Wisconsin's Small Dairy Farms - A Forthcoming Book Project

A few years after moving to Wisconsin I learned about the diminishing numbers of dairy farmers here. I then decided this was a story I wanted to pursue. In the late summer of 2002 I began visiting a number of farms, large and small. I discovered that small dairy farms were the places where people and animals still came in contact with one another. I choose to document several farms and show a way of life that is slowly disappearing. Most Americans do not know where their food comes from or the people who work to produce that food. They don't realize that a rural way of life was the most common way of life in America until the middle of the 20th century.

Dairy farming is Wisconsin’s largest industry. By 1899 more than 90 percent of all farms in Wisconsin were dairy farms. Now 20 percent of the Wisconsin farms are dairy. The number of dairy farms in Wisconsin has diminished 30 percent in the last thirty years, and fewer than 17,000 remain. Most of the small farms owned and run by families are slowly disappearing as large factory farms become more profitable. The larger farms confine the animals and often hire outside help to milk the cows.

Many of the farmers from small farms have tended livestock for several generations. In addition to raising and milking cows they must grow feed crops, fix machinery and tend to barns. Some farms not only raise cows but chickens, turkeys and pigs to feed the family or to sell. Often a wife needs to work outside the home to provide additional income. Milk prices fluctuate and farmers have to compete with imported milk. Urban sprawl has led to discord between newcomers and long time farmers.



Back to the Best Farm

Dan Seigmann is an exception among dairy farmers. He, his wife Paula and their eight children all take a part in running this organic farm. Dan, who was raised on a conventional farm, oversees the 120 cows while the oldest son and his wife run an egg business. Paula runs an on site natural foods store and weekly organic produce market. The children help with the milking and other chores. The family also raises pigs and goats. The Seigmanns are religious Christians and the children are home schooled. They regularly engage in many old fashioned pastimes such as canning and square dancing. When the Siegmanns are not working on their farm they perform bluegrass gospel music at local churches, festivals and fairs.


Alfalfa Knoll Farm

On the corner of two country roads in Slinger sits a farm founded in 1848 by German immigrants. In summer hollyhocks grow tall, next to original stone buildings. An old, tall corn crib borders the property. Randy Wenzel, who is a descendant of the founders of Alfalfa Knoll Farm, grew up and spent his adult life there working along side his father, Carl. At one time, Randy, Brenda and their daughter Nicole raised 50 registered Jersey cows, grew feed crops and tended their horses. In 2008 Randy and his family left Alfalfa Knoll for rural Mayville, Wisconsin. Randy's knee surgery and problems associated with urban sprawl had already forced them to sell the cows and take jobs not related to farming.


Gary Sielaff Farms, Inc.

Each August, Becky and Abby Sielaff spend hours grooming, washing and blow drying their heifers. Along with their mother, Mary, they prepare them for judging at the Dodge Co. fair. They work late until the night, sleep in a trailer and wake up at 4:00 AM in order to wash their animals one last time before judging. Father, Gary stays home to milk the cows. Older sisters, Rachel and Elizabeth stop by the fairgrounds to help and watch the judging. The family also shows their chickens. Older brother, Bill stays on the farm to do chores.

The family lives in Oconomowoc on the same farm where Gary has lived his whole life. They raise 118 Holsteins including calves and heifers. They also raise pigs, turkeys and exotic chickens for their family. In the fall they enjoy hunting turkeys and deer.




Bedouin Women of the Negev Desert

During the past 30 years the Israeli Bedouin of the Negev desert have seen radical changes in their way of life. Once a largely nomadic people, the government has encouraged them to settle in permanent villages and towns in the arid Negev. Many lack such basic services as banking, mail and public transportation. Two of the largest towns, Rahat and Tel Sheva, are the poorest population centers in the country.

Moving from a rural nomadic way of life to a more settled one has had a profound effect on Bedouin women. Once women worked the fields, milked the goats, wove rugs, and sewed clothes. It was the women who decided when to break camp. Today, while the men go out to work in the Negev towns and the city of Beersheva, the women stay at home, largely deprived of their traditional roles. In most cases there are no fields or animals to tend and clothes are store bought. However like their sisters in the tents, they continue to bear large numbers of children, and spend most of their time rearing them.

Even with the trappings of modernization in some segments of Bedouin society only 20 percent of the girls complete high school. Ninety-nine percent of the women over the age of 40 are illiterate. Women of all ages must contend with polygamy even though it is illegal under Israeli law.




Sukkot is the most joyous of Jewish holidays. The festival is celebrated
in the fall and lasts for seven days. Prior to the holiday, Jews construct sukkahs (booths) and they celebrate the holiday by eating, praying and dancing in the sukkahs. Sukkot commemorates the forty years during which the Jewish people wandered in the desert and lived in simple straw huts. Their only protection was God. All photographs in this essay were taken in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.



Israel & Jordan - Features and Portraits






USA - Features and Portraits





All photographs are copyrighted by Miriam Sushman. By clicking on the links to enter the site you are agreeing to be bound by established United States and international copyright law. All photographs on the www.miriamsushman.com site are the exclusive intellectual property of Miriam Sushman. No images are within the public domain and the use of any image on this site without written permission of Miriam Sushman is a violation of copyright.






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