Natural Heritage Project: Art Giving Voice to At-Risk Species

by Jessica Turtle, Creative Director for Farm Table Foundation

There’s a dynamic list that is a small part of an international response to gather data on the location and status of rare species and natural communities: insects, snakes, turtles, bees, and other natural features. This list, “The Wisconsin Natural Heritage Working List (WNHWL),” is over twenty pages long: in six-point font it provides Latin names, common names, rank, and status of over 1,200 species in Wisconsin. Have you seen the list?
For example, the species are ranked according to their degree of risk: S1, critically imperiled; S2, imperiled, high risk of extinction or elimination; S3, vulnerable. The water shrew, the satiny willow, the slender bush clover, and the prairie leafhopper are all S2s and S3s that live right here in Wisconsin. The rusty patch bumble bee ranks as an S1.

A group of artists rallied by the discovery of the WNHWL began chipping away, one species at a time, to create a work of art for each. They will not stop until every last species identified has a voice, or even better still, is represented by a well considered, articulate visual work of art. The artist group is named The Natural Heritage Project.

The project, sponsored by Farm Table Foundation in downtown Amery, Wisconsin, held the first exhibit [When?], entitled “Much Ado About Bees,” focusing on six declining bumblebee species and the popular culture of the ever-producing honey bee.

The exhibit included honey bees as a way to connect people with something beloved and familiar, then encouraged further dialog through the artistic imagery that had been created regarding the native species of bumblebees that are disappearing. The exhibit displayed each of the seven species, depicted by myself, in a series of methodical and vibrant paintings, a hand-woven sun hive made by artist Kelsey Bee of Minneapolis, and bee boxes hand painted by Christy Schwartz of St. Paul in the likeness of famous works of art. Also on display were beekeepers’ tools, a sample table with fourteen varieties of local honey, and beekeepers’ clothing. Guests were invited to enjoy a Wisconsin/Minnesota—made mead (honey wine) tasting.

The next Natural Heritage Project exhibit, entitled “Inopia,” by Saint Paul artist Sarah Nelson, has been created after months of delicate consideration. Sarah chose her species from the WNHWL based on the relationship one species has to another. She demonstrates the interconnection of humans to birds, insects, fish, crustaceans, reptiles, amphibians, flies, and rodents. Sarah’s consideration, drive, and technical mastery make up the essence behind The Natural Heritage Project. Join us to celebrate our current exhibit!

Farm Table Foundation—110 Keller Avenue North, Amery, Wisconsin.
Opening Reception: November 10, 2017, 6:00 to 9:00 pm.
Exhibit runs November 10, 2017 through January 30, 2018.

Jessica Turtle a professional artist, exhibit curator, and instructor. Her current position is Creative Director at Farm Table Foundation in Amery, Wisconsin. She holds interest in food-system education, arts outreach, pollinator conservation, and watershed education—more specifically, where all these points intercept.

To learn more about the Natural Heritage Project, visit
To inquire about hosting an exhibition, email
To view The Wisconsin Natural Heritage Working List, go to

One, Two, Three Orchards: Local Apples Galore!

For most people, keeping one orchard going strong would be challenge enough. But Ron Knutson (aka Ronnie Appleseed) has his hands full currently caring for not one, not two, but three orchards. Halverson’s Orchard was the first. “Around 2009/2010, my wife’s (Shelly) Aunt Kay knew the Halversons, and Dennis Halverson was needing help with pruning, so we met and reached an agreement: we would prune the trees in exchange for some apples,” Ronnie explains. “In 2016 Dennis, who had cancer, passed away, and the family graciously turned over the management to us.  Also, in 2015, we heard at the Wisconsin Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference that Class Apple was looking for somebody to manage it. A small 1.5-acre pick-your-own orchard was just what we wanted. We made inquiries about the orchard and contacted Lorretta. She had lost her husband, Dale, the year prior, also to cancer, and with the family living out of town, she needed someone to take care of it. So we took that on as well.”

Their third (original) orchard is AVEnue Orchard. Ronnie notes, “We purchased what was formerly known as The Apple Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast in October of 2007 but didn’t move in until January 31, 2008, after General Billy Mitchell Air Reserve Base, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, closed, and I retired. Instead of a bed-and-breakfast, we are an adult family home. I was going to retire and just do a little woodworking, primarily making flag cases, but the great outdoors called me, the trees were crying for help, and a new adventure was born. WE HAVE AN ORCHARD! So we added 1,500 more trees and two more small orchards.”

AVEnue Orchard sells jarred and canned goods, as well as prepicked apples. “I think we have as many varieties of jams, jellies, fruit butters, sauces, and pie filling as we do apple varieties, which is at twenty-six and counting,” Ronnie laughs. “And we are always dreaming up new recipes. This year’s leader in our jarred and canned goods is our Strawberry Rhubarb, followed closely by Chai Apple Butter, and who would have guessed but gaining fast is our new Apple Watermelon.  Strawberry Jam, Strawberry Hobenaro, and Apple Pie Jelly are neck-and-neck and close behind.”

What kinds of apples does AVEnue Orchard offer? This year there will be twenty-six varieties available:

Chestnut Crab
Connell Red
Daybreak Fuji
Grimes Golden
Honey Crisp
Honey Gold
Northwest Greening
Paula Red
Prairie Spy
Red Delicious
Snow Sweet
State Fair
Sweet 16
Whitney Crab
Wolf River
Yellow Transparent

Our pears are:

Available for pick-your-own at Class Apple, are Honey Crisp, Cortland, McIntosh, Connell Red, Empire, and Honey Golds. “At Class Apple, we have cider, our very own blend from our very own apples. Class Apple is a quiet place to come and enjoy the greatness of God’s country,” Ronnie says. “Bring your picnic baskets along, you ain’t gonna wanna leaf,” he jokes.

AVEnue Orchard generally opens around mid-August. Class Apple opens September 9 and is open Saturdays and Sundays 12:00 to 5:00 pm, and will close October 8. Halverson’s is not open to the public.

Ronnie seeks to promote access to and use of local food products. “I love it. As much as possible, all our products are from local sources. It is a well-deserved and an awesome show of support to the local farmers, who work hard at bringing you a quality product. Besides, it always tastes better when it ripens on the vine.”

“Oh,” he hastens to add. “I forgot honey! We have honey. Yes, we have the bees here. Fascinating creatures they are.”