What Does “Driftless” Mean?

What does the word “Driftless” mean anyway? I mean, we see it EVERYwhere: there’s Driftless Organics, the Driftless Cafe, Driftless Radio, Driftless Brewing Company and so on. As many of you may already know, Josh and Noah started growing potatoes a long time ago and over the years the name of their farm has changed a couple of times. From “Rainbow Potatoes” to “Engel Bros Organics”, the two eventually decided on “Driftless Organics”. You see, they wanted a name that somehow expressed their commitment to the area in which they live and farm in. They wanted a name that embodied a connection to the land. And Driftless Organics was born.

We all know what “Organics” means, but what the heck does Driftless mean? At first glance it seems to be a term that describes some sort of wayfaring stranger “drifting” about. To make matters even more complicated, the word “driftless” is a bit difficult to say and understand (over the phone, especially). You wouldn’t believe the variations on “driftless” that we have heard over the years. We have endured everything from “Dirt-less Organics” to “Driftwood Organics”. I think my favorite rendition, from a governmental farm agency, was “Shirtless Organics”.

If you are familiar with this region, or  by chance majored in geology in school, than you would know the word and its geological reference. Here’s “Wikipedia’s” definition: “The Driftless Area or Paleozoic Plateau is a region in the American Midwest noted mainly for its deeply carved river valleys. While primarily in southwest Wisconsin, it includes areas of southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa and northwest Illinois. This region’s peculiar terrain is due to its having escaped glaciation in the last glacial period.The term “driftless” indicates a lack of glacial drift, the material left behind by retreating continental glaciers.”
Basically the glaciers didn’t plow through this area like they did north and east of us and therefore we are left with this beautifully rolling hill and valley landscape. Most of the slopes are too steep to farm and therefore you are often surrounded by forested hills with the fields laying in the valleys, like what is shown in the picture below (or most any picture of our farm).

There are multitude of streams and creeks that meander through the valleys that make the area even more picturesque and a hotspot for trout fishing and canoeing as well. Unfortunately, these streams don’t have the capacity to hold much water and therefore you all too often see flooding, as we’ve experienced the last few seasons. But when they aren’t causing havoc, the streams and rivers of the region are a wonderful place to escape to after a hot day in the sun.

I feel it is more than just a desire to reference geology that so many organizations have adopted the word Driftless for their name (there’s “Driftless Radio”, “The Driftless Cafe”, “Driftless Folk School” to name a few…). For those who live here or have spent time here, the name is synonymous with a region of the world that is chock full of good people, organic pioneers, musicians, back-to-the-landers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists and conservationists. I suppose there may be a few wayfaring strangers “drifting” about as well.

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