Watch Now: The Story of Wisconsin’s Farm Crisis Told Through Poetry | Local News


Dan Smith, poet and former dairy farmer, with his wife, Cheryl, outside their barn across from their home in the countryside Arena. The 1951 Farmall tractor has been in the Smith family for 70 years.


“This is the story of the Wisconsin dairy industry,” Smith said. “There is a story of pain, decision making and process that each of those 41,000 dairy farms that we have lost since 1978 has been through. I try (poetically) to reach both agricultural and non-agricultural audiences. This is a social, economic and cultural impact that Wisconsin faces. Because the result was not felt in the grocery store. The loss of these 41,000 family dairy farms has had a huge impact on local schools, school boards, city council, the cooperative council. There are just fewer people in these areas.

Smith will begin to ramp up its promotion of the book later this summer and into the fall. An event will be a 3 p.m. reading and signing on August 22 at Arcadia Books in downtown Spring Green. The events will allow Smith to better contextualize his writings, answer questions, and possibly hear more stories of lost farms, changed lives.

Dan Smith's poetry

Dan Smith’s poem “Chasing Chores” is included in his book “Ancestral”.


“Even today, I felt I fell in love with this land,” Smith wrote in his poem “Dry Dirt,” 80 pages in his book. “How many times can a man kick dirt, swear it’s never been so dry.” Now, I’m dropping decades of crop and livestock care into a heap in the back, closing the year like I would with an old door on an empty barn.

One of eight children, all of whom graduated from college, Smith grew up on a family-owned dairy farm just north of Freeport, Illinois. He graduated in 1978 from UW-Madison, where he met his wife, Cheryl, who grew up in a suburb of Cleveland. They returned to the farm, where Dan operated a farm, Cheryl taught kindergarten and first grade, and they raised three boys who, as men, all graduated from UW-Madison but were are far from agriculture. Ryan is a facial reconstruction surgeon in Chicago, Levi a lawyer in Minnesota, and Austin, the oldest, teaches writing and poetry at Stanford University.


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