Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Snapshots

Wisconsin farm breakfast image.jpg
Breakfast: granola with Iowa raspberries (remains of my Iowa City – Madison provisions), homemade bread and strawberry jam, coffee. All milk from the cows down the road.
tractor view hayfield image.jpg
“You ever baled hay?”
hay baling image.jpg
At Joel’s suggestion, his dad let me ride along while he square-baled the cut hay in Joel’s sister’s field. Another thing I’m not sure why I’ve never done, given the extensive haying around my childhood home.
end of hay baling image.jpg
I was just along for the ride and didn’t do a damn thing (and my shirt definitely doesn’t match Allis Chalmers orange), but this makes it look like maybe I contributed in some way to the operation.
Main St Kendall image.jpg
According to Joel’s dad, downtown Kendall, WI, used to have two car dealerships, five gas stations, two grocery stories, restaurants, five taverns, a drug store, a meat processor, a lumber yard… Now there’s not much more than a smoke shop, a gun shop, and a couple of bars. As farms consolidate, rural towns die out.
Kendall feed mill image.jpg
The feed mill still runs, but not like it used to. 50 years ago, it ran 7am – 6pm six days a week. I’m not sure I’ve seen it running any of the times I’ve driven by.
Kendall gun shop image.jpg
But at least they’ve got all their important bases covered.
milk truck image.jpg
The milk truck I followed most of the way home.

Not photographed: A long talk with Joel’s sister and a 4-wheeler tour of her hillside beginning farm with four kids in a wagon in back; pie and rhubarb crumble from Joel’s sister and mom; a great interview with Joel’s dad about how farming has changed; and dinner back at Jim and Rebecca’s including two varieties of cheese curds, burgers, Madison farmers’ market vegetables of many kinds, and cherry pie.

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“So, have you ever…?”

One of the many things I’ve learned on this trip — as I suppose reporters have been learning for years — is that people like to talk about themselves and show off their lives. For me, this has meant that as someone is showing me around their farm, they’ll say, “So, you ever seen how one of these works?,” “You even been in a combine?,” “You just gonna watch or you gonna actually milk cows?”

me w beef calves
Hanging with Missouri beef calves at dinnertime.

The right answer, obviously, is “No, show me!” And so I’ve milked cows, sat up in a combine (it was parked, but still impressive), finally understood how a silage feeder works, checked out inside grain bins, stood in the middle of beef calves coming in to feed… (And had more bad drinks than I care to admit at the Golden Ox bar at the former Kansas City Livestock Exchange, but I suppose that’s another story…) Most of the most memorable and educational experiences of this great journey have been because my host is showing off a little. I love it.

Today I got back to Jim and Rebecca’s magical farm (not its real name) just before chores. I’ve stayed here twice in the last month, and have been so looking forward to coming back at the end of my trip. Jim’s original email inviting me to stay enticed me with: “We have … plenty of quiet places, nice cows, good food and a patio behind the house that is a great place for an evening gin & tonic or a beer,” and it’s been just like that and more.

I drove past the barn while they were moving the cows in for milking; I parked at the house and walked back down the road, where Jim and Rebecca were loading their two freezers in the van for the Madison farmers’ market tomorrow. When they were done, I went with Rebecca to move the pasture fence, as I did two weeks ago.

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My sweet ride.

“You ever driven an ATV?” she asked, as we walked towards the barn. Somehow I hadn’t, despite growing up in a farming community. Always too timid as a kid, maybe; not like my adventurous reporter self these days… She showed me how to turn it on and back it out of the barn, and said I was a natural as we drove through the pasture to the fence. Even after putting nearly 3,000 miles on my rented Corolla this month, bumping over clover, burdock, and cow pies at 15mph in the open air was exhilarating.

Wisconsin oat field image.jpg
Almost-ripe oat field, adjacent to pasture.

We moved the fence — if I were a cow, I’d be pretty excited about the new patch of pasture we opened up, full of flowers and tall grasses — and I drove us back to the barn. Where Jim’s regular milking help was away, and so he seemed glad to have me help prep cows for milking: dip the teats in iodine solution, milk each a few times into a discard cup,  clean and dry them off for attaching the milker. The milking equipment in his barn is a little too big for me, so the prep work is easier.

Skeptical Wisconsin cow in barn image.jpg
Skeptical Willie. They’re fine with their back end being handled, but get a little skittish about people by their heads.

After so many hours in dairy barns and around cows, even more hours talking and thinking about dairy farms, and trying my hand at milking several times, tonight I finally felt comfortable with it. Not good or fast, but comfortable with the animals, as huge as they are; with stepping confidently between two cows (they’re really very big); with kneeling on one knee and leaning my head into them while cleaning them as the farmers all do; with paying attention to their hind legs but not skittishly avoiding them; with shaking it off when their tails hit me in the face (Jim finally taught me a couple of tricks for moving tails out of the way)…

Several farmers I’ve spoken with have talked about how much they love milking. They talk about it as meditative, as a time to reflect on the day and think about what needs to be done tomorrow. I don’t want to be a dairy farmer, but I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse the peace of milking time. Tonight, the milk lines clicked, the cows rustled in their stanchions, and the fan at the open end of the barn hummed, as the cats milled around in the early evening beam of angled sunlight. The barn is clean and smells of milk, grain, hay, cows, manure, and pasture.

Dairy farming is hard work, but if you can figure out how to do it right (and I’ll be writing more about how much harder it’s getting…), it looks to be a pretty exceptional life. I’m grateful to have been shown just a little taste.

Wisconsin cows going to pasture image.jpg
Cows meandering back to pasture after milking.

 

 

 

Welcome to Wisconsin

welcome to MadisonI’m taking advantage of the Madison airport’s free wifi (and great coffee, thanks, Ancora!) while waiting for the car rental place to open (long story) — turns out to be a wise move, as there was just an announcement there’s a severe thunderstorm warning for another half hour. In thinking about driving through Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa in a couple of weeks, it’s occurred to me that I should read up on proper tornado response, because they have that kind of thing there. I’m not yet in the serious tornado states yet, but I’ll sit out the severe thunderstorm in the airport.

About to hit the road to, first, the Baraboo Farm and Fleet for rain/mud boots–the one significant thing I didn’t manage to cross of my list before leaving–and then to Joel’s farm, Greeno Acres, 90 minutes northwest of here in Kendall. His road, he reminded me the other day, is “three farms out of town — count three barns and make a right.”

I’ll leave you with some shots of Wisconsin tourist merch…

cheeseheads
I decided not to get one of these, but maybe I’ll feel differently on my way out in a month.
What does this even mean??
What does this even mean??