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

Wednesday Webs: Summer’s Super Foods!

Dill growing in garden

This is such an exciting time of year. Each morning I go out to my garden and find the super food fairies have been hard at work during the night. We’ve had perfect garden weather so far—lots of rain a few weeks ago and now intensely hot sun. This beautiful dill is just biding it’s time, waiting for the pickles growing behind it to burst on to the scene. And they soon will. In just another week, we’ll be making dill pickles galore!

Visual communication is huge for marketing food. So are public relations, the media, and an overall emotional bond to delicacies we eat. Lately, I’ve found so much that supports this theory.

  • Here’s a case study for What We Eat and Why It Matters. Case studies are inordinately useful for managing the project, but they’re also educational for anyone looking to learn.

  • Earlier this month one of my favorite cheese companies, Crave Brothers, suffered a devastating blow when it had to voluntarily recall three of its specialty cheeses. This is devastating not only for them, but for the whole artisanal cheese industry. I’m watching with interest in how they handle this PR crisis (so far, I think they’ve done well). I’ve worked with owner Charles Crave in the past, and he and his family are wonderful people. I know they’ll come back better than ever. In fact, I’ve ramped up buying their mozzerella and mascarpone—oh, so very good!

  • Speaking of pickles, did you know Wisconsin has a Pickle Bill? It allows food entrepreneurs to sell certain home-canned foods without a license. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of your own home-based food business? Be sure to check out your state’s Cottage Food Laws.

  • My client, Rock County Historical Society, is well into its year-long Breadbasket: Seed to Spoon Exhibit. It’s a fascinating celebration of the county’s culinary history!

Appreciating Artisanal Foods

basket of organic strawberries

While relishing the 10-year cheddar he received as a Father’s Day gift, my husband commented that he can only remember eating processed cheese as a kid.

Are you kidding? Ye, who has lived in America’s Dairyland all of thy days?

Truth is, back when we were growing up in the 1960-70s, food selections were much different than they are now. In some ways they were better. High fructose sugar and super-gluten weren’t major ingredients. Nor were the fruits and vegetables genetically modified and void of flavor.

On the other hand, nowadays some of our foods are actually better. As the dairy and strawberry days of June come to an end (wow, so fast!), I can’t help appreciating the culinary artisans we have now that we didn’t back then. Cheesemakers, like Chris Roelli of Shullsburg, WI, have moved beyond mass-production boredom and back to the traditional handcrafting of age-ripend cheese. Farmer’s markets and CSA farms, like Hillsong Ridge Farm, of Springfield, WI, get us out of the over-processed grocery stores and into cooking with locally grown fruits and vegetables. All in all, both food consumers and producers are much more sustenance savvy.

But consider this:

Creating quality food takes time and effort. The mouthwatering strawberries in that basket? Fresh-picked today and completely organic? Just saying that a lot of back-bending, manual labor went into producing them. They’re so worth it, but I can’t imagine doing this at a scale larger than I do for my family. Knowing this, I wonder about the work that goes into running a CSA. Or an organic bakery. Or pasture-raised pork. These food artisans certainly aren’t doing it for the money—we all know Americans don’t want to pay much for their food, after all.

Will the day come when these hardworking foodies simply get tired? Will they someday decide they need to make a more lucrative living? Is this just a passing culinary moment in time?

I sure hope not. What communication can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?