Works in Progress - Summer 2015

Pungent Metaphors

By Chloe Taft | June 8, 2015
Photo courtesy Fermentation Fest
Photo courtesy Fermentation Fest


A couple of decades ago, artists Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas gave up city life in Chicago and moved to an old dairy farm in Sauk County, Wisconsin. One thing they have discovered since the move is that “Cities don’t stop at a border”; rather, food, water, and culture exist along what Neuwirth calls a “rural/urban continuum.” That insight, and their belief that every city slicker could benefit from some fresh air, led to an event that began in 2011 and is projected to attract 15,000 people this year.

Fermentation Fest is “a celebration of ‘live culture’ in all its forms—dance to yogurt, poetry to sauerkraut,” Neuwirth says. The highlight of the fall event, which she and Salinas organize through their nonprofit Wormfarm Institute, is a 50-mile, self-guided tour through the working farmlands around Reedsburg, a town of 10,000 between Hillsboro and Baraboo. Called the Farm/Art DTour, the route is punctuated with large, site-specific art installations, “pasture performances” of dance and music, and produce stands. A jury selects artists from across the country to participate alongside local landowners.

The 2015 Fermentation Fest runs October 2–11. In addition to the DTour, which will follow a new route this year, the festival will host workshops and fermented food tastings. The process that transforms grain into beer and cabbage into kimchi is also a powerful metaphor for community vitality. “As matter breaks down, energy is released,” Neuwirth says. The pungency of the effect is representative of “healthy, lively dependencies” that bridge geographic and economic divides.

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