Early on in my RealSmallTowns project, I set out to write a piece about the common threads of connection in those places that are thriving with collective effervescence and the resilience that originates from it. After conducting several interviews, It was quickly apparent that community-building is a more fluid process, one that considers and adapts to the particulars of each unique community. In Ouray, CO, this spirit percolates from a connection to the rugged mountains enveloping the town. In Fairfield, IA, it comes from the traditions and entrepreneurial efforts sparked by the practitioners of transcendental meditation who migrated in the late 1970s, blended together with the earthbound farming traditions of the Iowa Plains. In Viroqua, WI, community zeal spawns from strong ties to the rich agricultural landscape, held in the bosom of soft hills and valleys; punctuated by rivers and streams.
Here in Viroqua, the economic stability —the fabric of the town— is inextricibly tied to farming and agriculture. Viroqua boasts the highest number of organic farms per capita in the nation. Many businesses and creative ventures that add richness and flavor to our place would not exist at all without the many hardworking farmers who live among us. We must celebrate our good fortune. We must celebrate the harvest.
And so, we do. We celebrate and give thanks for the bounty of the land and the harvest that will carry us through the frozen tundra of long Midwestern winters.
Six years ago, in the fall of 2009, local community member Joe Hart, inspired by a childhood experience on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, pulled together a core group of volunteers to bring his vision to light: a local band of giant paper-mache puppets, parading down main street in celebration of the harvest.
The group’s core members —Joe, Amy Arnold, Carl Schlect and Josh Peters, corralled a large group of volunteers who donated cardboard, paint, hardware, trailers, and many hours of time to carry off the first parade —a people-powered, harvest-themed, community-art celebration of season and place.
Today, after years of tweaking and refining, in addition to adding organizer Denise Semanchin into the group, the puppet-making and parade has now been adopted as a program of local arts center, The Ark. The all-volunteer brigade continues to be guided by the same simple tenants, in an effort to bring community members together for the simple joy of connection — celebrating the gifts of the harvest, celebrating the spirit of community, celebrating the delight of playing and creating together.
What is your celebration of place?