Preserving family stories

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Every farm has a story.

Wisconsin's farming industry began with pioneers who settled on their land, cleared their fields and brought with them traditions and values from their homeland.

A group of history students in UW colleges are attempting to preserve some of those stories before they are lost forever.

The Wisconsin Farms Oral History project, a statewide initiative that began in the UW-Whitewater public history program in 2012, focuses on the history of food and farming in Wisconsin.

History professor James Levy directs the project and said the goal is to document stories, particularly as they relate to race, ethnicity and cultural diversity throughout the state.

The project employs a community-based history approach, focusing on collecting oral histories, conducting research and preserving people's stories.

Five UW campuses serve as partners, including Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Eau Claire and Whitewater.

Levy said the interviews are attempting to determine how food production and food consumption in Wisconsin over the past 80 years has influenced community development, particularly with regard to ethnic and cultural dynamics.

During Farm Technology Days in Lake Geneva, students working on the project interviewed visitors from around the state, recording their individual stories to become a part of the vast collection of stories.

The show was an ideal time to gather stories from diverse backgrounds and capture Wisconsin's rich history of farming, community and culture.

The project engages students at all levels – K-12 to post graduate – in hands-on community-based learning, collaborative problem-solving and an enhanced understanding of farming, food politics and sustainability.

The students conducting the interviews transcribe and process the interviews for archival preservation in UW libraries and community-based organizations.

'We hope that a statewide, community-based project that focuses on agriculture will help to empower farmers and farming communities in their work toward sustainability and building a better world,' Levy said.

To get involved or to contribute a story, check out the program at or on Facebook at Wisconsin Farms Oral History Project.