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Gard, Robert Edward / My land, my home, my Wisconsin : the epic story of the Wisconsin farm and farm family from settlement days to the present
(1978)

Of new ways, and of new harvests,   pp. 37-62 PDF (16.1 MB)


Page 37


OF NEW WAYS,
AND OF NEW HARVESTS
    Ours is the homeplace. I think about that so often;
what it means to have a homeplace, and how all the ties
to family and friends are there. The land is ours, it has
our blood, and the blood of all our people. My children
feel the affinity of the land so deeply. They come home,
to the homeplace. It is our farm. I feel a deep, deep bind
between me and the land. I feel it every time I walk out
across the fields. Like my ancestor I want to shout out:
This is mine! This is my land! My farm! I know I can
never understand the whole story. I wish I could, and the
years of struggle, the years of change . . . How can I
know of them, really?
    The period between the great days of wheat and
the advent of dairy farming was one of experimenta-
tion and development. Orchards were planted in
Door County; new kinds of crops were envisioned;
hogs and corn gradually replaced wheat.
    Prairie racers had been herded up from Illinois
and Indiana. Lean, bristly, long-snouted, and semi-
wild, these hogs could be fierce, and it was dangerous
to encounter a drove of them in the woods. Indeed
they were grown in the woods where they multiplied
at random. Crossing the prairie type with animals
of better quality, such as Suffolk, Cheshire, or Berk-
shire, improved the general breed, and 1870 marked
a new interest in hog raising in Wisconsin. Hogs
became known as mortgage lifters, for they saved
many farmers who had gone bankrupt in wheat. Now
corn could be profitably marketed in the form of
Pork. In post-Civil War Wisconsin, hogs, corn, and
dairying went hand in hand.
                  NEW CROPS
    Hops became an important Wisconsin crop about
1860. Jesse Cottingham of the town of Winfield, near
Reedsburg, introduced hops raising to Wisconsin by
having enough hops roots shipped from New York to
start a small patch. For his first crop, which yielded
150 pounds of baled and dried hops, he received forty-
five dollars in gold. That started the hops craze that
ended in the hops crash of 1867. Farmers lost every-
thing.
     Mrs. Belle Cushman Bohn, in Wisconsin Maga-
zine of History, commented on the more romantic
aspects of hop culture:
    In the period of the 1860's and 1870's hop-raising was
one of the foremost industries in Sauk County. Hopyards
were found not only on nearly every farm but on many vil-
lage lots. I vividly recollect the work and the fun connected
with this industry of my girlhood.
    In the spring the roots of the hop vine were planted in
hills eight feet apart in rows eight feet apart. At the earliest
appearance of the vines, three tall poles were set solidly at
each hill. These poles-twelve or fifteen feet in height-were
cut in the woods just as they grew, and piles of them were
seen in every hopyard through the winter.
    When the vines were long enough to twine around the
poles, a girl or woman cut off the top of an old yarn sock,
drew it over her left arm, and raveled it as needed to tie the
vines to the poles. The workers were busy nearly every day
twining and tying the new growth, and many of them, I re-
member, complained of sore fingers as the vines were rough
and scratchy. When the hops began to form near the top of
the pole, branches reached out from one pole to another, form-
ing a canopy of vines overhead, which, with the graceful clus-
ters of yellowish-green hops made a very pretty sight.
    At this stage the pickers were hired. Men, women, and
children flocked to the yards; many an early day school-
teacher spent the summer vacation in this fashion. The local
force was not sufficient so that groups from distant places,
often acquaintances and friends of the farmer's family, would
come for an outing. There was something of adventure and
change in being with a crowd out-of-doors, having the best
meals served three times a day, and lodging provided for
those who lived many miles away. Fifty cents a box was paid
for the picking, and although some said they were out for
their health, I noticed they always took the pay too.
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