride, and safety worries if riders decided to bunch up on the roads, Seibel and Richter didn't get much sleep as the date drew closer and closer.
However, any concerns they had about the day vanished as a sea of orange shirts on two wheels poured into the parking lot at the golf course on Saturday morning. A total of 186 riders wheeled around the 37-mile loop that day, and 325 were served at supper that evening; the servers even ran out of chicken.
Riders from near and far commented about how much they had learned, beginning with a fuller understanding of how the accident happened two years ago.
"Jerry Clark gave a fantastic presentation on confined spaces at one of the farms and how fast an accident can happen," Richter said. "We all think we can escape these things, but we aren't invincible."
One of the farm stops was at Scientific Holsteins near Tilden, Wis., owned and operated by Matt and Mandy Nunes, where the cows are milked with robots.
"Some people were just blown away by the technology," Richter said. "There also seems to be a paradigm in society where farms don't appear to the public to be operated by families anymore, so we wanted to highlight the farm family in addition to the farm and people really appreciated that, too."
Seibel said the biggest success of the bike ride was that it did what it intended.
"People learned so much," Seibel said. "We've already got farmers coming forward and asking to host stops on the ride next year."
Richter and Seibel are still receiving comments ranging from participants to those who have only heard or read about the ride. Richter is especially thankful for everything the Seibel family has done, considering everything they have been through.
"I've done quite a few bike rides, but I wanted to do something different and people really appreciated it," Richter said. "This is one of the neatest events I've been a part of as an ag teacher and ag professional, and I've never heard so much about an event."
After a successful first Tour 'de Farm, Seibel and Richter are elated at how well everything came together to remember two dedicated dairy farmers forever in their fields and hearts.
"Our angels gave us a beautiful day," Seibel said.