SAUK CITY, Wis. – Cow-calling, grass-fed cheese and cider tasting, a grazing demonstration … they’re just a sampling of the many activities scheduled for Fermentation Fest, to be held Sept. 25-26. The annual two-day event is hosted by the Wormfarm Institute of Reedsburg, Wisconsin. This year the organization is partnering with Grassland 2.0 to host Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition.
“We’re focused on supporting a move to perennial agriculture,” said Laura Paine, outreach coordinator for Grassland 2.0. “And we recognize there are social and cultural dimensions to transforming agriculture. That’s why we’re partnering with the Wormfarm Institute. Changes happen when people come together to understand issues and problems. Only about 1 percent of the country’s population is involved in farming. We need to connect with eaters of food.”
The Wormfarm Institute is a nonprofit that integrates agriculture and culture. It established Fermentation Fest in 2010 to bring together rural and urban people, artists, chefs and fermenters to celebrate “live culture” in all its forms. The event features locally raised food, live music, demonstrations, tastings, dance performances, educational activities and more.
Grassland 2.0 is comprised of farmers, researchers, and public- and private-sector leaders. They’re working together to improve soil and water quality, climate resilience and biodiversity as well as increased farmer profitability through grassland-based agriculture.
“Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition will be a celebration of rural culture and the power that regenerative grassland agriculture has to unite rural and urban communities,” Paine said. “It will be a great opportunity to bring folks from Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and other areas to share good grass-fed food, great music and activities, and cultivate positive transformation on the land and in our communities.”
Paine said she hopes attendees will take home with them three main messages.
• Grass-fed food tastes good.
• Perennial agriculture and grazing can help protect water quality, sequester carbon, and provide pollinator and bird habitat.
• It's important to support transformative agriculture so farmers can stay in business.
Most of the events will be held at Witwen Park and Campground near Sauk City. But the grazing demonstration and Kulning class – a form of cow-calling used in Scandinavia – will be held at Tower Rock Farm near Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.
An interactive demonstration of how portable fencing is used in rotational grazing is planned. Attendees will serve as a “cow herd," which will be rotated to a new paddock. Also planned is a rainfall simulator to show why managed grazing works to protect soil and why it’s important, Paine said.
William Gasser and his son, Dean Gasser, have a milking herd of 75 cows. They rotationally graze bred heifers on 20 acres. Serge Koenig, a conservation technician at the Sauk County Land Resources and Environment Department, helped the Gassers with a grazing plan. He also recommended a prescribed pasture mix.
“The system works well for bred heifers,” William Gasser said. “This is our third season of rotational grazing. The first year we grazed younger calves but found there was too much acreage for them. It’s been a learning curve.”
In addition to dairy the Gasser family owns and operates Tower Rock Farmstead Bakery, where they bake breads, cookies and other treats. The family grows and grinds wheat for their flour. They’ll have treats for sale; attendees wanting to purchase cinnamon rolls are encouraged to visit the bakery early.
“The cinnamon rolls we sell on Saturdays usually sell out fast,” Gasser said.
The festival’s other activities will be held at Witwen Park and Campground. A few program highlights are featured.
- grass-fed cheese and cider tasting featuring grass-fed cheese paired with cider made by Brix Cider of Mount Horeb
- Kombucha demonstration featuring Laura Poe Mathes, a health-food specialist, followed by a workshop on how to make water kefir and “ginger bug”
- Lou Bank from S.A.C.R.E.D. and brewer Dave Dietz from Hillsboro Brewing Company will discuss how different cacao nibs translate to beer while also exploring cacao-seed varietals from the forests of the Chiapas and Tabasco states in Mexico.
- Artisan Grain Collaborative panel discussion on grass-based grain-value chains
- book discussion by Eric Pallant, author of “Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Cultures"
- performance by Kanopy Dance, and the duet of Michael Bell of Grassland 2.0 and his daughter, Eleanor Mayerfeld, presenting songs ranging from klezmer to classic French and English vocals of blues and jazz.
- Katrin Talbot and Parry Karp will bring the rich sounds of cello, viola and poetry.
- Taylor Ackley and the Deep Roots Ensemble will perform traditional American repertoire and original music.
Many events at Fermentation Fest: Grassland Edition are free to attend but some music performances, fermentation workshops and other special events require tickets. Visit fermentationfest.com and wormfarminstitute.org and grasslandag.org for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.