by Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas
A dedication to the cultural life of the Wisconsin River Valley area and beyond suggests appreciation for the concept of “flow”— the ongoing movement of matter or energy from one place to another as in the flow of water, lava or electricity. In the creative context, flow is the rare and transcendent space where full powers of focus and imagination are accessed and unleashed, as being “in flow” or the “zone.” Athletes and artists may exemplify this rare magical state of being where one is seemingly effortlessly, at one’s best. It happens to farmers too.
In this altered state we drop into the slipstream of shared insights or unconscious rhythms and rediscover an often unexplored part of ourselves that is pre-lingual and slightly terrifying.
Flow’s partner is “ebb” and together they suggest a healthy transfer of elements, ideas or exertions: inhale/exhale, arteries/veins, wind, conversation, tides. The same holds true in social and economic transactions. A free flow of ideas, goods and services makes for an alert, evolving human society. When the flow is constricted we get clotting, stagnation — a stunted monoculture lacking the capacity to imagine, empathize, and transform. Never a simple equation, unobstructed current carries its own dangers: erosion, escalation, flood. What’s a fella to do?
The flow between rural and urban areas is both a constant unacknowledged undercurrent of life on the planet and a current initiative in Wisconsin that aims to make visible and valuable our critical interdependence — one that can be mischaracterized as a divide and thereby hijacked, exploited, realized. A self-fulfilling prophecy.
A collaboration with Sauk and Milwaukee counties, the Rural/Urban FLOW Network (Flow) cultivates and reveals a regional ecosystem that values both its urban and rural parts. Through a series of intentional episodes with a growing list of creators and producers, the Flow celebrates the land upon which we all depend; values cultural differences; recognizes the changing roles of the farmer, artist and worker; and insists that attention must be paid. These exchanges serve to prime the pump and to promote a continuous flow among our neighboring but often estranged populations.
A collaboration with Sauk and Milwaukee counties, the Rural/Urban FLOW Network, cultivates and reveals a regional ecosystem that values both its urban and rural parts. These exchanges serve to prime the pump and to promote a continuous flow among our neighboring but often estranged populations.
The Flow enacts publicly what food, art and culture are uniquely qualified to do: to bring people together; to highlight our interconnectedness and shared humanity; to promote curiosity, regional prosperity, deeper understanding; and to generate a renewable source of pleasure.
Here in the upper Midwest we may be better prepared than some to navigate extremes and to come to some kind of equilibrium. We know even within the new climactic normal, the tilt of the earth on its axis still determines the fundamental ordering of our daily existence. Within the vast fundament we may seek flow or balance differently. The dramatic swings from the rigid stillness of a polar vortex to the vegetal exuberance and riotous birdsong that marks the return of a long-delayed growing season here in Wisconsin may influence how we find it.
For the past ten years or so our annual trip to Mexico City (population 22 million), offers what feels like a necessary ebb to our mostly rural flow — a course correction and sharpening of attention that this vastly different culture generously offers to us. In the scrum at a massive CDMX intersection we rush headlong into a wall of oncoming pedestrians and manage to pass through with just enough contact to be stimulating. This invitation (and it does feel like an invitation) to join the teeming masses offers a fleshy slipstream where we, somewhat counterintuitively, are comforted and nourished. And it triggers the pre-lingual impulse to reciprocate, to invite others to be gently swallowed by our vast, verdant, if muffled, current.
After the worst of the polar vortex we returned to our farm near Reedsburg to Trouser (our dog) our unnamed chickens and the rest of our teeming biotic community defined by Aldo Leopold to include “soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” Back on home turf refreshed and grateful with juices flowing, we dig into the details of orchestrating Flow, specifically within Fermentation Fest — where we invite Milwaukee collaborators to commingle their live cultures with ours in both classes and free events in City Park as we celebrate nine years of abundance and transformation.
Efforts to reconnect interdependent realms respect no borders and privilege no species. And they feel particularly urgent right now.
Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas are co-founders of the Wormfarm institute in Reedsburg. Wormfarm has presented Fermentation Fest — A Live Culture Convergence since 2011. For more information, see wormfarminstitute.org and fermentationfest.com.
Driftless Terroir (ter-WAHR) is a series featuring guest voices celebrating the intersection of land and culture — the essence of life in the Driftless Area — with topics including art and architecture, farming and gardening, cooking and eating, fermenting and drinking, and more. To read past columns, see voiceoftherivervalley.com. To contribute to Driftless Terroir, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.