During the last week of October, the small farming community of Lebanon, Wisconsin, typically smells of freshly combined fields, crisp fall leaves and trace hints of cow manure. During the first week of November, however, the faint smell of Christmas cookies begins to waft through the air.
For the past 22 years, the congregants of St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church have hosted an annual Country Cookie Walk and Craft Sale, held the first Saturday of December. The church members, nearly 400 strong, are made up of mostly farmers who have a strong sense of community that dates back all the way to 1881, when the church was first founded.
Getting its start in 1998, the cookie walk first began as a way to help finance a new building addition and to help eliminate some of the church’s debt. A small group of women gathered together around two ovens with a handful of recipes to bake 300 lb. of cookies. Their first sale was a huge success, leaving the town wanting more.
The next year, more members of the church pitched in, making 500 lb. of cookies and as the years went by, the pounds of cookies continued to rise. This year, a whopping 3,000 lb. of cookies were made, equating to nearly 60,000 individual cookies.
“We start baking the first Saturday of November,” says Debbi Groeler, a St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church member and self-proclaimed “Cookie Queen.” “The week before the cookie walk is when we really start to ramp up production. We bake every day, sometimes until early in the morning, for about 12 hours. It takes a lot of volunteers to pull this thing off.”
The volunteers range in age from three-years-old to 93-years-old and are usually made up of family members from within the church.
“It’s humbling to watch five generations of family members working together during the season,” says Reverend Douglas Bergelin. “Farmers are in the middle of their harvest season, yet they still come in for a few hours just to help us get the job done. The community is so established here. The greatest part of the entire thing is watching all of us work together and getting to know everyone even better.”
The morning of the sale, cookie buyers come at the crack of dawn to grab a number to stand in line. Typically, the sale will bring in 600 people just to buy cookies alone, not to mention the homemade soups, grilled cheese sandwiches and creative crafts made from other community members.
Selling for $7.50 a lb., 25% the money made during the cookie walk is used to help fund a variety of mission trips, with the rest going towards church improvements and community events.
“It’s a great feeling being able to send some of our members on these spiritual trips and not having it cost them a lot of money,” says Rev. Bergelin. “Each year, the church sends me on a trip to Africa and this wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have the cookie walk.”
In order to make these cookies, however, ingredients have to be bought in bulk. Scroll down to check out just how much flour, butter and chocolate is required to make 3,000 lb. of cookies:
With a population of only 1,657 people, the farming community of Lebanon might be small, but it certainly is mighty.
“If we’re going to do this thing, we’re going all out,” Bergelin says. “Who knows, we might make even more cookies next year.”