The fourth annual Reedsburg Fermentation Fest started Friday, Oct. 4 and runs through Sunday, Oct. 13.
What do farms, sculpture, local bands, small business entrepreneurs, and live, bubbling lacto-fermented soda have in common? They're all elements of the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest, and for its organizers, integral to what they call the "cultureshed" of Wisconsin's Driftless Area.
The fourth annual Fermentation Fest began last Friday, Oct. 4, with Madison-based "class grass" (classical/bluegrass) ensemble Graminy performing at St. Boniface Church in Lime Ridge.
The fest filled its opening weekend with many forms of culture: farm tours, art exhibits, music performances, fermentation workshops, and speakers.
For purposes of the fest, "cultured" can mean the shared experience of artistic and social pursuits like art installations and musical performances, or the more biological definition of microorganisms grown in a controlled medium -- i.e., foods that are fermented -- as well as a combination of the two. Sharing a few pints of homebrew with friends while your garage band rehearses? Culture.
Fermentation Fest is a project of the non-profit Wormfarm Institute, a non-profit arts organization based in Reedsburg that works to build community through the arts. The term "cultureshed" was coined by Wormfarm co-founder Jay Salinas, who defines it as: "1. A geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history. 2. An area nourished by what is cultivated locally. 3. The efforts of writers, performers, visual artists, scholars, farmers and chefs who contribute to a vital and diverse local culture." The Sauk County UW Extension and the Reedsburg Chamber of Commerce collaborate with Wormfarm to put on the annual fermentation-based festival.
A highlight of the Fermentation Fest is the 50 mile, two-hour driving or biking Farm-Art D'Tour of the Driftless Area west of Reedsburg, where visitors pass through almost-peak foliage to tour farms, listen to live music, and view art installations by local artists.
One installation is a Dumpling House, a kitchen located at the family beef ranch of Jerry and Jeanette Jessop, with artists Emily Stover and Molly Balcom Raleigh of St. Paul, Minnesota. Stover and Balcom Raleigh encourage participants to make and eat steamed dumplings, who then teach the next person to make them. Other artists present sculptures, a "stained glass accoutered combine," and found artwork with materials like trucks and shovels.
Fermentation Fest continues this weekend, Oct. 10-13, with a tour of All Things Beer on Thursday, Oct 10, beginning at the Branding Iron Roadhouse in Lime Ridge, with other events continuing through Sunday, Oct. 13.
Here's a little taste of the action so far (pun intended).
Wild forager and folk food artist "Little" John Holzwart of Moonwise Herbs in Sheboygan led a lacto-fermented soda workshop on Saturday, Oct. 5 in a beautiful creaky-floored room of the Woolen Mill Gallery on Main Street in Reedsburg. Attendees, as long as they weren't distracted by Holzwart's big gnarly beard, learned how to make (and gathered around to sample) wild-cultured ginger ale as well as lacto-fermented sodas like elderflower cultured with kefir "pearls" as a starter. The ginger ale was light and tart, with a medium fizz; the elderflower soda thick and sweet, with a delicate tingle.
"Wholistic" health expert Nancy Lee Bentley, author of Truly Cultured, gave a talk on Saturday afternoon about "how our microbiota can help us remember who we are." She focused on questions raised by the discovery that most of the cells in the human body (by number, not volume) are not human cells, but bacterial cells.
Those with dreams of starting small businesses centered around food, farming, and fermenting participated in a workshop Sunday afternoon with Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko of Inn Serendipity in Monroe on "cultivating your dream livelihood" and "ECOpreneuring" (also the title of the couple's latest book). An energetic twosome who can turn a business discussion into a stand-up routine, Kivirist and Ivanko kept a small ballroom full of budding ecopreneurs learning how to manage cash flow.
The highlight of the fest for many was to be a talk with Gary Paul Nabhan, an agricultural ecologist and ethnobotanist at the University of Arizona in Tucson whose 2009 book Coming Home to Eat was a boost to the local food movement. Unfortunately, Nabhan cancelled all of his events in Wisconsin due to illness.
Curt Meine, a senior fellow with The Aldo Leopold Foundation and author of a recent biography of the naturalist, filled the gap with a talk given in Nabhan's honor, in part comparing the "time of ferment" in which we live to the similarly dynamic time in the 1930s in which Leopold taught at the UW-Madison. Meine mentioned an all-female jazz band on campus that played to the cows to see if it would increase milk production.
Still upcoming before the Fermentation Fest closes are a workshop on making natto and dry-cured meat, a book signing with Nikiko Masumoto, author of The Perfect Peach, and the ever-popular kombucha workshop with the women of Madison-based NessAlla Kombucha. More details are available at the fest's schedule and its Facebook page.