Connection and community are served alongside sauerkraut at the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest.
By the time the volunteers and I had swept all the cabbage shreds off the tables, chairs, and floors of the church basement, the perfume of sauerkraut had wafted slowly up the stairs. I wondered briefly if the parishioners would crinkle their noses when they entered the sanctuary the following morning, the ghost of fermentation smell lingering over the scent of polished wood and wax candles. (When sharing my jars of ferments, I often see people with puzzled looks and scrunched-up noses. The best faces are those in a bookstore from the folks who did not come to learn about kraut.)
The participants for this class had come from Chicago, Milwaukee, and many small towns near Reedsburg, Wisconsin. They’d come with the awareness that they would be learning to ferment vegetables. I, however, had arrived the day before from my home in southern Oregon and had no idea what to expect from the Wormfarm Institute’s Fermentation Fest.
From the event’s website I knew that I was headed to “A Live Cultural Convergence.” I sensed it was bigger than a celebration of grapes to wine, milk to cheese, and, in my case, veggies to kraut. Yet in my mind it was still like holding onto the proverbial slippery fish. I understood that this celebration was about cultivating a rural economy and connecting people with farms and their food, and that the underlying theme was art, but I couldn’t visualize how it pieced together. Now that I have been to the Fermentation Fest, I recognize it as an opportunity to choose your own (fermentation) adventure.
The bones of the fest really lie in public art installations, food carts, entertainment venues, and educational stops along the Farm/Art D’Tour, a 50-mile loop over an idyllic autumnal countryside. Classes, speakers, and events dispersed throughout the town of Reedsburg punctuate this route.
On Saturday and Sunday morning my aromatic wares and I met many people — confident, seasoned fermentistas as well as people tasting fresh fermented veggies for the first time. My ferments and I made new friends. On Sunday afternoon I had time to take the D’Tour, and that’s when I ultimately put it all together.
This festival is about our connections. It is about land — dirt and microbes, sky and weather. It is about us all: farmers, musicians, cooks, artists, writers, kids, brew masters, fermentistas, cheese makers, poets, vintners, chefs, sausage makers, herbalists, canners, and anybody who eats and breathes and enjoys.