Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Creating Dairyland: How caring for cows saved our soil, created our landscape, brought prosperity to our state, and still shapes our way of life in Wisconsin
By Edward Janus
232 pages, 120 b/w and color photos, 7 x 9"; E-book also availableBuy
The story of dairying in Wisconsin is the story of how our very landscape and way of life were created. By making cows the center of our farm life and learning how to care for them, our ancestors launched a revolution that changed much more than the way farmers earned their living - it changed us.
In "Creating Dairyland," journalist, oral historian, and former dairyman Ed Janus opens the pages of the fascinating story of Wisconsin dairy farming. He explores the profound idea that led to the remarkable "big bang" of dairying here a century and a half ago. He helps us understand why there are cows in Wisconsin, how farmers became responsible stewards of our resources, and how cows have paid them back for their efforts. And he introduces us to dairy farmers and cheesemakers of today: men and women who want to tell us why they love what they do.
Ed Janus offers a sort of field guide to Dairyland, showing us how to "read" our landscape with fresh eyes, explaining what we see today by describing how and why it came to be. "Creating Dairyland" pays tribute to the many thousands of Wisconsin farmers who have found a way to stay on their land with their cows. Their remarkable effort of labor, intelligence, and faith is one of the great stories of Wisconsin - a story still being written.
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Ed Janus spent two years as a dairy farmer in Crawford County, Wisconsin, where he fell in love with cows, fields, barns, and farmers. Since then he has interviewed hundreds of people as an audio journalist, writer, and oral historian and has created radio programs for public radio, the Voice of America, and publishers in the United States and Germany. His first-person audio book on surviving breast cancer won top honors from the Audio Publishers Association in 1999. In 2007 Ed created a series of audio profiles of today’s dairy farmers and cheesemakers for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, and he recently founded the Wisconsin Dairy History Project. He lives in Madison where he founded both the Madison Muskies baseball team and the world-renowned Capital Brewery.
Interview with Ed Janus
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Why did you decide to write "Creating Dairyland?"
For quite a number of reasons of course. But mainly I think I wanted to proclaim the "gospel" of dairying to those folks who have never had the pleasure of standing among cows in a barn or had the deeply existential experience of plowing a field in the spring. As I say in my introduction, dairying is as close as modern people can get to an ancient reality – a deeply satisfying one. I just wanted to open that door to invite others into this ancient, and at the same time, modern scene.
WHS Press: What were some of the most surprising or interesting things you learned when writing this book?
I realized that in a deep way dairying in Wisconsin was the creation of the 18th Century Enlightenment. That is, it was the perfect realization of the progressive project to improve human kind. I knew before I started that the progressive spirit in Wisconsin – the Wisconsin Idea – played a large role in the dairy industry. But I came to see that at its deepest level dairying was, and still is, about how humans can free themselves if they use their minds. Dairying is as much about reason as it is about lifting, shoveling, or bending. It is one of the best illustrations of the triumph of human reason.
WHS Press: You interviewed farmers and cheesemakers from across the state. Was there one story in particular that stood out to you?
Actually it’s a story that never made it into the book. I was talking with a Norwegian bachelor farmer who lives in a place that has escaped time. He told me that his greatest shame was when he sold off one of his favorite heifers. He told me that he didn’t have to do it, but he did. This farmer is retired now and doesn’t keep dairy cows anymore. But as we walked around his barnyard, I saw a solitary dairy cow among his beef cows. He told me he had kept the cow for no reason. But I realized that there was a reason – his redemption. This man’s story illustrates one of the great dairy stories: that dairying has taught us how to care.
WHS Press: What is your fondest memory from when you worked on a dairy farm?
Our cows spent summer nights up in our woods. Each morning in the summer I’d have to – I mean I got to – walk up the old path to bring them back to the barn for milking. And there they were, often shrouded in early morning fog, in their quiet rumination societies. I felt that I was a witness to a time before humans were created. This was a very good thing for my soul.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from "Creating Dairyland?"
That the story of dairying in Wisconsin is a truly remarkable one. That it is a story that tells not only how farmers learned to be prosperous, but also how a truly great idea changed us for the better. I hope my book helps others "read" this great story as they drive through our beautiful countryside on their way to somewhere else.
2012 National Indie Excellence Awards
Winner in the Regional Non-Fiction Category
2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist in the Best Cover Design Non-Fiction Category
Finalist in the Regional Non-Fiction Category
2011 ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Awards
Silver in the Regional Category
Ed Janus was interviewed on Discover Wisconsin's episode "America's Heartland: Our History Continues." The episode originally aired on November 19, 2011.
Ed Janus had an interview with Kristen Wisniewski on Milwaukee Public Radio's "Lake Effect". This interview originally aired on August 1, 2011.
Ed Janus was also interviewed by Larry Meiller on Wisconsin Public Radio's Ideas Network. This interview originally aired on June 29, 2011.
Orion Samuelson had an interview with Ed Janus on WGN Chicago Radio's "National Farm Report". This interview originally aired on June 8, 2011.
