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Feb 13, 201312:48 PMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Back to the future of farming in Sun Prairie, Part 1

Back to the future of farming in Sun Prairie, Part 1

(page 1 of 2)

Congratulations to Don and Shirley and Rich and Veronica Statz of Sun Prairie and their families, who will host the statewide Farm Technology Days two years from now, Aug. 25-27, 2015. [Corrected] We grew up just down the road from the Statz family. Hard workers, good neighbors, successful businesspeople, values-oriented.

Just after spring thaw but before we could get into the fields to work, we young teenagers played softball in their hog pasture on their home farm at the corner of Wisconsin Highway 19 and County VV. If we did slide into second base, it was involuntary. Swinging the bat with one hand, Rich Statz could hit the ball into the next township.

Reaping grain on the Blaska farm around 1900.

 

There’s history, for you

I possess a hard-bound book of aerial photographs of farms taken around 1954 (the book is undated) with a photo in the frontispiece of the brand-new county courthouse, which was completed in 1957. The publishers sold framed copies of those aerial photos to proud farm families. The photo of Grandfather’s farm sits over my fireplace mantel today. County VV was gravel in the 1950s, and every so often a tanker truck would come through to set down a coating of oil to keep down the dust. (Our portion of Highway 19 was not paved until 1928.)

Looking through the 50-plus-year-old book, arranged by town, almost all the farms were fewer than 400 acres. The Statz family farms about 6,000 acres today.

A reproduction of the 1890 Foote and Henion Plat Book also resides here at the Dan Quayle Memorial Library. The supplementary text, uncredited, explains that “immigrants sought out friends and relatives or, at the very least, native countrymen who had preceded them. They felt comfortable living and working among people they knew in a land that resembled the climate and terrain they had left behind in Europe.”

Great-grandfather’s farm is there in Sections 10 and 15, part of the grounds now farmed by the Statz family for Farm Tech Days. (A geographic township measures 36 square miles, divided by six rows of six one-square-mile sections. A town is the political entity.) The reprint of the old plat book explains:

The maps show family groupings in a given area, as successful fathers helped sons establish their own farms. Socializing, and thus marriage, was conducted within the neighborhood. For most, the circle of familiarity in Dane County had a radius of one or two miles and this geographical circle contained extended family, friends, future spouses, spiritual, medical and political leaders.

Now, by golly, the darn thing is online, thanks to the State Historical Society. (Use the “image detail” feature for a legible read.) There is progress for you!

Living in the past is romantic until you try it

As a kid in the 1950s, there remained a good many 40- and 80-acre farms in northeastern Dane County, still inhabited by previous generations, all with weathered red barns and short silos, usually of poured concrete, next to the red barn. Neighborhood kids swung like Tarzan on a rope from one side of the second-floor haymow to the other.

Few production farmers store hay in mows today; no one builds silos anymore. The big round bales save labor. Silage is stored in those long white baggies. There’s a movement to save the old red barns. The Jerry Apps/Allen Strang Barns of Wisconsin is an art book classic.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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