Generations of Farm Pride evident on Walter Grain Farm
JOHNSON CREEK – Beverly Walter has seen a lot of changes in farm technology on her family’s farm near Johnson Creek. Back in 1984 her family hosted the state’s three-day outdoor farm show called Farm Progress Days—an event that had grown out of a plowing contest back in the 1950s.
Now, with some added family members, the family is hosting the event again – except that now it’s called Farm Technology Days. The Walter Grain Farm will devote a tract of land to Tent City for the show on July 23-25 and have re-organized their crop rotation to fit in with what’s needed for the show. This year marks the 35th anniversary of that first show on their land.
Jefferson County’s FTD organizers have appropriately chosen the theme “Generations of Farm Pride” to acknowledge the fact that the host family is now taking a second turn – with another generation – at hosting the huge event, which draws tens of thousands of visitors each year as it moves from county to county.
The Walter family members who recall that earlier show note that everything seems bigger this time around. And the same is true of their farm.
Beverly and her late husband Bernard “Bud” came to the area in 1957 when it seemed there was no way for Bud to farm in his home territory in central Wisconsin.
Bud had grown up farming in the Mauston area in a family that had 11 boys and 1 girl. As each of them got married they moved to Illinois where they started their own farms. Bud loved farming, so he would travel there to drive tractor for his brothers, she recalls. On their way home from Illinois back to Mauston they happened to spot a “farm for sale” sign in the Watertown-Johnson Creek area and were intrigued.
“The guy who sold us the farm said it had no stones,” she recalls with a laugh – because of course that wasn’t true. They bought that 50-acre farm and started out milking 20 cows and grew the herd over the years. They weathered the total destruction of their dairy barn in 1966. It burned down on the first day they had put the cows out to pasture, she recalls, so the animals were alright.
At that time they moved the cows onto a neighboring farm and ended up buying that farm and expanding their land base. At its largest, the Walter’s dairy herd numbered 80 cows which were milked in a 50-cow barn, so there was a lot of switching of cows.
After the Walter’s experience hosting Farm Progress Days, one of Bud’s brothers moved to Florida and invited the couple down for a visit. “My husband decided the boys could do chores and we went down for a week. A year or two later we sold the cows. Bud decided there was life without milking cows,” she said.
Though the family left the dairy business, they continued to farm, adding acreage to their farming operation through purchases and rentals. The last time they hosted the show they had 1,200 acres. Today the family grows corn, wheat, hay and soybeans on 6,950 owned and rented acres and do not have any livestock, except for a couple of steers for the family’s freezer. In addition to their sizable cropping enterprise, the family operates a custom land tiling business.
Beverly and Bud raised three kids. Jim is a semi-truck driver and he and his wife Nancy live in the original farmhouse on the farmstead where his parents began. She works for a crane company. They have two kids—Dawn and Brock.
Beverly and Bud’s daughter Pat also lives nearby with her husband Dennis Breselow, who has a grocery store in Watertown. They gave all three of their kids K-names, says grandma—Karissa, Korey and Katrice.
The Walter’s middle child Mike is the one who actively works the farm with his wife Sarah and several of their children. Mike grew up farming and has been doing it all his life, taking over from his parents in 1992. At one time he and Sarah were farrowing 350 sows and selling feeder pigs as well as raising 800 head of veal calves.
They have five kids—Pam, Nick, Adam, Tony and Brad. Beverly remembers that when the family hosted Farm Progress Days in 1984 they had their three kids and seven grandchildren. “The youngest was only a month old,” she remembers with a smile. Today the family is even larger, with added grandchildren.
In 1984 “somebody came and asked my husband if he would host the show and he said, ‘sure, why not!’” recalled Beverly. “It all turned out fine.”
But she recalls it being a lot simpler then than it is today. Organizing the show today has meant a lot more meetings and planning for her son Mike and his family. “Back in 1984 I think we went to one meeting a month and then watched Tent City grow. We were living at the top of the hill then, where Jim is now,” she said.
Mike Walter carried on the tradition his father set in hosting the show. “I heard about the county’s offer to host Farm Technology Days and got everyone’s input and we decided to host it again,” he said. Two of Mike and Sarah’s sons—Adam and Brad—have actively farmed with their parents since high school. Adam and his wife Heather have three children, Julie, Taylor and Lisa. Brad and his wife Kristi have four children, Morgan, Eli, Layla and Maci. Several members of that next generation are also interested in farming, says Sarah.
Because Jefferson County is located between Milwaukee and Madison organizers hope that there will be a significant amount of attendance from those who just want to learn something about agriculture. “We have done a lot of outreach,” Mike said, “and we hope they come away from this show with an understanding of agriculture.”
It has been a three-year journey for the family since the time they agree to host the show to a point where it is only weeks away. Mike’s memories of their earlier show are a blur. It was a fall show and they were busy with fall field work so he barely had a chance to walk through Tent City, let alone enjoy everything that went on.
Sarah, who serves as the full-time bookkeeper for Walter Grain Farm now, remembers touring the 1984 show with her then four small children and a few friends.
She and Mike said they can’t give enough credit to the many committed volunteers who have helped get the show organized. “We don’t look at it as our show,” he said. “It belongs to everyone who has helped get this thing off the ground,” she said.