HUDSON -- Alycia Benzer has always wanted to be better about purchasing local foods. When COVID-19 struck, and she saw farmers dumping products and people hesitant to go to grocery stores, she was pushed to action.

She turned to friend and neighbor Greta Lewis, who grew up on a dairy farm. Together the two started the Shop Western Wisconsin Farms Facebook page. The page connects farmers and producers directly to individual customers.

In the three weeks it's been online, the page has gained nearly 7,000 members.

“It’s kind of blown up now,” Lewis said.

The two referred to other existing pages in other states as examples, but chose to focus theirs regionally.

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“When you go statewide, then is it local?” Lewis said.

Lewis reached out to her farming connections and Benzer spread the word with friends locally. Most of the response, though, has been word of mouth, they said.

“We’ve actively sought out farmers and producers, but I wouldn't say I’ve actively sought out consumers as much,” Benzer said. But they still found their way to the page.

The page allows farmers and producers to post about what they have to offer, and buyers can make posts if they’re looking for certain items.

The biggest resource is a map showing all of the 120 participating farms, and where they are.

“Even with a farm background, I have learned so much about what’s around us and what they provide,” Lewis said.

The page has a wide variety of products, from meat to produce, and specialty items such as water buffalo and duck eggs.

The page covers areas north of La Crosse, up to Superior and east to Eau Claire.

“Really anybody who is producing an agricultural product in the area that we described is welcome,” Lewis said.

The map can be searched by type of product of specific items. It was created by Corby Bodenburg, who has volunteered with Benzer and Lewis on the project.

Farmers interested in joining the map can fill out a Google form. Many already involved had begun the licensing process for direct sales as a response to the pandemic.

Benzer and Lewis want the page to be a positive, community-driven effort to support local producers.

“It’s just so inspiring the amount of people that want to support farmers,” Lewis said.

Benzer and Lewis are both teachers, so education has also been a key part of the page.

“I’ve always been passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and truly understanding the whole agricultural process behind it,” Lewis said.

They enjoy seeing their hard work validated.

“Sometimes I just think this all just came together so perfectly,” Benzer said.