Centuries of family farming recognized at Wisconsin State Fair
WEST ALLIS - You could feel the excitement in the tent filled with 650 people celebrating the history of their individual farms.
The Century and Sesquicentennial Farm Awards breakfast, held each year at Wisconsin State Fair Park during the State Fair, brought families from all over the state to an event filled with tears of joy, reminiscing and pride.
John Yingling, Chair of Wisconsin State Fair Park’s board, pointed out, “It’s very unusual these days for any business, including banks, stores, factories or anything, to reach 100 or 150 years in business. To reach this milestone you had to demonstrate a passion to the next generation that made them so intent on keeping it going.”
Sue Crane, State Fair Park Board’s vice-chair and a dairy farmer herself said, “This is my favorite event of the whole year and of the fair because you can just see how proud these families are to have kept their farms going all these years.”
Getting to the fair for some farmers, particularly during the trying economic times of dairy, can be a challenge. That’s why the women in the Weber family at Hartford were at the breakfast while their husbands stayed home to milk and do chores. They accepted the Century Farm award on behalf of W4 Farm LLC.
Of course not all the farmers who earn the Century or Sesquicentennial distinction are actively farming any more. The Brenner Brothers Farm at Mount Calvary is one of them.
Peter Brenner says he and his brother kept milking cows until this year because they wanted to keep on milking long enough to get their Century and Sesquicentennial awards at State Fair. They are very proud to have actively farmed on the farm their family established but they decided it was time to quit before the physical work of milking would take its toll on their knees and backs.
Delores Krueger came from West Minster, South Carolina to be with her family when they received their Century Farm award at the fair. She grew up on the farm that her brother, Bob Dumke currently owns.
Bob Dumke says, “Back when my parents settled the farm 101 years ago 80 acres was enough for a family to make a living. They couldn’t handle more than that because they farmed with horses.”
He says the family milked cows the first 40 years and then either just raised crops or rented the land to neighbors.
He has sons living in Montana and Tennessee but he is hopeful that his grandson, who gets out of the Marines next year, will be the fourth generation to take over ownership of the family farm.
The Zingsheim farm of Rubicon has been in the family for 100 years even though it changed names several times. The Zingsheim family were excited to be on hand to get their family’s award. The farm was originally owned by Nancy’s grandfather Armin Roemer and was then taken over by his daughter and son-in-law Harold and Ruth Funk and eventually passed on to Nancy Zingsheim and her husband Gerald.
The Dettman Family from Johnson Creek was excited to earn their family’s award. Sue says filling out the paperwork was easy because their family recently participated in the Wisconsin Farms Oral History project that detailed the history of their multi-generation farm.
Among the items the researchers dug up were land records from the Register of Deeds, as well as the original paperwork from the Dettmann family’s arrival in the United States in 1900. In the documentation Friedrich Dettmann’s occupation was listed as “farmer.”
Mike now runs the family dairy farm in partnership with his father, Tim, assisted by his wife, Sue, other family members and numerous employees. Tim took over the farm from his parents after first doing a stint in the military and serving in Vietnam where he had an injury that continues to bother him today.
Sue says the people with the Oral History project had a lot of the documentation and other family members may have known the details but she didn’t. She says, “It was fun to learn about how Mike’s family came over here (originally from Germany via New York).”
Like so many farms they had just a few cows, some chickens and other farm animals. The farm now has grown to 500 cows, which is big when viewed from a historical perspective, but not so big by today’s standards. With today’s lower milk prices, it’s becoming more difficult for the smaller operations to hold on. That’s why families like the Dettmann’s are so proud that they were able to find a way to carry on the family tradition.
Mike and Sue’s oldest son, Drew, was also happy to be able to join his family at the awards breakfast. He is an active 4-Her and FFA member who represents the fifth generation of Dettmanns working the land and he hopes to be able to join the business eventually.
Also with them at the breakfast were their sons Alex and Cole.
State Fair Historian Jerry Zimmerman, well known as the guy who never missed a fair in his 91 years except for one year when he was on active duty in World War II and another year when the fair was actually cancelled due to the war, pointed out, “When this fair started it was all about agriculture. At that time there were no people selling funny mops or food grinders or gadgets.”
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary Brad Pfaff commended the farm families for their dedication, noting, “I know there is a lot of stress on the farm but there is also a lot of pride.”
He not only took part in the formal program but he hung around to personally shake the hands of the farm families as they waited in line to have their photos taken.
The Sesquicentennial Farm and Home Award Program, resulting in a partnership between the DATCP and State Fair, is in its 22nd year. The 29 families honored join 890 who have received the 150 year award since the program started.
The Century Farm Program originated when Wisconsin celebrated its centennial as a state at a 23-day State Fair. It’s the same year the Alice in Dairyland program began. This year 145 properties joined the 9468 Century Farms already honored since 1948.
This is the 45th year that Hillshire Brands Company has sponsored the program. Several years ago Compeer Financial joined as a sponsor as well.