Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas

Dedicated to integrating culture and agriculture, the Wormfarm Institute is an evolving laboratory of the arts and ecology and fertile ground for creative work. Planting a seed, cultivating, reaping what you sow . . . both farmer and artist have these activities in common.

Founded in 2000 by Jay Salinas and Donna Neuwirth, the Wormfarm Institute is Wisconsin-based 501(c)(3) non-profit working to build a sustainable future for agriculture and the arts by fostering vital links between people and the land. Generating, supporting and promoting these links between our creative selves, our work and our place on earth is essential for a thriving community. The name is inspired by a quote from Charles Darwin’s book, The Formation of Vegetable Mold through the Action of Worms, “Every grain of soil has passed at least once through the gut of an earthworm”.

In 1998, co-founder Jay Salinas coined the term “cultureshed.”

CULTURESHED (kul’cher-shed) n. 1. A geographic region irrigated by streams of local talent and fed by deep pools of human and natural history. 2. An area nourished by what is cultivated locally. 3. The efforts of writers, performers, visual artists, scholars, farmers and chefs who contribute to a vital and diverse local culture.

A cultureshed is similar to the agricultural concept of ‘terroir’ in which the products grown in an area reflect its unique geography, geology and micro-climate. Likewise, arts and cultural products from different culturesheds also reflect their unique local influences. To foster the development of a strong, indigenous culture, the Wormfarm Institute creates, sponsors and hosts exhibits, performances and other projects that engage the surrounding community, utilize the talents of local artists and speak to rural experience.

As an evolving laboratory of the arts and ecology, Wormfarm explores the links between urban and rural communities within and beyond the food chain, creating opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and fertile ground for creative work. With the mission to integrate culture and agriculture, Wormfarm’s work brings together farming, ecology and the arts to rekindle the cultural and enhance the economic possibilities of our region while celebrating its unique natural and human history.

Through the foundational residency program, each growing season artists and writers from around the country come to get dirty, eat well, and make art. While many residencies act as retreats, the Wormfarm offers an engagement in the life of a working farm. Out of these seasonal infusions, grounded in the most fundamental of activities – farming, other programs have evolved, ranging from the Re-Enchantment of Agriculture to giant puppet festivals to the annual Fermentation Fest.

Roadside Culture Stands tangibly unite art and farming. The artist-built mobile farm stands may vend fresh local produce, as well as the work of regional artists, while directing visitors to other cultural happenings. They come together at existing food-and-farming events in a caravan or ”Food Chain”, creating a vibrant marketplace of food, art, and ideas.

Just as the word culture is embedded in agriculture, so is cultural expression itself deeply embedded within our landscapes and our ways of deriving our livings from it. We believe the emotional power of the arts brings to the sustainability conversation the complexity and context the subject requires. For thousands of years farmers in cultures around the world interwove dance, music, and art through rituals of planting and the harvest in celebration of the land and those who care for it. Through a contemporary approach and within this timeless context, we continue that tradition.

Watch a 2013 ArtPlace America Interview with Donna Neuwirth

Listen to a 2011 NEA Interview with Jay Salinas