In the October of 2016, I pulled into the city of Reedsburg Wisconsin. I was there to meet with the founders of Worm Farm Institute, Jay and Donna Neuwirth. Over tea, Donna explained why their annual Fermentation Fest and the accompanying FarmArt DTour are so damn cool. But this is a road trip of culture and commerce so one of the things that caught my attention was that Donna said visitors buy stuff!
“…like $9 pickles jars. Very high end food. But it’s also good for the locals because they see what is valued and kind of develop ideas.”
What makes a jar of pickles $9? The question really stuck with me because my mother is a small grower. I’ve sat down with her in the greenhouse to crunch the numbers, going over the profit/loss and balance sheets, how to finance another greenhouse, and how to grow a product that was different than what you find at Home Depot. How does a small grower make the numbers work? This is a huge question in rural areas like her home in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is where I spent a great deal of my childhood. And I love it here. It’s where much of my family lives today, and for the most part it’s farm country. Rolling hills of crops with big old oak trees. Cows, many cows. 1.25 million cows actually. The biggest urban area is Milwaukee Wisconsin at 600,000 but don’t forget that Minneapolis and Chicago are right over the state’s border. And little tiny Reedsburg WI is equidistant between these three cities, about 3 hrs from each.
Wisconsin is a great location to talk about the import and export of culture between rural and urban areas. Like I said this is farm country, this is where those metropolitan areas get their food. And so we anchored here in Reedsburg for the FarmArt DTour, a 100 mile loop through farm country put on by Worm Farm Institute as part of Fermentation Fest with art installations in corn fields, performances in different habitats, and food stands offering a bevy of fermented goods like beer, cheese, and my new favorite kickapoo kimchi.
This episode looks at the questions of what makes food twice the price. When does food transcend a commodity land become something else? The episode is a 2 yr journey into growth, decay, and roped in over 50 conversations with local growers including my own mother.