2023 in Review

by | Dec 12, 2023 | Blog, News

There is no denying that 2023 has been a hard year here on Planet Earth.  In late May, as Thoreau College was staging our first Summer Field School program with 14 students from across the United States and around the world, the skies turned red and the air became acrid with woodsmoke as forest fires flared across Canada.  This eerie light and bitter wind of early summer set a fitting mood for a year of war in Europe and the Middle East, political turmoil and distrust here in the United States, and flood, fire, and drought nearly everywhere. And if all of that weren’t enough, 2023 has been a year in which serious and knowledgeable people in government, business, and culture have been actively using words like “apocalypse” and “extinction-level event” in reference to developments in artificial intelligence and other technologies.

What can one do in times like these?  Where should we devote our finite reserves of energy, time, money, care, and attention?  How shall we avoid falling into despair?  For me, these questions have three very clear answers:

    • Cultivate the vitality and resilience of the local community in which you live
    • Take loving care of the land on which you live
    • Invest mightily in the formation and education of young people in your midst

Taken together, these three imperatives constitute a tangible strategy for stewardship of what we have been given, while planting the seeds of hope for the future.  They are also a good summary of what we are striving to do here at Thoreau College and the Driftless Folk School.  We do not know what is coming in the months and years ahead, but we do know that our community and our students will be better prepared to respond because of the work we have done here. Because, in the midst of the smoke and drought,  wars and rumors of wars, 2023 has in fact  been a year of considerable activity, growth, and accomplishment for our organization. 

 Here are some of the things we have been up to:

      • After a hiatus in the fall of 2022, Thoreau College staged Spring and Fall Gap Semester Programs with students from Wisconsin, Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Japan, and Brazil
      • In May and June we staged the first Summer Field School program, in collaboration with the anthropology department of the University of Illinois-Chicago.  This was a 4 week program focused on sustainable agriculture and on the ecology, history, and culture of the Driftless Region.  This program was full, with participants from around the US and beyond, many of them current university students or recent university grads  
      • The Driftless Folk School added two new staff members and nearly doubled the number of course offerings, from 55 in 2022 to close to 100 in 2023. These included courses in many new areas, including timber framing, book binding, mushroom foraging, tracking, and more, as well as launching a new Community Singing series with visiting song leaders 
      • DFS started to hold classes in LaCrosse at the People’s Food Coop to expand the number of people who are able to access our classes
      • DFS staged three well attended Barn Dances at the LaFarge Community Center, as well as a highly successful 11th annual Driftless Spoon Gathering in LaFarge
      • Thoreau College & Driftless Folk School continued development of the new campus site in Viroqua, with the creation of new garden beds and trails, relocation and dedication of the green horse-drawn wagon built by Dan Peper, and creation of an outdoor stage
      • In June, we staged the second annual Viroqua Shakespeare Festival, with an opening night banquet and three performances of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” 
      • Thoreau College staged several evening cultural enrichment programs for adult members of the local community, including Community Seminar book discussion groups and a Community Arts figure drawing series
      • For the past year and a half, I have been hosting the Microcollege Podcast, on which I have conducted almost 50 interviews of founders and instructors with new and unique microcolleges, gap year programs, folk schools, and alternative high schools, as well as scholars, alumni, and local people connected with DFS and Thoreau College

All of these initiatives are planting seeds for new growth and further development in 2024 and beyond.  Every year convinces me more deeply of the urgent importance of this work and the podcast conversations have revealed that what we are doing here in Viroqua is part of an emerging movement towards new models of education for the whole person for young adults and communities. 

THANK YOU to everyone who has supported this development and who have continued to support it with contributions large and small.  Please consider making a gift this year to help us continue this important work.

In Gratitude – 

Jacob Hundt

Director of Thoreau College & Driftless Folk School