Old Farm: A History

By Jerry Apps, Photographs by Steve Apps

Hardcover: $29.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-406-7

Paperback: $24.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-636-8

240 pages, 114 photos, 2 maps, 8 x 9"


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A Midwest Connections Pick for 2008 by the Midwest Booksellers Association

"Jerry Apps has a historian's eye and a storyteller's heart count me among his legion of grateful readers."
-Michael Perry, author of "Roughneck Grace: Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf and Other Brief Essays from On and Off the Back Forty"

One of the Midwest's best-loved authors tells the story of his land, from the last great glacier that dug out its valleys and formed its hills, to his own family's 40 year relationship with the beloved farm they call Roshara. In this quiet but epic tale, Apps describes the Native Americans who lived on the land for hundreds of years, tapping the maple trees and fishing the streams and lakes, as well as the first white settlers who tilled its sandy acres, plowing the native grasses that grew taller than their teams of oxen. For all their work, the farm proved tough to tame. Hardscrabble farming methods and hard luck often brought failure.

"From land that provided only a marginal living for its early owners, this place we call Roshara has provided much for my family and me," writes Apps. He and his wife and their children have cared for the farm not so much to make a living as to enhance their lives. Apps chronicles the family's efforts - always earnest, if sometimes ill-advised - to restore an old granary into living space, develop a productive vegetable garden, manage the woodlots, reestablish a prairie, and enjoy nature's sounds and silences. Breathtakingly beautiful color photographs by Apps's son, Steve (a professional photographer), highlight the ever-changing beauty of the land in every season and hint at the spiritual gifts that are the true bounty this family reaps from Roshara.

Central to Apps' work is his belief that the land is something to cherish and revere. Like Aldo Leopold before him, Apps sounds an inspirational call to readers to preserve wild and rural places, leaving them in better condition than we found them for future generations.

Discover more books by Jerry Apps on the Jerry Apps author page!

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department: whspress@wisconsinhistory.org.

Jerry Apps is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than twenty-five books, many of them on rural history and country life. Jerry's nonfiction books include "Every Farm Tells a Story," "Living a Country Year," "When Chores Were Done," "Humor from the Country," "Country Ways and Country Days," "Ringlingville USA," "Horse-Drawn Days: A Century of Farming with Horses" and "Barns of Wisconsin." He has written two books for young readers, "Tents, Tigers and the Ringling Brothers" and "Casper Jaggi: Master Swiss Cheese Maker,"and the novels "The Travels of Increase Joseph" and "In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story." He received the 2007 Major Achievement Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers and the 2007 Notable Wisconsin Author Award from the Wisconsin Library Association.  Jerry was born and raised on a small farm in Waushara County, Wisconsin, about two miles from the land that is the subject of "Old Farm." He and his family have owned their farm Roshara since 1966, and he and his wife, Ruth, continue to live there part time. Once a small dairy farm, the property is now a tree farm with an ongoing prairie renovation. Check out his latest book, "Never Curse the Rain: A Farm Boy's Reflection on Water".

For more information on author, storyteller and historian Jerry Apps, please visit:

And check out his blog, which covers his thoughts on everything from his books to environmental subjects to his personal life and much more at: www.jerryapps.com/blog

Steve Apps is an award-winning photojournalist with 23 years in the newspaper industry, including his present job as a "Wisconsin State Journal" staff photographer. He enjoys documenting Wisconsin and in particular photographing at the family farm in Waushara County.

Author Q&A
Wisconsin Historical Society Press:
How has the landscape of Waushara County, where you grew up and continue to spend much of your time, shaped your personality? How has it shaped your writing?

Jerry Apps: Growing up on a Waushara County sand farm profoundly influenced me. As a farm kid, I am sure I wasn't aware at the time, but I was developing a relationship to the land that can only be acquired by following the seasons of a farming year — planting in spring, cultivating and hoeing in summer, harvesting in fall, and preparing for the next season in winter. A cycle of life, repeated and the same each year, repeated and always different each year. I learned some important lessons: patience, moving past disappointment, believing in hard work, hope (next year will be better), helping others, never bragging, standing up for what you believe, open to surprise, always trying to do better, doing the best you can with what you have — those sorts of things. Interestingly, those values and beliefs have served me well in my writing.

WHS Press: "Old Farm" is your most personal book. How did the writing experience for "Old Farm" differ from that for your other work?

JA: Several of my books are quite personal, "Old Farm" is just more so. In "Old Farm" I've included many personal things about my immediate family, my wife and my three kids. I've shared several of the children's adventures at the farm when they were little guys, sleeping in a ratty old tent, helping me with the garden, enjoying the pond. I even have a few tales about my grandchildren as they became acquainted with the place.

Also, in "Old Farm" I share some of my feelings about solitude, about the need to care for the land, along with some of my environmental perspective which combines the practical with the philosophical. For instance, I enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, my hikes along my several trails. But I also harvest and sell timber and pulpwood.

WHS Press: In your introduction you refer to "Old Farm" as a story. In what ways does a piece of land tell a story? Who are the characters in this story?

JA: Every piece of land, small or large, has a story to tell. Of how it was shaped and formed and became what it is through various geological forces, how it continued to be changed, for better or worse by the people who lived on it, walked over it, farmed it and raised families on it.

