The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey

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From Gracie: It may not look like it, but Foxwell Digital is much more than a two-person operation. It’s a family business that regularly depends on the collective talents of friends, neighbors, and fellow entrepreneurs. In truth, every single project we’ve tackled has been a collaborative effort.

Our latest project is no different.

In January 2013, we moved to Chicago and completely shifted gears from our 9-to-5 lives in Washington, DC. Andrew took the helm of a fast-growing social team at 3Q Digital, which meant frequent traveling, weekend meetings, and late-night client work. I began several part-time pursuits, including freelance grant writing, pitching in at my cousin’s wine shop, and working at a homeless women’s shelter. Then, and as many faithful blog readers know, after nearly a year in Chicago, we launched Foxwell Digital and hit the road for our proverbial gap year. We officially settled in Madison in May 2014.

What some of you may not know, however, is that throughout our year in Chicago, nine months on the road, and now thirteen months in Madison, I’ve worked with my father, Alan Guebert, on a book project. Now, Foxwell Digital may be as nimble and cunning as our beloved fox mascot, but this ol’ publishing biz doesn’t happen fast. In fact, it happens painstakingly slow. (Kudos to Andrew for continually reminding me that the best things in life take time.) Nearly three years have passed and our project has a title, a beautiful cover designed by a lifelong friend, and a cross-country tour.

How did it all happen?

Dad, a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist for the past three decades, grew up on a 720-acre, 100-cow dairy farm in southern Illinois. But by the time I was a young girl, the cows were sold and the land had been rented out to tenant farmers. Even so, Indian Farm was still full of memories and stories. Dad shared those stories with column readers over twenty-two years, and then I wove them into a memoir about life on an American farm. While the majority of the book’s characters—aunts, uncles, hired men, and loads of Randolph County German Lutherans—had passed away long before I was born, I smiled and laughed hearing their tales, much like Dad’s longtime column readers. I wanted to honor those people and those values—hard work, honesty, and humility—for generations to come.

We decided to collaborate on The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey because, like all Foxwell Digital projects, I knew the final product would be more satisfying and more authentically told with a partner. Dad wrote a prologue, I wrote an epilogue, we gathered family photos, submitted proposals to publishers, re-read, re-edited, and re-wrote the manuscript a mere 3,496,825 times. The University of Illinois agreed to publish it and they, not us, came up with the perfect title. I only wish Uncle Honey was alive to see it, so he could chuckle while reading his own story during his standard noontime nap.

We knew the book project wouldn’t be easy. While Dad and I have many similarities (a deep appreciation for Andrew’s sense of humor and an equally deep hatred of beets, for example), we also have many differences. I’m big on details; Dad is big on ideas. He ensures readers laugh, cry, and think a bit more about where their food comes from. I ensure readers have a website to visit, newspaper editors have timely press releases, and event venues have working microphones.

All kidding aside, it’s proven to be a wonderful ride. Our publisher is already planning a second printing. We’re humbled that our book was included in Bon Appetit Magazine’s 20 Food Books to Read This Summer, Los Angeles Magazine’s Top 10 Summer Books for Foodies, and Food Tank’s Summer Reading List.  We’ve had over twenty-five events since our tour kicked off and we have plenty more in weeks to come. We’ve met readers young and old, rural and urban. We’ve talked with and heard from farmers, scientists, gardeners, civic leaders, church pastors, restaurant owners, environmentalists, slow food advocates, researchers, artists, writers, teachers, grandparents, students, government employees, health care workers, and more.

Throughout the process, we’ve been continually reminded that people care about their families and neighbors. People care about their community and their planet. People care about food. We care, too. We’re grateful to have met so many readers and new friends, to hear their own stories, and to laugh at the tales of their Uncle Honeys. We’ve learned that more fathers and daughters need to have these conversations, and more family memories need to be written down and shared among generations.

We’ve also learned that Dad needs to be reminded to silence his iPhone before events, I should never be trusted with the cashbox at a wine bar, Mom will buy a minimum of three books at every bookstore we visit, and Paul will ask multiple times a day if anyone feels like sharing a donut, a beer, or both.

Lastly, we’ve learned that Andrew is undoubtedly the best digital director, PR agent, tour wrangler, photographer, IT manager, and in-car comedian in the biz.

Then again, one of us has known that for years.

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