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An Organic (and Rustic) Experience at Wormfarm

Jul. 19, 2016
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"The Wormfarm is not for everyone," a caveat listed in the Wormfarm Institute's artist residency prospectus. That did not deter me from trying out a short stay this May, where I was able to get my feet wet for a few days and nights. When they describe the farm as rustic, they do mean with a capital R. Wormfarm is an organic farm growing kale, lettuce and herbs with the help of artists, writers, musicians, and other performers in residence. In exchange for the Driftless Area countryside and the quiet rural area just outside of Reedsburg, artists contribute labor for three hours a day, five days a week in the gardens, or by helping out with basic farm maintenance and chores. The Wormfarm also houses two cute barn cats, 20 or so chickens, cows and their calves and an old dog named, Trouser. The program offers a place to stay, studio space for artists, and a community kitchen with basic staples and produce available.

When I was invited as an accepted writer for this year, I was thrilled. I carefully planned my packing list and made arrangements with my day job. I expected it to be character building, challenging, but ultimately an inspiring place for the creative soul. 

To be sure, the streaked pink sunrises, fog rolling in over the hills, trills of the cranes, and thunderstorms were inspiring indeed. I sat down to a good four-hour Stephen King size writing exercise on my second day. I also greatly enjoyed a long walk along a stretch of country road to the west of the farm. I didn't see a soul the whole way out or back for an hour.

The trickiest obstacle slicing right through the middle of that blessed silence was no privacy. I realized that the dinners were sometimes communal. The problem was regarding the "private rooms" for the artists' living quarters in the barn. I imagined tiny weathered areas scattered throughout, with some distance between them. I do not consider a room that I change clothes and sleep in "private," if the only door is a piece of wood that doesn't fit the frame, leaving three inch gaps all the way around that you are unable to cover, hanging closed by only a loose latch. You could hear everything and nothing was left to the imagination. If you've always wanted to live in a commune, more power to you. But for many, having total privacy to create and reflect in their downtime is key. All of the windows, including the ones in the outhouse and the room to take a shower had flimsy coverage at best. The more accurate description should have read, "semi-private rooms and largely communal living." This particular situation is also greatly influenced by the personalities and behavior of the people one might find themselves rooming with…

This is not intended to be overtly critical of the Wormfarm or the program it offers. The co-founders, Jay Salinas and Donna Neuwirth, were absent during my stay. For some individuals, it may be exactly what floats your boat. Rather, this is a thorough heads-up for someone considering trying it out. For more information, you can visit: www.wormfarminstitute.org

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