The land itself is the main character in my story. Other characters include the weather and the seasons, the wild animals, birds, wildflowers and trees. And of course the pond and the valley where it resides.

The people characters interact with the land characters — the Native Americans first, then the early settlers starting with Tom Stewart and followed by a parade of land owners and renters, most of whom failed at farming. Then my family appears in the mid-1960s, four generations now, my parents, my wife and me, my three children, and their children.

WHS Press: "Old Farm" features the photography of your son Steve. How does it feel having both your names on the cover of this book?

JA: Steve has progressed far in his career. He's made a name for himself nationally as a professional photographer. In 2008 he was named National Sports Photographer of the year by the Football Hall of Fame. I'm proud to have his name on the cover, and more than pleased to have his photos throughout the book. We've teamed on several projects over the years, this one the most extensive.


Author Interviews
Anne Strainchamp interviewed author Jerry Apps on the Wisconsin Public Radio program "To The Best of Our Knowledge." This program originally aired on May 24, 2009.

2008 Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc.
First Place in the Ellis/Henderson Outdoor Writing Category

2008 ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Award 
Bronze in the Environment Category

2008 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Awards
First Place in the Nature Category
Finalist in the Midwest Regional Category

2009 Chicago Book Clinic Book and Media Show
Winner in the General/Non-Fiction/Four Color Internals Category

2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards
Gold in Best Regional Nonfiction in the Great Lakes Region
To see all the winners in this category and in other categories, please click here

2009 National Indie Excellence Awards
Finalist in the History Category

2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist in the History/Historical Nonfiction Category

"Part stewardship manual, part memoir, and above all a consideration of the intangible power of a few buildings on a patch of land, 'Old Farm' blends instruction, reflection, and whimsy (giant zucchini, anyone?) to give us a record of the past that is vital to the future. Jerry Apps has a historian's eye and a storyteller's heart count me among his legion of grateful readers." Michael Perry, author of "Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time" and "Truck: A Love Story"

"Jerry Apps' latest is a wise and wonderful book. Read it. Listen to the voices you will find here - a remarkable combination of farmstead nostalgia, Leopold-like descriptions of ecology, and the clear message that the land can speak to you if you are wise enough to listen." Ben Logan, author of "The Land Remembers," who was once told by Aldo Leopold, "You can't pick up anything one at a time. It's all fastened together."

"Jerry has cultivated a sense of connectedness with the land the ultimate human experience: enjoying and learning one's place in the natural community." Nina Leopold Bradley, founder and director, Aldo Leopold Foundation

"In 1970 Gaylord Nelson wrote that Jerry Apps, 'talks of a purity and a simplicity of existence that, for most of us, is lost forever. The lush green hills and the lone-standing farms are disappearing under the cities and ribbons of asphalt as we jostle together and every year, find less room to breathe. Perhaps we cannot return to the Apps cabin at Roshara, or to Thoreau's Walden, but we can affirm our own reverence for the land by doing something to protect it.' Nearly four decades later these words hold true perhaps truer than ever as our natural places face increasing pressures from development and climate change. Jerry Apps reminds us that an appreciation for the outdoors contributes to a richer life; his 'Old Farm' is a heartfelt call for stewardship." Tia Nelson, executive secretary, Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands

"'Old Farm' neatly fits more of rural Wisconsin between its covers than a whole shelf full of books. Its message of honoring the land and passing it on in better condition to those who follow is more important today than ever." Bill Berry, author of "Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin"

"What Aldo Leopold did for Sand County, Jerry Apps has done for Roshara. Combined with Steve Apps beautiful photography, 'Old Farm: A History' is a loving portrait of place calling all of us to respect and value the land we live on, not only for ourselves, but also for all those who will follow us." LaMoine MacLaughlin, Editor, "The Hometown Gazette," Clayton, Wis.

"Apps, author of numerous books about rural life and history, teams up with his photographer son to document the history of Roshara, a Wisconsin farm purchased by his family 40 years ago. But the history of the farm doesn't begin there; it begins about a century earlier, when a Civil War veteran took advantage of the Homestead Act to settle on a parcel of untamed and unfriendly land and turned it into a place to raise a family. The book, then, isn't merely the story of family farm; it's a story of farming, and of family. Lavishly illustrated with photographs both contemporary and historical the book explores the bond between people and their land. Apps writes about his family farm lovingly, describing its flora and fauna and telling us about it the way we might tell a friend about some special and essential part of our lives. A beautiful blending of words and pictures." David Pitt, "Booklist"

"In Wisconsin, a love of nature, respect for the land and its ongoing relationship with man have produced some of the giants in conservation, from John Muir to Aldo Leopold to Gaylord Nelson. It might not be premature to add highly acclaimed local author and UW professor emeritus Jerry Apps to that distinguished list. He and his talented photographer son, Steve Apps, have collaborated with clear vision, careful research, exquisite photos and loving memory to tell the story of 65 acres of cherished family land the call 'Roshara.' They trace it and its various inhabitants from the last glacier, through First People, surveyors, settlers and their own family's 40-year history. The book is a gentle, inspiring, deep breath of fresh Wisconsin air. It will be a welcome gift this holiday season and a worthy companion to Leopold's 'Sand County Almanac' and August Derleth's 'Wisconsin: River of 1,000 Isles'" Gary Knowles, "Dane County Lifestyles"