Milkshake: Abundance and Loss in America's Dairyland

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MFA in Creative Nonfiction

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The MFA thesis documents and examines the impact of Wisconsin losing half its dairy farms from 2005 through 2020. Dairy farming is a cultural tradition and touchstone in Wisconsin with the state producing 14 percent of the milk in the United States in 2020, second to California. The author traveled the state personally interviewing with farmers and other professionals. In addition she included data analyzing the dairy industry from print, electronic, and video reports and archives. Concepts explored include farmer suicide, immigrant farm labor, responsibility to ancestors, use of technology in historical perspective, and the environmental impact and regulatory challenge of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. The resulting thesis elucidates the culture of hard work and family-based abundance that forms an emotional heart of America between the coasts. Part of the rural culture is disdain for people they believe are not for hard work, don’t do hard work, and do not even define it correctly. Manure is a renewable energy source making the dairy industry a potential problem-solver on the world’s climate—if regulation and enforcement prove to be able to keep up with the pace of technological discovery. Current federal and state agencies that regulate food are less nimble in funding, staffing, and operation than the enlarged private companies they have to monitor.