The tiny town of Roslyn sits amidst the Glacial Lakes Region of northeastern South Dakota, a district of shimmering lakes and low hills. To the casual observer, Roslyn is just another ordinary prairie hamlet.
It’s ordinary, that is, until one spots the International Vinegar Museum that commands a prominent position on Main Street.
The how and why of the International Vinegar Museum begins with an extraordinary man named Lawrence Diggs.
My wife and I had an opportunity to visit with Diggs recently at Rosie’s, a bar/cafe located across the street from the International Vinegar Museum.
“I started out as a West Coast radio DJ, then moved onto the TV business,” said Diggs regarding his life before vinegar.
After spending a decade in the broadcast biz, Diggs decided to become a paramedic. “I wanted to find a way to give back,” he said when asked about this quirky twist in his career path. Giving back is a common thread in Digg’s life.
Being a paramedic in a major city taught Diggs many skills, including the ability to start an I.V. on an unconscious child in the rain, and stabilizing a shooting victim as bullets whizzed by.
Diggs later continued to follow his instinct for giving back by traveling to the west African nation of Burkina Faso.
“I helped establish the first ever emergency medical service in Burkina Faso,” said Diggs in his unfailingly affable manner. “People there didn’t even know what an ambulance was.”
It was during his sojourn in Burkina Faso that Lawrence became interested in vinegar.
“They have huge sanitation problems over there. It occurred to me that what they needed was something that can kill germs, is cheap, and can be easily produced from local ingredients. Vinegar was the perfect fit.”
Upon learning that there was no definitive textbook about vinegar, Lawrence studied vinegar and literally wrote a textbook about its production.
Lawrence told us that vinegar has been around for the entirety of recorded history. Conversing with him was like attending a lecture given by an extremely engaging instructor.
When the discussion turned to the wonders of our world, especially the vinegar microbe acetobacter, Diggs murmured reverently, “I see evidence for God in everything.”
“Hannibal used vinegar to split boulders in his path as he marched his army – which included war elephants – over the Alps,” continued Lawrence. “That was 2,200 years ago. This tells us that the ancients had a deep understanding of vinegar’s properties. His feat wouldn’t have been possible without a long history with vinegar.”
My wife and I asked how one makes vinegar.
“Vinegar can be produced from anything that has enough sugar or starch,” said the Vinegar Man. “Beer and wine work especially well. They’re always trying to turn into vinegar anyway.”
We asked where one might acquire the proper bacteria for making homemade vinegar.
“It’s everywhere!” grinned Diggs as he gestured at the air. “All it takes is a source of sugar or starch and maybe a little acetic acid to kick-start the process.”
Homemade vinegar is similar to any other home-produced item.
“You’ll never get exactly the same result twice. That’s the beauty of it. We have been conditioned to expect that everything we consume will be absolutely uniform. But by doing so, we miss out on the richness of variety!”
So how did you end up here? And what’s the deal with the museum?
“After I wrote the vinegar textbook I came to be regarded as an expert, so I started a vinegar consulting business. I visited Roslyn on vacation and liked the town so much that I decided to stay.
“Roslyn was looking for something to set it apart and draw people. I told them that they needed to create something that was totally unique. They looked at me and said ‘You’re the uniquest thing we’ve got. Why don’t we do something based on your business?’ This was how International Vinegar Museum and Roslyn’s annual Vinegar Festival were born.”
Has the Vinegar Museum succeeded?
“It’s been a success in that it put Roslyn on the map. It’s succeeded in that our kids are proud when people say to them ‘Oh! You’re from the town with that Vinegar Museum.'”
Diggs recently handed the reins of the International Vinegar Museum the Vinegar Festival over to the town of Roslyn.
“My goal is to focus more on my vinegar consulting business,” he said. “Another of my goals is to travel to poor countries and teach them how to make and use vinegar. I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth, but while I’m here, I want to give back as much as I can.”
One gets the feeling that Lawrence will achieve all his goals, whether it’s traveling to a small nation to teach people about vinegar or changing an ordinary small town by helping it launch an extraordinary festival.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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