Jerry Apps, author, historian, and storyteller
"Starting with an excellent history of dairy farming in Wisconsin, Ed Janus also includes nine stories of cheesemakers and dairy farmers in their own voices in this important book about the Wisconsin dairy industry then and now."
Bob Cropp, professor emeritus and dairy economist, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"Anyone who grew up on a dairy farm or has any connection to the dairy industry would enjoy reading this book. ... The dairy farmers Ed writes about illustrate the diversity of Wisconsin dairy farms, some with a few cows, some with a lot of cows and some who make their own cheese, but all share the love of cows and the land."
Jeanne Carpenter, Wisconsin Cheese Originals
"Never before has one book encompassed the complete tale of Wisconsin's dairy industry in such a mesmerizing and musing way. From its powerful 'big bang' beginning, to the present day renaissance of artisan and farmstead cheeses, this story of how Wisconsin came to be called America's Dairyland is a must-read for the current generation. Author Ed Janus aptly captures the 'can-do' spirit of the state's dairy farmers and cheesemakers, all the while preaching 'the gospel of the cow' like no else before him. Anyone who thinks they know the complete story of how Wisconsin came to be will come away with a new perspective and appreciation for the state's heritage."
Gene Logsdon, author of many books including "Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind"
"Creating Dairyland is the most eloquent statement I've read yet of a truth seldom expressed because it rubs some farmers the wrong way. Dairying is one of the few kinds of farming that can be both ecologically and economically profitable at the same time. The business of producing milk demands both good husbandry and good agronomy. Clovers and grasses form the bulk of what goes into a cow's mouth, and the manure and urine coming out the other end provide enough fertilizer, along with the green manure value of rotated hay crops, to make farming truly sustainable. As Mr. Janus says in this remarkable history of dairy farming and dairy farmers, 'manure is the poop that saved Wisconsin.' Along with the dedication of dairy farmers like the ones Mr. Janus profiles, manure just might be the poop that saves the whole world in the future."
Bobby Tanzilo, OnMilwaukee.com
"Janus explains in his introduction how 160 years of cows in Wisconsin has even determined the physical landscape of the state and, in the meat of the book, shares conversations with Wisconsin dairy farmers and cheesemakers. Full of photographs and interesting sidebars, the book is a unique and engrossing look at our relationship with our bovine friends."
James Norton, The Heavy Table
"Janus has done more than write regional history — he has put together a cogent argument for the good done by public universities and the power of enlightened association in the name of economic fairness and stability. Although its stated topic is cows and cheese, the actual subject matter of 'Creating Dairyland' is the creation of a great American state. It's a story that any Wisconsinite (or, heck, even an enlightened Minnesotan or Iowan) should seek out and enjoy, chased by a tall glass of milk."
This review by Alex Moore appeared in "ForeWord Reviews" in June 2011
"The lowing heard wind slowly o'er the lea, / The plowman homeward plods his weary way," wrote Thomas Gray in "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard."
In "Creating Dairyland," Edward Janus, historian, dairy farmer, and creator of programs for public radio and Voice of America, has prepared an ode to the Wisconsin cow. He speaks of dairyland as cows, barns, silos, and "the undulating green of grasses," and provides a history of the people who "lived with mud, manure, and milk."
While King Cotton ruled the south in the 1860s, King Wheat reined in the Midwest. By 1860 Wisconsin was first in wheat-producing states. In the 1870s, however, those yields began to decline as the land became less fertile due to poor farming habits. The fever of land speculation and the chinch bug alighting like locusts completed the wheat devastation.
Farm reformers believed livestock was the antidote; planting grass transformed the wheat fields into pastures for dairy cattle. As farmers accumulated more milk than they could use for family use, they bartered milk, butter, and cheese for products at the general store.
Improved farming led to the creation of the Wisconsin dairying industry. Three of its components of productivity were grasses of clover and alfalfa, manure, "deposits in the bank of the soil," and the silo for feed storage that enabled year-round milking. The fourth was a transformation of the relationship between cows and humans in the "intimate setting" of the barn, which allowed the farmers to get to know Belle, Bessie, and Brownie.
The larger portion of the book is "conversations with farmers and cheesemakers": anecdotes of "love for cows, the land, and the work." Interviews include such subjects as former National Guernsey Princess Hannah Iverson, about her business of heifer calves, the Mayers family, concerning their 100-year-old dairy farm, and Sid Cooks, on his desire for consistency in cheddar cheesemaking.
There are twenty-three "silos" of information–sidebars–each with a cow cameo. Topics include "Freestall Barns" for cow comfort, and "The Motherhood Business" that discusses breeding. To make breeding more efficient a "small, pressure-sensitive device is attached to a potentially receptive cow," which signals to the farmer's computer a "You've Got Male" message that initiates the summoning of the inseminator.
Writing with bucolic simplicity, the author evokes an idyllic atmosphere, but regrets not being able to include in his story the smells "that are the real stuff of dairying" and the "music of lowing cows."
Finally, "Creating Dairyland" is a book about contented cows and the men and women that manage them.
