How You Can Preserve the Good Food Movement

Garlic cloves hanging in old barnI just can’t tell you how good our barn smells right now! Last week we harvested garlic and now one of its hand-hewn beams is fully lined with this earthy delight. If former lives were such a thing, I’m sure I was an Italian maiden and my brick barn presided over an old-world villa. Do ya think?

Like everything else from our garden, this garlic is so-o-o-o much more flavorful than anything you buy in the grocery store. If there’s a disadvantage to raising your own food, it’s that you become acutely aware of just how tasteless and removed from its natural state our retail food has become. Call me a snob (or an empty-nester who can now afford to spend more), but more times than not I’ll go out of my way to shop at Willy Street Cooperative in Madison, and other such stores, simply because its food is organic and/or locally-grown. Think fresh, flavorful and healthy. (Unfortunately, I know I’m using more time and fuel — it’s not easy being green.)

Have you ever read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé? I first ran into this book while working for the Youth Conservation Corp in the late 1970s. Such ecological food practices were revolutionary back then and, while some of her theories have since been refuted, Lappé is still credited as being an introducer to the active food movement we have today. What I find interesting is how 40 years later, her forewarnings of an unsustainable food system are now here to haunt us. And she was right. Today we have declining health, depleted soils, and a problem of affordably producing quality food, simply because the good food movement is not as much of American life as it should be.

In his article Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers, Bren Smith, a farmer himself, offers suggestions for preserving the good food movement we appreciate today. He writes of political agendas, like supporting affordable health care and shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms. But guess what, there are also things we can do at the grassroots level that are equally important for supporting good food—simple things that not only benefit ourselves but society as a whole.

  • Be willing to spend more for better food, and better health.
  • Support small farms instead of factory farms—research the farm, maybe even take a drive to the country to see it.
  • Buy a CSA share from a farm near you.
  • Support food cooperatives—become an owner for greater discounts.
  • If you don’t have access to grocery stores that carry local and organic food, ask your grocer to do so. Do the same with the restaurants you patronize.
  • Become a farmer yourself: grow a garden.
  • Speak up! Write about it. Talk about it on social media. Make people aware of what you or others are doing with good food.

Wednesday Webs: An Artful List to Enrich Your Life

Kandinsky This week I had the opportunity to see Kandinsky: A Retrospective at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I’ve always been drawn to this modernist’s colorful boldness and the exhibit was a super representation of his work—130 pieces, to be exact. Interestingly, the exhibit ranged from Kandisky’s early years of self-discovery, including Impressionism and Art Nouveau (my favorite); to the bold abstractions we normally associate with him; to his final watercolor works in the 1930-40s.

I love the Milwaukee Art Museum with all its splendor of art and architecture. But lately I’m giving nod to a less formal presentation of art—rural art. It’s one I really appreciate simply because for the past 2-3 months it’s all I’ve been working with.

Fermentation Fest's Rural Art
Not that I’ve mentioned it at all (cough), but my recent project has been an event guide for the upcoming Fermentation Fest. Okay, I admit I’ve been a bit obsessed with it. It’s food. It’s art. It’s two of my great loves—an exciting event you simply must check out!

Anyway, in doing this project I’ve become aware of many organizations that greatly enrich our lives.

Here they are:

  • Art of the Rural is an group of rural Americans working to promote rural arts and culture. Every other year it sponsors Year of the Rural Arts and 2014 is one of those years!
  • Looking for a grant? To date, ArtPlace America has given $56.8 million in support of the arts, including several grants to Fermentation Fest’s very own Sauk County, Wis.
  • If you watch even a little PBS television, you’ve heard of the National Endowment for the Arts. This federal agency also provided funding for the Fermentation Fest.
  • Wisconsin Arts Board, another supporter of Fermentation Fest, has a great list of Wisconsin art tours.
  • Arts Wisconsin regularly posts cool artsy happenings and news on its Facebook page (bringing much more positivity to my day than political posts).
  • The Wormfarm Institute started out as a farm (but not a worm farm) and is now a non-profit working to integrate agriculture and culture. It’s currently accepting applications for its artist residency program.

