The 94th annual Sauerkraut Day was held Oct. 9 in Wishek, N.D. What makes Sauerkraut Day a success?
In vats in the City Hall garage, 114 gallons of sauerkraut are cooked with 200 pounds of speck, pork fat similar to prosciutto or pork belly. The scents waft around the small south-central North Dakota community of 935 people. Added in are 500 pounds of Cloverdale red hot dogs, or red weiners as the locals say.
Cloverdale is a North Dakota-based company that I buy a lot of bacon from, but as a North Dakota native, I never knew of red hot dogs until moving to south-central North Dakota. They’re what the German-Russian ethnic folks love in their sauerkraut and speck. Look in meat departments and you’ll see they are sold in packs of 50 hot dogs each.
Is the free meal of speck, kraut and red hot dogs plus mashed potatoes, buns and cheese what really draws people to Wishek every second Wednesday of October? After 12 years of observing, I would say, only partially.
Is it the high school choir singing German folk songs? The music teacher came out of retirement to make sure that tradition continued this year. The music adds to the allure of Sauerkraut Day, but again, it’s only an added perk.
The vendor show and the local businesses opening doors to an extra couple thousand people visiting for a day add more small-town feel.
For me, the draw of Sauerkraut Day is about people, the need for gathering as a community, to carry on a tradition and the desire I believe we all have for connectedness. Our communities need to be connected to be strong. And we as people need to be willing to show up, volunteer and pitch in where needed in our communities to make sure at least once a year our community has a chance to draw in others.
With the growth of digital communities, will the next generation engage in offline community building? Will there be more than 100 years of Sauerkraut Days in our future? What happens if we all feel we’re connected enough online that we don’t put in the effort to keep our communities connected in offline events like Sauerkraut Day?
Communities die. Without Sauerkraut Day or similar events, there is a slow dying trend in communities.
Yes, towns may continue to exist, but the true value of a community and how we give back to one another dies if we cannot put time aside to give toward community events like Sauerkraut Day.
Each town I love and am connected to has at least one of these signature community events. The events build the town into more than a dot on a map and create community.
As my husband and I walked into Sauerkraut Day this year to work our shift of serving food, I saw a new volunteer on the Wishek Association of Commerce carrying out a large serving pan of kraut, speck and red hot dogs. He’s a young man, not much older than our son, working in his multi-generational family business now. I commented to him, “You might be doing this for the next 70 years.” He smiled back and said, “That's what I am told! And you’re not the first person to say it.”
What will it take for our communities to keep these important connected events alive? The willingness of a next generation to jump into volunteering wherever needed is a start. The past generations of leaders have to be able to let go and allow new leadership to step in, praising their efforts and looking to the future.
A Wishek Association of Commerce board member said to me after Sauerkraut Day that they will need four new board members later this year and they’ve started to ask for new volunteers. Your community needs you to volunteer, too.
Can you serve? Can you help build offline connectedness in your community?
With or without sauerkraut, I think we all can.