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.

Founded in 2000 by Jay Salinas and Donna Neuwirth, the Wormfarm Institute is a 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”.

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. The center of our cultureshed is a 40 acre former dairy farm but its boundaries extend throughout the upper Midwest.

Wormfarm explores the links between urban and rural communities within and beyond the food chain, creating opportunities for cross-sector collaboration. 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 its 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—a series of convergences of farmers, artists and writers (2006-2008) to giant puppet festivals (2004-2007) to Roadside Culture Stands, (2009-present)—artist-built mobile farm stands that may vend fresh local produce, act as outreach vehicles, or both.  They come together at existing food-and-farming events in a caravan or “Food Chain,” creating a vibrant marketplace of food, art, and ideas.

In 2011, Wormfarm worked with countywide partners to produce the first Fermentation Fest – A Live Culture Convergence, bringing thousands of people from rural and urban places to celebrate live culture in all its forms.  Its signature feature, The Farm/Art DTour, is a 50 plus mile self-guided drive through working farmlands punctuated by temporary art installations, pasture performance, roadside poetry and more. This growing annual event has garnered national recognition and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace America, Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts and the Educational Foundation of America and has brought Wormfarm to the threshold of rapid growth.

In 2013, in response to a request for help in translating this success for the long term, the Wisconsin Arts Board—huge supporters throughout the past decade—convened a dedicated think tank of high-profile arts advocates who provided recommendations and contacts to support Wormfarm’s rapid expansion and need for a more robust board. This was followed by close work with The Bolz Center for Arts Management at UW-Madison, and has resulted in a roadmap for taking the abundance we currently enjoy and making it last.

As with all meaningful cultural endeavors, Wormfarm’s success depends on the community in which it lives. Sauk County Arts and Culture Committee plays a pivotal role as do area farmers, artists and local businesses, the Sauk County Board, UW Extension office, the City of Reedsburg and the Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Photo by Katrin Talbot