Fermentation Fest: A Live Culture Convergence

Nameplate for Fermentation Fest

Turn on the T.V. or page through any number of magazines and you’ll find that Wisconsin is cultivating a prestigious culinary scene. From James Beard award winners to specialty food entrepreneurs, our beloved Badger State is taking on an epicurean eminence that goes far beyond beer, cheese, sausage and fish fries.

Knowing this, you can rightly assume Wisconsin’s putting on some sumptuous food festivals. Among them, Fermentation Fest is literally bubbling its way to the top.

Definition of culture shed, by Jay Salinas, Wormfarm InstituteNow in its fourth year, Fermentation Fest is a 10-day celebration of the arts, farming and fermented food. There are how-to classes for the ancient art of fermentation. There are tasting events that expand one’s senses beyond the homogeneity of today’s grocery stores. There are musicians, poets and storytellers. And, if that’s not enough, there is art—how does a 50-mile self-guided Farm/Art D’Tour through the breathtaking farmlands of
Sauk County grab you? Think meandering country roads…rolling unglaciated hills…October, in all its autumn glory. As organizers define it, Fermentation Fest is a celebration of the “cultureshed” of Wisconsin’s Driftless area.

Fermentation Fest is the brainchild of Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas, and their Wormfarm Institute, a non-profit organization fostering arts and agriculture. Supported in part through the National Endowment for the Arts and ArtPlace America, Sauk County is the only rural county to receive art funding, says Donna. The fest is also hosted by the Sauk County UW Extension and the Reedsburg Chamber of Commerce, and sponsored by a multitude of businesses and organizations. Yes, Fermentation Fest is truly a convergence of culture.

So this year I’m super excited to be part of Fermentation Fest. My dear friend, Ann Foley, who designs for The Creative Company and Madison’s Brat Fest—another great food event—recommended me for doing the Fermentation Fest newsletter. Thank you, Ann!

And thank you, Donna! I’m honored to be working on this project and loving the time I get to spend in beautiful Sauk County!

Hey, make sure you sign up to get the latest on Fermentation Fest’s schedule and registration!


Beauty in the Brown

Yesterday I was in Reedsburg, Wisconsin for a client meeting. Geologically speaking, this is an interesting area of the state. It’s tucked between the glaciated hills of the Baraboo Range and the unglaciated ruggedness of the Driftless Area. As I drove the backroads, I chided myself for breaking a photographer’s number one rule: never be without your camera. Thank goodness for cell phones.

Sauk County, WIsconsin in spring

Even though everything is brown at this time of year (including the unmelted snow), there’s a unique beauty in the monotones of spring.

Irrigation in Sauk County, WI

There’s beauty in repetition right?

Country road in Sauk County, WI

Or the hopeful expectation of a curved road up ahead.

Abandoned farmhouse in Sauk County, WIThere’s even a forlorn beauty in an abandoned farmhouse.

Mailbox decorated for Easter in Sauk County, WIAnd just when you think you’ve seen enough brown, you come upon a mailbox such as this. How fun it is!

So my new project is exciting! It’s going to involve these very fields of Sauk County, Wisconsin, along with good food and awesome art. Stay tuned in the months ahead, there’s more to come!


A Special Press Release for a Special Client

An annual report and save-the-date postcards are spring projects I enjoy doing for my client Forward Mutual Insurance Company. This year is special. Forward’s president and CEO is retiring after 33 years of defining leadership and the company is honoring him with great hoopla. Normally, Forward does a news release after the meeting, however this year I suggested we run an advance article as well. The committed president of a successful mutual is newsworthy indeed and I’m honored for the opportunity to write this story.