This book feature by Jim Lundstrom appeared in the June 2011 issue of "Scene Newspaper"
New book celebrates cows and happy dairy farmers
Just in time for June Dairy Month comes a book that details the surprising history of the Wisconsin dairy industry and tells the forgotten story of the redemptive power the dairy cow had on an ailing Wisconsin landscape, which helped usher in an era of enlightenment that exists on many dairy farms to this day.
Author Ed Janus spent several years researching Wisconsin farming history and interviewing dairy farmers around the state for his book Creating Dairyland: How caring for cows saved our soil, created our landscape, brought prosperity to our state, and still shapes our way of life in Wisconsin.
As he says in the book: "Why there are cows in Wisconsin, how farmers learned to care for them, and how cows have paid dairy farmers back for their efforts is the story we are about to tell."
People might think America's Dairyland has always been so, but Janus sets the record straight. He refers to a "dairy revolution" that changed Wisconsin – maybe even saved Wisconsin – about 140 years ago.
"We drive the beautiful countryside of ours. We see these neat farms and silos and grass and all that, but that all had to happen through effort and intelligence and revolution because before that it just wasn't so. So I was kind of interested in how the countryside of today was created by dairy," Janus said recently by telephone from his Madison office.
What he discovered in his research that Wisconsin was on the verge of becoming an agricultural wasteland in the 19th century when wheat was king.
"Wisconsin came dangerously close to being abandoned back in the wheat days. People were leaving Wisconsin in droves because you couldn't make a living on the land. They had so stripped it of its nutrients, they couldn't make a living on the land. That's why they introduced dairy."
When he says "they," he refers to a group of progressive agriculturalists such as William Dempster Hoard, who proposed enlightened new farming techniques under the heading The Wisconsin Idea.
"The Wisconsin Idea they proposed was the creation of a new agriculture for a new kind of human being, the yeoman farmer-entrepreneur-intellectual: an intelligent, thoughtful, educated, and diligent professional agriculturalist." Janus writes.
"When I began to learn about the origins of dairying in Wisconsin, the 1870s and 1808s, people who promoted dairy, like Hoard and the Cheese Makers Association and things like that, they were very interested in changing what farmers thought. It was almost as much about changing the way people were as it was about how they earned their living," Janus said. "These were people who were leaders of the Wisconsin Idea. They were very interested in changing people. I found that fascinating, especially bringing the modern world to the farm. Before that, farmers were a pretty rough group of people and not that interested in education. Dairying transformed all of that."
This feature by James Norton appeared in "The Heavy Table" magazine on Thursday, August 4, 2011.
Creating Dairyland by Edward Janus
Somewhere in the tug between progressive thought and traditional farming, between hard work in the fields and modern science, and between mutually supportive co-ops and the individualistic yeoman spirit, you’ll find the story of the Wisconsin dairy industry.
Or, more precisely, Edward Janus will find it on your behalf, in the pages of "Creating Dairyland: How Caring For Cows Saved Our Soil, Created Our Landscape, Brought Prosperity to Our State, and Still Shapes Our Way of Life in Wisconsin" (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, $26.96, 208 pages).
Behind the Chamber of Commerce-worthy topic and the bruising subtitle is a hell of a good story, and one that Janus tells with zest and clarity - "Creating Dairyland" is rich in stories of farmers, cheesemakers, and industry pioneers ripped from the pages of history. While outright violence in the book is limited to milk dumping aimed at co-op-busting farmers, there's conflict aplenty: man versus nature, city versus country, and tradition versus progressive politics and science.
Janus manages to weave in a number of stories and personalities that will be familiar to modern-day locavores, from Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese to the Heimerls of Saxon Homestead Creamery to the Gingrichs and their remarkable Pleasant Ridge Reserve. There's a rich sense of voice to the book - subjects are allowed to speak at length, in full paragraphs, and the information imparted is much richer for the oral-history style of presentation.
The author deserves recognition as well; Janus is a former dairy farmer, an oral historian, the founder of the nationally respected Capital Brewery, and leader of the group that brought minor league baseball to Madison. It's quite likely that Janus's wide-ranging exploits helped give him the breadth of perspective to make the many connections that form the foundation of "Creating Dairyland" - far from a dry history of dairying in Wisconsin, the book dips into popular culture, politics, science, and economics in the course of telling its story.
Janus draws connections from the European Enlightenment through the German Freethinkers movement to the settlers who came to Wisconsin in the 19th century and ultimately led the state's dairy revolution. That the state's agricultural boom would be a largely scientific one, led by dairy associations, co-ops of progressive, inquisitive farmers, and researchers at the University of Wisconsin is far from obvious. And Janus ably lines up the dots so that readers can see the links between sanitation, microbiology, transportation, and Wisconsin's rise by the early 20th century to a pre-eminent position among milk-producing states. (It's still the second most productive state in milk, lagging behind massive California, and it retains the title of the foremost cheesemaking state in the union.)
Janus has done more than write regional history - he has put together a cogent argument for the good done by public universities and the power of enlightened association in the name of economic fairness and stability. Although its stated topic is cows and cheese, the actual subject matter of "Creating Dairyland" is the creation of a great American state. It's a story that any Wisconsinite (or, heck, even an enlightened Minnesotan or Iowan) should seek out and enjoy, chased by a tall glass of milk.