Building Bridges: An Interview with Jennifer Moore-Kerr

By Jennifer Moore-Kerr

Jennifer Moore-Kerr, 56

The profile this month is a bit different from ones I have done in the past. In talking with a friend about this project, about “Building Bridges,” she asked what I am doing in my interviews to make myself vulnerable, as I was asking others to be. What was I sharing about myself when I ask strangers for their stories? I didn’t have a good answer. And so this month I am sharing the profile of … me. What are my answers to these questions? The difference, or a difference, is that it doesn’t seem appropriate to, nor am I sure how I would, interpret my own answers. How can I find the compassion, interest and value in my own story that I seem to find so easily in each of the stories I have shared in this space over the last year? In the end, I will leave that interpretation up to you, the reader.

Jennifer Moore-Kerr with her children Joshua, Rachel and Matthew.

What brought you to the River Valley, or why do you live here? What keeps you here?

In the late ’90s my then-husband and I lived and worked on an organic vegetable farm in Illinois. We had been there for two seasons and decided that we were ready to take the plunge and have our own farm. As a child my father had brought our family to the Driftless Region repeatedly where we marveled at alfalfa fields, farmsteads and, later, the beloved Wisconsin River. So it only made sense to look for our farm in this area. The farm we found was perfect  —  it had a big red barn, if in slight disrepair, much like the one I had grown up loving on my grandmother’s farm, and it had much of the infrastructure we needed to build our organic vegetable farm. It was a perfect place, and way, to homeschool our children and begin the hard work of running our own farm. We called it Greenspirit Farm, and it will always be the foundation of what brought us and kept us here. While much is changed now, each of my kids are drawn to Greenspirit (now White Oak Savanna) whenever they are visiting. It will forever be home to them. 

The real estate flier measured the farm as “halfway between” Spring Green and Dodgeville. While the actual miles to Dodgeville were only five, we drifted toward the farther away Spring Green as our community. The summer of 2000 we joined the farmers market held in the courtyard in front of the Albany Shops. We quickly became fans of the General Store and felt welcomed into the community. Because of that feeling of open arms, when my marriage dissolved in 2011, I moved to town and even began working at the General Store, where I still am today. I felt completely welcomed into the community. It has been a fantastic place in which to raise my youngest, Joshua. Now, almost 10 years later, I am profoundly grateful for the home that I have in this community and cannot imagine living anywhere else.

When you describe the area to someone new, what do you feel is most important to tell them?

It is the community that most stands out to me. People here care about the well-being of each other. We look out for each other. As a single mom I know that I did not raise my children alone. This village held us every step of the way. Now, as my youngest leaves home I know that, while I will miss him enormously, I will feel safe, held, and surrounded by people who care. 

In addition to all of the incredible community found in its music, the festivals, and art in all of its forms, Spring Green is beautiful. There are natural places all around to soothe my spirit and the river, in all of its power and beauty, brings me great comfort. 

Finally, the pace of life here works for me. Most everyone has time to visit whether it is in the grocery store, the library or as we pass on the street. Working at the front counter at the General Store gives me great pleasure as I connect with the locals and those visiting our incredible community. Each small interaction confirms the value of building bridges for me.

Jennifer first came to the Driftless Region with her family to a farm 5 miles north of Dodgeville that they called Greenspirit.

What is something you wish people knew about you?

I struggle. I struggle with insecurity. With regrets. I am often overwhelmed, and sometimes depressed. Sometimes I feel alone, even in this amazing place. And when I do, my favorite escape is to spend the day disappearing into a detective novel!

What is a hope that you have for the future of this area?

While many hope for better connectivity for the future, I hope that that connectivity doesn’t come at the cost of personal, face-to-face connections. I hope that the small-town feel where we know our neighbors and stop to chat won’t get lost behind our screens and our connection to the larger world. I value the conversations I have in the aisles at Hometown and the fact that my kids are known by others. It is said that in a small town everyone knows everyone else’s business … and I guess I don’t think that is all bad. It helped my teenager make good choices because he knew that when he didn’t, someone would see him and let me know. It helps me to not feel alone. I hope that we hold onto that.

Who do you call family? Are they in the River Valley?

My first family is my three children, Rachel, Matthew and Joshua. But by the time this goes to print they will be in North Carolina, Chicago and Spain, respectively. And so my local family are the people I am lucky enough to be surrounded by: the kids at work who pooled together and bought me a Mother’s Day petunia basket, the incredible women in my book club, the local family that “adopted” me all those years ago, and still loves me today, the people with whom I raised my kids. These are the people whom I call family. They are there for me when I need support. I would do anything for them. I can cry with them. They make me laugh. And I hope that they feel the same.

From the beginning the Kerrs found community in Spring Green, where Jennifer now lives, works, and finds beauty — whether she’s taking in the nature of the river by herself or dancing barefoot as seen at a Spring Green General Store music festival.

What makes you happy? Sad?

Natural beauty makes me happy. And watching my kids embrace natural beauty. Sometimes it is the flowers and birds in my backyard and sometimes it is the Rorschach glory of the reflections of the clouds on the smooth water of the river as I kayak all alone. Sometimes it is watching the swallows dart in and out of what looks to be a sheer rock wall. In fact, that makes me laugh out loud. Sitting on a porch (mine or that of a friend’s) and sharing life with that friend makes me profoundly happy.

Seeing a group of people all sitting “together” each on their phones, in their own isolated worlds, breaks my heart. Our addiction to our phones at the expense of connecting in person, or experiencing the magic of the world around us, makes me terribly sad.

How do you deal with personal hardship?

I talk to my kids and my friends. I cry. I go for a walk when I have exhausted all of the talking and then I let the exercise and beauty soothe me. I keep going and know that time will indeed heal. There may be scars, but the wounds will heal. In the last year I have begun to discover the value of yoga and meditation in dealing with hardship and I am glad for that new discovery. Mostly, I lean on my community.

Thank you for listening to my story. 

To suggest ideas for future “Bridges” columns, email jennifermrkrr2@gmail.com.