Howard Wiedenhoeft, Forward Mutual Insurance Company, Ixonia, Wisconsin

Chairman of the board Stephen Zillmer recently represented Forward Mutual Insurance Company in expressing gratitude to President and CEO Howard Wiedenhoeft, left, for his many years of service. Wiedenhoeft will be retiring at the end of March after managing the company for 33 years. 



IXONIA, WI – Forward Mutual Insurance Company will recognize the retirement of Howard Wiedenhoeft at its annual policyholders meeting on March 22 in Ixonia. Wiedenhoeft has managed the company for 33 years.

In 1981, when Wiedenhoeft agreed to serve as secretary-treasurer of the board for Ixonia Mutual Insurance Company, he did so on two conditions—that the company acquire a permanent address and its own phone number.

“At that time, the secretary-treasurer managed the company and he did so out of his home, with the company using his address and phone number,” says Wiedenhoeft. “I felt it was important the company get its own post office box and phone number.”

The mutual company did that and more under Wiedenhoeft’s leadership. Since 1981 it’s moved from using typewriters to computers, from $66 million to $977 million of insurance in force, and from Ixonia Mutual Insurance Company to Forward Mutual Insurance Company.

Wiedenhoeft was well-qualified for managing a rural mutual insurance company. As a fifth generation farmer on his family’s rural Ixonia dairy farm, he understood the agricultural industry that at that time made up a majority of the mutual’s customer base. Wiedenhoeft also was experienced in the insurance industry, having founded Ixonia Insurance Agency in 1974.

Throughout his career Wiedenhoeft has been an innovative visionary for the mutual. In 1990 he began the application process for A.M. Best Ratings, a proprietary rating system of creditworthiness. By 1994, the company was awarded a B+ and since 2002 has maintained an A-.

In 1995, after 120 years of residing in a manager’s home, Ixonia Mutual built a 1,500-square-foot office in Ixonia. In 2011 the company doubled the size of the building.

Perhaps the most noteworthy change Wiedenhoeft brought to Ixonia Mutual Insurance Company was its merge with Watertown Mutual Insurance Company. In 2010 the two companies joined to form Forward Mutual Insurance Company. Now, four years later, Forward Mutual is represented by 80 agents in 16 agencies, and writes policies in 16 counties throughout Wisconsin.

Wiedenhoeft is professionally involved outside Forward Mutual as well. He served on the NAMIC Farm Conference Committee from 1993-1999, serving as chairman in 1997. He served as a board member for WAMIC from 1992–1998, serving as president in 1996. He was named WAMIC’s person of the year in 2013. Currently, Wiedenhoeft is serving on the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance Property and Casualty Advisor Committee, is a member of NAMIC’s Merit Society and maintains his Professional Farm Mutual Manager designation.

Outside the insurance world, Wiedenhoeft has been active on various church boards. He was a 4-H leader for 15 years and served as the Jefferson County Fair beef superintendent. He served on the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors for eight years.

When asked who has been the most important person he’s worked with in his career, Wiedenhoeft immediately says his wife, Lois.

“Lois actually started working for Ixonia Mutual the year before I did. She worked part-time as a policy processor,” says Wiedenhoeft. “I wouldn’t have taken the job without Lois. We’ve worked together every day all these years. We’ve never fought about money or kids, but once in a while we have about insurance.”

Although he’s no longer running his acreage, Wiedenhoeft and Lois continue to live on their family farm. They have three children; Lisa, Laura and Michael, and five grandchildren.

“When I took the position for Ixonia Mutual in 1981, I vowed I would never resist change. Change is necessary to move forward into the future,” says Wiedenhoeft. “I’ve now come to the age where change is harder to do. My goal was to leave the mutual as strong and vibrant as it was when I started. I think it is.”

The annual policyholders’ meeting for Forward Mutual Insurance Company will take place on Saturday, March 22 at 1:30 p.m. at the Ixonia Fireman’s Hall. A luncheon to honor Wiedenhoeft will be held before the meeting, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Article as published in the Watertown Daily Times