In sea of political commentary this season which wanes on us all, I am avoiding it and going to share with you about small towns and sauerkraut of all things. Sauerkraut connects our community. Nothing can clear our minds and specifically our senses quite like fermented cabbage. Sauerkraut connects me every second Wednesday in October to my community, Wishek. Sauerkraut Day feeds thousands but most importantly mid-week it brings people together, disconnect from the busyness of the outside world and allow a community to connect to one another over a shared meal.
What connects you to your community? Or are you disconnected? What can you do to reconnect? Maybe you need your own “Sauerkraut Day”. The fermented cabbage isn’t a requirement but we all need more face to face connection time. And every community I know of needs more people willing to selflessly serve to allow their community to thrive and survive.
91 years ago when Sauerkraut Day in Wishek began it was an act of thanks and appreciation of the Wishek merchants and business owners to thank the area farmers and ranchers. The year was 1925. Harvest was complete and all the area farm families came to town for a sauerkraut feed, for free, hosted by the Wishek Association of Commerce. The businesses were bustling with farmers buying supplies and continuing to support the local businesses. I imagine those early years of Sauerkraut Day. I don’t want to go back to 1925 realities but I know in order for Sauerkraut Day to continue and for our community to survive we have to continue to support our communities and small businesses with the same loyalty and support that the locals had in 1925. I have to show up in local businesses and make a focused effort to purchase items in my town where my dollars directly benefit families, their livelihoods and tax dollars stay home to benefit my town and state. I’ll be the first to say I love the ease of apps and online shopping but I also love my local grocery store, pharmacy, salon and The Western Shop that carries Carhartt items my husband wears for work and unique baby gifts for friends.
On this year’s Sauerkraut Day, I could have worked from home all day. I wasn’t signed up for a specific task or job. My kids were in school. My home office was quiet and there was work to do. I had dropped off the homemade kuchen I had made with my mother-in-law at the church bake sale table ahead of time.
Instead of spending all day at my desk, I made an effort to connect with a few friends and spend our lunch together at Sauerkraut Day. My husband and mother-in-law were serving along with other local business owners. Politicians running for office lined the walkway to shake hands. The Wishek high school choir sang German folk songs and played accordions. The scent of the sauerkraut filled the air, not in a bitter sour way but in a warm, welcoming way that only Sauerkraut Day in Wishek does. The lines were shorter this year at Sauerkraut Day than in my previous nine years of attending. It still fed over 1000 people with 110 lbs. of sauerkraut, 200 lbs. of speck (pork fat/ bacon) and 500 lbs. of Cloverdale red hotdogs, both mixed into huge vats of kraut and cooked for hours by a local father and son duo. The lines being shorter reminded me we all have to take our turn young and old to find our way to invest in our community. If leave it to someone else your Sauerkraut Day may not be there. At Pinke Lumber, our family business in Wishek, our CFO Kelly has served as President of the Association of Commerce and with the board spent months coordinating the effort and day. Business owners serve attendees. But our towns are smaller, fewer people live in rural locations and my generation specifically is less interested in volunteering their time and giving back it seems.
Looking around at Sauerkraut Day I felt like Wishek might be bucking the trends with the different ages of volunteers they had participating. However not as many in my age group and generation did I see leaving work to come and eat or at the vendor fair purchasing items. We have a duty to volunteer our time. I wasn’t serving at Sauerkraut Day. My husband and mother-in-law were but my role I was reminded was to support it, to show up and participate. I got in my full day of work while sitting filling up on kraut. I bought a few items at the craft fair. I took my girls and two of their friends to the basement of the Baptist church after school for the pie social.
I looked at the table of girls gleefully eating their pie and thought about their futures. I hope they have a chance to succeed in our world and specifically in our communities and rural state areas. They are the kids, knowing rural and living it, that could come back and continue on Sauerkraut Day for a next generation. How will they learn now if we don’t lead by example across many generations to volunteer and participate? In the late afternoon, I dropped my girls off at our lumberyard office with their dad to get to a city council special meeting. I walked into City Hall on Sauerkraut Day and thought of the civic leaders of 1925 in Wishek. They built traditions and a way of life I am proud to continue. What is the connection you feel to your community? Are you disconnected? How can connect? Seek it out this next week. Visit a local favorite shop and support it with your business. Make a pot of coffee and invite over some neighbors for no reason other than the need for community connection. Or bold jump into a new volunteering role. Every civic organization I can think of could use new skills, energy and time from volunteers.
Find your Sauerkraut Day, fermented cabbage or not.