Fermenting culture

Tonight we have a sauerkraut workshop at the museum.  K. has come down from the mill to help, and brought the kids with her.  

When the out-of-town visitors stopped coming, and the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota visitors started coming by bike or by train, we jackhammered up the parking lot, did a lot of soil amendments, and began a historic garden.  With the rest of the grounds, that made about an acre and a half of growing space, which we used both for education programs on historic farming in the area, circa 1900; to feed me; and to grow food to process for trade goods.  Most of it’s planted in wheat, rye and corn, which goes to the local mill and brewery, but this year we’ve had a bumper crop of cabbage.  

We’re crowdsourcing the krautmaking by making it a historic skills workshop.  Since we’re a local history museum documenting the history of our communities in the Minnesota River Valley, much of our collections are agricultural.  We have a number of crocks that we checked for hairline cracks and that we’ve decided are part of our education collection, so we’re using them for production.  Our kraut shredders, however, are quite fragile, and some are rusty and need to be conserved (a vague hope for the future), so we’re just making do with knives.  Good metals are hard to come by these days–the scrappers have been through.  Our excellent collection of church cookbooks has come in handy.

To make sauerkraut, you clean cabbages well and chop or shred them finely.  Pack them in a crock with about 1 T salt per 5 cups of cabbage, more if it’s hot out.  Pound the cabbage into the crock until it gives up liquid, weight and cover.  When the kraut is done, in about a month, we’ll hot-water-bath can it.  To protect against ReDS, we’ve sterilized everything, mandated frequent handwashing among our 15 or so workshoppers (all locals so far; the refugees have been starting to trickle up here, but most are in the city, not in my small community), and also required everyone to wear a surgical mask.  You can’t be too careful when dealing with food, even lactofermented foods.

When we’ve canned the kraut, we trade it for energy, either hydropower from the mill, or wind energy from Southwest Minnesota.  Sometimes we can barter, sometimes we turn the kraut and other value-added foods to cash first by selling to a distributor.  We need to run the lights and the heat and the computers in the museum.   Like many local history museums, our museum has always been free to visitors, and there was an uproar when I tried to impose fees back when the economy first went south, so our exhibits remain a free public resource.  We charge for collections access and research, and sometimes for workshops on the history of technology.  We’re running on a shoestring anyway; energy is the most pressing expense.  There are no grants anymore.  

How can we monetize our museum services and still remain a public resource?  How can we be community hubs and stay solvent?

We’ll let these questions ferment as the kraut does.  Hopefully some answers will bubble up as it matures.  This is how we create culture.


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October 2008


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