Full Plate

From early Native American farming to modern urban agriculture, agriculture in southeastern Wisconsin has been a transformative and defining force.

This summer, Lake Effect's Full Plate series explores the people, places, flora and fauna that makeup our diverse ecosystem.

_

Dave Parker / Flickr

Entering a grocery store, buyers are often bombarded with seemingly all-important yet ill-defined terms; words like “organic”, “sustainable”, or – perhaps the most pernicious culprit – “natural.”

But what do these terms actually mean? And how can consumers know if the foods they’re buying - usually at a premium - were grown or raised in an organic environment?

The US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, is tasked with setting minimum organic standards that farms of all sizes must meet, and then ensuring compliance with those standards.

Milk Prices 101

Jul 18, 2017
Kadmy / Fotolia

It may come as no surprise that much of our agriculture is wrapped up in dairy - after all, Wisconsin is called America's Dairyland. But despite the moniker, Wisconsin is not immune to the market forces that drive the price of dairy both here and throughout the country.

You might notice when you go to the grocery store, the price of milk varies a lot. In fact, it changes so much that it’s routine for some groceries and delis to post the price outside of the store - like signs at a gas station.

Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

Molecular biologist Michael Schläppi experimented with rice varieties from around the globe for five years - testing how they stood up to Wisconsin weather in miniature paddies he built on his rooftop lab on campus.

He settled on a short-grain variety from Russia.

Two years ago, he took the experiment to a farm field outside Port Washington.

Mitch Teich

Summer is in full swing, and for many that means regular visits to a local farmers’ market. Since 1994, the number of farmers’ markets in the country has grown from less than two thousand to nearly nine thousand - and that's just counting the ones registered in the US Department of Agriculture’s directory. In fact, there are over 350 markets within 100 miles of Milwaukee.

petlyaroman / fotolia

Growing food doesn’t always occur in the country. From city-based commercial operations like Growing Power to personal backyards or even balcony herb and vegetable gardens, urban agriculture in Wisconsin’s largest city is booming.

Mitch Teich

Many of us find ourselves at a frozen custard stand or an ice cream shop on a summer weekend, but few of us give much thought to what goes into making the stuff in our cones. Bill Klein is different. 

Klein is the plant manager for the Babcock Dairy Plant at UW-Madison, which trains many of the people who make a living in ice cream, and the dairy world at large.

 

From canning to fermenting to dehydrating, Christina Ward is an expert in teaching Milwaukeeans how to preserve food. She says that among the many professional hats she wears, this is the one she’s particularly proud of.

“I’m the master food preserver, which means I’m a volunteer in my community charged with giving people the latest and greatest science,” says Ward.

 

We are a long time removed from the era in which farming represented the majority of southeastern Wisconsin's economy, but there remain many people who make a living on farms in the region.

Writer Anna Blessing highlights compelling stories of farms in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest in her book, Locally Grown. In her acknowledgements, Blessing described the farmers she met “heroes," who approach their work as a kind of art. 

Pinehold Gardens / facebook.com

If you travel about seven miles south of Milwaukee County's airport, you’ll find one of the last farms that is run full-time by the people who own and live on the land they farm. David Kozlowski and Sandy Raduenz own Pinehold Gardens, and have grown produce using organic methods for the past 23 years.

Susan Bence

'Mushroom' Mike Jozwik has been forging in Wisconsin, and beyond, for years. When it comes to foraging, he says there's always something new to learn.

For those looking to get started, Jozwik shares a few tips:

The number one thing on Jozwik's list is to read up on the subject. "As much as people like relying on Facebook forums now, get a good book," he says.

Here are some of his favorites:

Susan Bence

Growing up in Racine, Mike Jozwik learned to forage with his parents, and loved it. So leading a gaggle of newbies on an expedition 100 miles west of Milwaukee is as natural to Jozwik as breathing.

On land owned by an amiable dairy farmer Jozwik befriended on Craigslist, Jozwik and the group comb wooded parcels. “We’ll be picking basically a bunch of different stuff out there today. Morels should be pretty good out there right now. This is probably the best chunk of the woods,” he explains.

Courtesy of Milwaukee Public Library

Like most major metropolitan areas, there was a time when most of southeastern Wisconsin was farmland.  And while the area that surrounds the city of Milwaukee is today home to suburbs and exurbs, there is still much evidence of our agricultural heritage - in many cases, a living heritage.

This summer, Lake Effect is exploring what agriculture means to our region in a series called Full Plate. Help us shape this series, what questions do you have about food and its production?

tofuttibreak, flickr

From The Botany of Desire to The Joy of Cooking to Kitchen Confidential, books about food fill our bookshelves - if not literally our stomachs.