Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide
Food Chain: A marketplace of food, art and ideas, 2020 Farm/Art DTour. Photo by Adam Carr.

As you may know, the Local Voices Network began a few years ago in Madison, WI. Just a half hour away is Sauk County, where the bustle of the capital city fades into quiet, more rural communities. Farms are scattered throughout the area, and with them, farmers who are trying to build and maintain lives in difficult times and on a changing land. Here’s the final report about our work together.

Local Voices Network partnered with the Wormfarm Institute to gather conversations about food, farming and the land in Sauk County. Dedicated to integrating culture and agriculture, the Wormfarm Institute is an evolving laboratory of the arts and ecology and fertile ground for creative work. With the mission to integrate culture and agriculture, Wormfarm’s work brings together farming, conservation, and the arts to rekindle cultural expression and enhance the economic possibilities of our region while celebrating its unique natural and human history.

That rich history was shared by residents, many of them farmers, who shared everything from inheriting techniques from generations past to keeping traditional recipes alive. Climate change has wrought new challenges to farmers in Sauk County like increased flooding and other signs of ecological imbalance. The COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardized farms in other ways, with public health risks leaving many without the appropriate staff to manage harvests. In spite of those myriad obstacles, participants in the LVN conversations shared their experiences that local farmers have in fact stepped up to meet community needs, in one instance by turning a distillery into a producer of additional hand sanitizer amidst shortages.

Land Speaks dialogue balloon, quote by Mary Oliver, 2020 Farm/Art DTour. Photo by Katrin Talbot.

Part of exploring the relationship between Food, Farming, and the Land, was the land itself. Through an annual event called Fermentation Fest, Wormfarm set up the Farm/Art DTour, a free, self-guided, 50+ mile driving tour through the scenic working farmlands of rural Sauk County. Visitors could wander through small towns, country churchyards, and a changing agricultural landscape where artists explore the timeless connections between land and people, some featuring voices gathered in the LVN conversations that had been gathered from May — September.

Wormfarm also connected the stories of people from rural communities with city-dwellers through Rural Urban FLOW, a growing network of cultural and agricultural producers across Wisconsin’s rural-urban continuum. Community leaders from the city and Sauk County, such as an environmentalist and a local poet, came together to cultivate common ground on topics like community gardening, urban farming, and how we think about our local landscape.

Through this partnership, Wormfarm and LVN have showcased a creative new venue through which conversations can be shared and amplified. While we may not be able to gather together, we can still make meaning of our connection to the world around us, and to each other.

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