When one thinks of Wisconsin they usually think of cows and cheese since the state is often referred to as “America’s Dairyland.” Then there is beer, Wisconsin being famous for its role in the beer industry, though industrial globalization has diminished its beer production. And then there is the Green Bay Packers, one of the most famous sports team around the world. The Packers is the only team owned by the people through shares of stock and the team is in the smallest market yet receives some of the biggest support from its fans.
Milwaukee, the largest city in the state, annually hosts the world’s largest music festival, known as Summerfest. Virtually every band, performer, and singer who has charted anything has performed here. People come from around the country and even internationally just to experience Summerfest and enjoy the beer, food, and music.
Wisconsin is entrenched near the middle of North America, yet it has international sea ports, thanks to the Great Lakes chain. Wisconsin was known for its ship building industry back in the day but that is no longer the case. The economy worldwide has been changing greatly and virtually every place on the planet has gone through great change in both economics and industry and Wisconsin is no exception.
The dairy industry is also going through great shifts in how it does business. Wisconsin was settled primarily by immigrants from northern Europe, the newcomers moving here to build farms. In the beginning farms were more for families having the opportunity to be self-sufficient and independent but excess crops would be sold to help generate income. The land was good for raising corn and grazing cows so dairy farming became a way to make a good living.
New innovations for farming came about and the infrastructure improved so the dairy industry matured over time, driven by the ability to make a profit and America being a country that rewarded people who worked hard. The family farm became a tradition and a part of the culture, but this changed over time too. Tractors became bigger and faster and more powerful allowing farmers to cultivate more land and more efficiently. Farmers with ambition and forward thinking began to grow their farms. Many family farms eventually failed to survive because they failed to grow and change with the times.
Now when you drive through the rural areas you can see the old farmhouses and barns decaying and rotting away as the corporate farms compete with each other to absorb more land in order to keep up with the changing times. Dairy farms now are agricultural factories, every machine and building being constructed to keep costs as low as possible. Farms are even being built to maximize logistics. The less time it takes to move cows for milking, along with the location of feed, silage, and waste, they are being designed to accommodate the constraints of time and money.
The red barn and farmhouse are becoming a thing of the past as the massive pole barns where the cows are now housed spring up across the landscape. You can drive through the countryside and pass by thousands of cows but never see a single animal because the cows now stay indoors. Instead of grazing in the meadow the feed is now delivered to the cows. Cows are now milked three times a day instead of two.
Despite the farm turning into a corporate endeavor, the people of rural Wisconsin who are involved with farming are still farmers. It is still a way of life, and it is still in their blood. Many rural homes will have antique farm equipment displayed in their yards, reminders of the way of life that used to be. The rusting tractor proudly displayed may have been driven by the grandfather of the person who put the machine out for all to see.
There are weekend events throughout the summer across the state that give homage to the farming way of life. There are tractor pulls, antique engine shows, and county fairs. There are people who collect old farm equipment and will restore the machines, resurrecting the old rusting hulks back to life and proudly showing off the mechanical antiques during a weekend gathering.
Wisconsin boasts of several living history parks where the old rural way of life is still celebrated. There is Old World Wisconsin near the town of Eagle, The Old Wade House in Greenbush, Pinecrest Village in Manitowoc, and Heritage Hill State Park outside of Green Bay. Vintage homes and barns have been restored and relocated to these venues and then seasonal staff will dress in period clothing and portray the old way of life as they teach how life used to be on the Wisconsin farm.
Wisconsin is changing greatly from what it was to what it is today and is changing quickly going into tomorrow. This is the same across our planet as technology changes our lives at an unprecedented pace and as industry learns how to economize and work at greater efficiencies. The world continues to rush into the new economy driven by electronics, and Wisconsin is no different. But here in Wisconsin, there is still the link to the past and an appreciation of who we were and how we came to be what we are now. It has not been without pain such as the demise of the traditional family farm, but the old ways are not forgotten, either.
The seasons change hard here in Wisconsin, cold winters that change into spring and then summer. Summer quickly disappears in a flash of colors during the fall and then back to the white snow of winter, but winter quickly moves on as the cycle repeats. The change in the way of life has been hard too in how the small, self-sustaining farm gave way to a dairy culture and now the corporate farm. But the life here has always been unique, the Green Bay Packers, the summer festivals, cool crisp mornings in the fall, and always an eye on the past. When people put grandpa’s old, rusty tractor out in the yard for all to see, it’s because we still remember who we are.
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