Fermentation Fest: A Live Culture Convergence

Growing with the Times

This is the festival’s third year, and it keeps getting better. This year, they are offering weekend guided bicycle rides along the DTour. It’s a great way to get the kids outside and enjoy some beautiful autumn weather before we begin winter hibernation, and the guided tours offer a structured way to meet others out to discover Wisconsin agriculture. There are three options, depending on how much you want to ride, what you want to see, and how willing your children are. The “400 Trail” bisects the route, so if your kids are just looking for a seven-mile flat ride, that’s what you want—it goes straight from Reedsburg to La Valle with no sights or stops. Don’t want to lug the bikes from home? No problem—you can rent a bike at the festival.

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Real talk, funk optional // Photo courtesy of Wormfarm Insitute

How does it all work? It’s after the harvest, and the farmers are more than willing to host art installations or performance stages. They are able to offer tours that bring people even closer to the source of their food. Among the locations are two cheese factories and three dairy farms open to the public. One is organic, one practices rotational grazing and one is more traditional—offering an up-close look into everyday operations and techniques. The Aspen Sunset Farm even offers a hayride.

 

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Besides the DTour and farm tours, the workshops and seminars are another main attraction. Some teach you how to make your own cultures or fermented food and beverage such as yogurt, kefir, hard cider, kimchi, or sauerkraut. Others can answer some of your lifelong questions. How can I start a dairy farm? Should I explore ecopreneuring? Where can I pound some flowers?

 

The More You Know

The deadline to sign up for courses in advance has passed, but do not worry. Many of the classes have several spots reserved for walk-ins, so be sure to check with the staff at the event headquarters when you pick up your map. Have you always wanted to learn how to can preserves, ferment compost, start bee-keeping, or jump on the ferment-your-own meats bandwagon? Now’s your chance. Courses cost $10-30 for adults, $5-10 for kids. Many of the instructors are from Madison’s Underground Food Collective.

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Hands-on kraut-making // Photo courtesy of Wormfarm Insitute

Although the Fermentation Fest focuses on fermented foods and beverages beyond beer, there are still plenty of brew-related classes and events to whet your palate. The courses include Intro to Hard Cider and Vinegars, Chocolate and Beer Pairing, “All Things Beer,” Intro to Homebrewing, and the most unique—advanced kombucha-making. Spearheaded by the head brewer at the Corner Pub & Brewery in Reedsburg, the beer events are perfect for any kind of aficionado. If you can’t make one of the courses, this pub is worth the trip alone.

The Fermentation Festival began as a traveling Smithsonian exhibit called “Art on Main Street” and has blossomed into a full-fledged ten-day fall event for everyone celebrating the social and economic evolution of food and drink. What’s better than spending a weekend in Wisconsin supporting local businesses, community development, and art, while learning about farming, farmers and fermentation? Nothing. Well, maybe a nice cold beer while you do it.

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