Stories that Study the Past

People have worked for thousands of years to make lives in Wisconsin. The legacy of their efforts profoundly shapes Wisconsin today. Read stories of our rich history. How did the people who came before us work to build a home here, drawing on their culture, beliefs, and skills while adapting to this special place? 

Recipe for Community:
The People who Make the Food

Chicken Catching crew at Dairyland Poultry in 1952.

Chicken Catching crew at Dairyland Poultry in 1952.

How many hands touched that apple before you bought it? Who owns your favorite restaurant, and do you know the chef? Which baker makes the birthday cake that defines birthday cakes in your family? Who feeds the chickens laying your eggs?

There is much work done to grow, harvest, process, package, deliver, present, prepare and serve the food we eat. So many jobs and professions are part of bringing food to the table. Connecting the dots between the farm where the apple was picked to the place you purchased it is more complicated today than it was 100 years ago. While the dots along the way represent jobs and paychecks for more people, they may also mean we are less “connected” to the source of our sustenance.

A book called Recipe for Community: How the growing, harvesting, processing and serving of food has built community in Marquette County, Wisconsin, took inspiration from the fact that food brings people together. It always has.

Everyone Eats

“…making $6 a week for six ten-hour days saved many families.”

“Everyone eats, everyone gathers in some way around food and everyone relishes some kind of food,” the introduction of Recipe for Community explains. The book was created by the Marquette County Historical Society with a grant from the WHC. The historical society was selected by the WHC to be one on a six-stop tour of a Smithsonian exhibition called “Key Ingredients: America by Food.” 

Because food is so elemental, the historical society felt it was an accessible way of “seeing who we are, where we come from, and where we might be headed.” The book is rich with stories and photographs that celebrate the people and history of what is still a sparsely populated agricultural county. Stories like that of the Westfield Farmer’s Butter and Cheese Cooperative that employed 40 people and processed milk from 800 producers at its peak. And of the Williams Lake View Farms, where many people, children and adults, counted themselves lucky to have been employed either full-time or seasonally. “Wages earned at Lake View Farms were vital to workers. During the depression, making $6 a week for six ten-hour days saved many families.” 

The Chicken or the Egg?

“…being a chicken catcher was something every teenager wanted to be.”

“Poultry, especially chicken, were part of every farm at one time. Women especially raised them and used the egg money for necessities and maybe a luxury every once in a while.” This was true in Marquette County as it was in rural areas across the country. In 1934, a man named Edwin Alf moved to Endeavor, in Marquette County, and set up an egg buying station. Truck routes were established to pick up eggs from the farmers. His poultry business grew, and while all egg operations were discontinued in 1957, Dairyland Poultry by then had a new market: processing and roasting chickens.

“In the heyday of the company, being a chicken catcher was something every teenager wanted to be. ‘I don’t think they even cared if they got paid,’ said Jeanne Cummings. ‘My mother fixed them a huge meal after they were done and it was just the getting together that was so much fun.'”

Another poultry plant was just down the road “but the two companies were never competitors,” according to the book. “Mention Brakebush today and people think chicken because that’s what the company, started by brothers Bill and Otto in 1925, has been and still is about. But Brakebush is about more than just chicken. It’s about a family, a business, jobs, pride, innovation, quality, commitment, and community.”

 

 Photo: Provided by the Marquette County Historical Society