As we enter the autumn season, the harvest is on most Wisconsinites' minds. I'm particularly excited to be participating in an upcoming gathering in Reedsburg where the Wormfarm Institute’s annual Fermentation Fest will be taking place from October 4th through the 13th. In addition to workshops on cooking and fermenting food, and even homebrewing, this “live culture convergence” will feature the nationally acclaimed Farm/Art DTour, a 50-mile self-guided drive through the rolling hills and farmlands in the “Driftless Area” of Sauk County.
On that Sunday the 12th, from 4 to 6 pm I will be participating on a panel called "The Art of the Rural – Creating Thriving Places Beyond the City" at the Woolen Mill Gallery, 28 E Main St. in Reedburg. We'll explore how local food systems and arts and culture can combine to be integral strategies for fostering economic development in rural areas. I will be joined by a distinguished panel which includes: Jamie Bennett, the President of ArtPlace America, a national philanthropy consortium; Matthew Fluharty of Washington University who leads Art of the Rural; Sarah Lloyd, a Wisconsin Dells dairy farmer, rural sociologist and member of the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, a 2014 recipient of a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, and Curt Meine, conservation biologist and Aldo Leopold biographer.
USDA Rural Development has strategic priorities that promote local and regional food systems through our Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Program and regional approaches to community and economic development. I intend to touch on the ways that USDA resources can support projects that integrate community development, the arts, and food to foster prosperity and shared economies. The National Endowment for the Arts, for instance, has been a tremendous federal partner in supporting rural community projects, including the Fermentation Fest.
One recent USDA funding example is a grant to the InCourage Community Foundation in Wisconsin Rapids. InCourage received $152,000 from a USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant to develop a regional approach to economic development. Around the same time, InCourage received a $400,000 grant from Artplace to help repurpose the former Tribune newspaper building as part of a downtown revitalization strategy. This is a prime example of ways private foundation investments in rural America are leveraging USDA funds for more strategic impact.
Rural Wisconsin communities are innovators when it comes to economic development. Maybe you can join me and others at this family-friendly Fermentation Fest in Reedsburg, Wisconsin this October where you can see rural innovation and creativity in action.