Sound wisdom from rural Wisconsin

In the Spring 2010 issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas, Bill Berry confesses he’s “hopelessly in love” with rural Wisconsin and its residents.

Clearly Berry’s soft spot for the state’s backroads is no passing crush: as evidence of his affection, the Stevens Point journalist has more than 30 years experience covering rural issues around the state. Among his published works is the final report for the Future of Farming and Rural Life in Wisconsin project, a Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters policy initiative that explored economic and sustainable growth through agriculture.

So who better than he to inaugurate Voices of Rural Wisconsin, a new venture of the Academy and PortalWisconsin.org? Voices of Rural Wisconsin broadens the scope of the Future of Farming initiative–with a four-part series of interviews to be featured in Wisconsin People and Ideas, and a companion audio archive on Portal Wisconsin.

“Part One: The Call of the Land” showcases the likes of conservationist and organic agriculture pioneer Harold Kruse. Those living in Dane County have the Kruse family to thank for our beloved farmers market, which wraps around Capitol Square Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the growing season. In the audiotaped interview on Portal Wisconsin, you can listen to Kruse describe his lifelong love of nature–in high school, he cataloged 1,500 species of plants and animals on his family’s Loganville farm–while a woman calls bingo at the nursing home where he currently lives. Given all Kruse has seen and accomplished during his life, the interview he granted Berry is an oral history jewel.

I liked listening to Randy Cutler’s interview, too. The Milladore farmer reminds us that, in the 1970s, parents urged their kids to “Get off the farm.” While he ultimately didn’t take the advice himself, he says people back then saw farming as a high-risk, low-paying last resort. Today he’s noticed a renewed interest in living off the land.

Almost as if to prove his point, we have Val Klessig. Just a year or two ago, the 19-year-old was sure she wanted to leave her family’s six-generation Cleveland farm to pursue a career as a teacher or a veterinarian. Lately, though, the UW-Madison freshman reports a change of heart: “I still want to spread my wings, and I still want to venture into the world and take that leap of faith,” she says. “I feel though that eventually I will be returning and doing something with our farm.”  In the audio version, you can hear the pleased chuckles of her father Karl in the background–and you can almost feel the magnetic pull of the land he later describes.

We hope you’ll take a look at the latest issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas, where you’ll find Berry’s article, “The Call of the Land,” and so much more. And please make time to listen to the voices I’ve described here and the others that make up the new audio project on Portal Wisconsin. You can find them collected at http://www.portalwisconsin.org/index.cfm. We’ll be posting the Part Two audio, “From Farm to Plate,” soon.

–Tammy Kempfert

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