Wright and More

May 14, 2010

One of my favorite annual events is the “Wright and Like” tour sponsored by Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin. It’s usually the first weekend of June to coincide, more or less, with Wright’s June 8 birthday. This year’s tour, scheduled for June 5, focuses on Racine.

Each year’s tour centers on the work of Wright and then throws in some interesting “and like” buildings. This year we’ll see work by Russell Barr Williamson, who worked for Wright before enjoying an independent career that spanned more than four decades. The connections to Wright are sometimes less direct as with John Randal McDonald, whose work is “Wrightian,” yet distinctly his own.

Wright tour

Mike Lilek gives a video tour of a restored Frank Lloyd Wright house in Milwaukee.

While nothing equals seeing and experiencing good architecture in person, there are increasing choices on the Web. For example, Wisconsin Public Television has a video tour of one of Wright’s American System-Built houses on Burnham Street in Milwaukee.

May is Wisconsin Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month. You can look for opportunities near you by checking the Wisconsin Historical Society’s event calendar. It’s a good chance to experience architecture.


You are cordially invited

May 13, 2010

For those who haven’t heard, LZ Lambeau is coming to Green Bay beginning May 21.

Presented in real life stories, art exhibits, artifacts and song, LZ Lambeau is part history lesson, part welcome home party, and all overdue acknowledgment for Wisconsin’s Vietnam veterans. It gets its name from the landing zones that Vietnam veterans were often deployed to and, of course, from the iconic Wisconsin venue in which the event will take place. With the exception of a special tribute ceremony Saturday night, all events are free to the general public. (For Vietnam vets, the ceremony is free, too.)

I think Wisconsin’s vets explain LZ Lambeau best, though:

In another promo I watched recently on YouTube, Wisconsin Vietnam War veterans explained why they hope their contemporaries attend next week’s event.  Near the end of the spot, one veteran says, “Just to be around guys and gals who have the same ghosts that you do — don’t have to talk about ’em — but just to be amongst them people will be very rewarding for you. And that will be the beginning of your healing process.”

His statement gives the rest of us good reason to attend as well:  40 years after many Wisconsin men and women returned from service in Vietnam, and veterans are talking about beginning the healing process.  It’s about time.

LZ Lambeau was inspired by interviews conducted for the upcoming Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories, airing on Wisconsin Public Television May 24, 25 and 26. LZ Lambeau is a partnership of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television, along with an extensive group of veterans organizations statewide.

In support of the event, Wisconsin Public Radio has created a Web page collecting the station’s Vietnam War and LZ Lambeau-related stories. Listen to them at wpr.org/lzlambeau.

–Tammy Kempfert


Sound wisdom from rural Wisconsin

May 7, 2010

In the Spring 2010 issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas, Bill Berry confesses he’s “hopelessly in love” with rural Wisconsin and its residents.

Clearly Berry’s soft spot for the state’s backroads is no passing crush: as evidence of his affection, the Stevens Point journalist has more than 30 years experience covering rural issues around the state. Among his published works is the final report for the Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin project, a Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters policy initiative that explored economic and sustainable growth through agriculture.

So who better than he to inaugurate Voices of Rural Wisconsin, a new venture of the Academy and PortalWisconsin.org? Voices of Rural Wisconsin broadens the scope of the Future of Farming initiative–with a four-part series of interviews to be featured in Wisconsin People and Ideas, and a companion audio archive on Portal Wisconsin.

“Part One: The Call of the Land” showcases the likes of conservationist and organic agriculture pioneer Harold Kruse. Those living in Dane County have the Kruse family to thank for our beloved farmers market, which wraps around Capitol Square Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the growing season. In the audiotaped interview on Portal Wisconsin, you can listen to Kruse describe his lifelong love of nature–in high school, he cataloged 1,500 species of plants and animals on his family’s Loganville farm–while a woman calls bingo at the nursing home where he currently lives. Given all Kruse has seen and accomplished during his life, the interview he granted Berry is an oral history jewel.

I liked listening to Randy Cutler’s interview, too. The Milladore farmer reminds us that, in the 1970s, parents urged their kids to “Get off the farm.” While he ultimately didn’t take the advice himself, he says people back then saw farming as a high-risk, low-paying last resort. Today he’s noticed a renewed interest in living off the land.

Almost as if to prove his point, we have Val Klessig. Just a year or two ago, the 19-year-old was sure she wanted to leave her family’s six-generation Cleveland farm to pursue a career as a teacher or a veterinarian. Lately, though, the UW-Madison freshman reports a change of heart: “I still want to spread my wings, and I still want to venture into the world and take that leap of faith,” she says. “I feel though that eventually I will be returning and doing something with our farm.”  In the audio version, you can hear the pleased chuckles of her father Karl in the background–and you can almost feel the magnetic pull of the land he later describes.

We hope you’ll take a look at the latest issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas, where you’ll find Berry’s article, “The Call of the Land,” and so much more. And please make time to listen to the voices I’ve described here and the others that make up the new audio project on Portal Wisconsin. You can find them collected at http://www.portalwisconsin.org/index.cfm. We’ll be posting the Part Two audio, “From Farm to Plate,” soon.

–Tammy Kempfert


Growing Power Comes to Madison

May 1, 2010

By Joan Fischer

“I’m here to get something started and help get the community involved,” says Will Allen.

That’s what Allen, the CEO of Growing Power and possibly the world’s most famous urban farmer—earlier this week Allen, already a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People—does all over the country.

Growing Power has trained urban farmers from Chicago, New Orleans, and Brooklyn to Kenya, Macedonia, and the Ukraine. But only rarely has the Milwaukee-based green giant taken the baby step over to Madison.

Until now. Growing Power is serving as a key partner in an ambitious urban farming project taking place on Madison’s South Side on the four-acre campus of an abandoned school. May 1 was the first official planting day, and some 50 volunteers of all ages dropped by to pitch in.

“There will be no bluegrass on this site,” declared Tom Dunbar, executive director of the Center for Resilient Cities, which is leading the project alongside Growing Power and Madison Gas and Electric. “Everything planted will be something to eat.”

Indeed, the former Badger School and its grounds, now called the Resilience Center, will become a bustling neighborhood hub for all things farming, including community gardens and greenhouses for year-round growth, fish farming, a commercial kitchen, a coffee shop, and a charter middle school that will use the entire campus as a living classroom. Innovative urban agriculture and efficient energy will be used in all operations and provide learning opportunities and employable skills for participants of all ages.

It’s that grand vision that drew Will Allen.

“This is really about a new industry,” says Allen. “Urban agriculture is a small farm industry that will create jobs in thousands of projects like this all around the country.”

As a start, volunteers put in four 36-foot-long raised beds, soon to grow spinach, lettuce, and carrots. The Growing Power practice is to not dig into the ground, which in most cities has suffered from at least some contamination. The raised beds, two feet high and 18 inches apart, are created simply by dumping compost right onto the grass. Allen and his team trucked the compost in from one of their farms near Milwaukee. (Eventually compost will be produced on site.)

Almost as a final benediction, the rows were then anointed with worms—buckets and buckets full of red wigglers whose castings will make the soil wildly fertile. Allen considers such soil the secret to any growing success.

“You’ll be surprised by how much production you’ll get out of this space,” says Allen, who ought to know. His demonstration farm in Milwaukee grows about $5 worth of produce per square foot, which translates to more than $200,000 of produce per acre.

Many more community planting days and other events will take place this spring and summer. Stay tuned at the Center for Resilient Cities.