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Dairy Farmers Are The Topic Of UW-RF Radio Documentary

March 26, 1999

By Mike Gugala
UW-RF News Bureau

Associate journalism Professor Pat Berg recently was "granted" a chance to fulfill a dream.

In February of 1997, the UW-River Falls professor received a $5,000 grant from the Freedom Forum's Professors Publishing Program.

"This program gives journalism professors the ability to do their dreams," said Berg. She used that grant money to report, write, and produce two in-depth radio features with the help of producer Dean Kallenbach, of Wisconsin Public Radio.

The first feature, titled "Working from the Heart: dairy farmers talk about their lives," will be broadcast in August on WHWC, a WPR affiliate in Eau Claire. The one-hour program will start with the playing of the documentary followed by 25 minutes of call-in questions. Berg hopes that farmers will phone in and share their own perspectives on their work.

"As a way of life, the family dairy farm may be doomed, and I wanted to capture it before it was gone," said Berg.

The 34-minute piece examined the work of dairy farming in the Midwest. Berg visited five dairy farm families in Minnesota and Wisconsin and asked them about their lives. She wanted to find out how the small family dairy farm is surviving in today's economy. What she found is the number of young farmers is decreasing as farms grow in size. Many farm owners simply must grow accordingly and that puts many of them into managerial roles, instead of doing the hands-on work they are accustomed to.

Farmers don't relish this thought but have come to accept it.

"People who do this work think of it as a way of life and they find joy in it. What I found were eloquent, hard-working people who want to spend time with their loved ones doing work they can be proud of," said Berg.

In her researching, she also consulted three dairy experts at UW-RF and three farm safety experts. Berg had been reporting and writing this feature since the last summer. Production started in January.

A second feature is currently underway. According to Berg, it tells the story of "a largely invisible population of women living in northern Pine County, Minn." These women are waiting for men who are serving time in Sandstone Federal Prison. This was of particular interest to Berg, who comes from that area.

According to Berg, the women live in old houses that were vacated by farmers some time ago. These women are scraping by just to visit their men in prison.

"I wanted to find out why they wait and how they survive," said Berg. She plans to start getting background information and find several potential major subjects. The following 8-10 weeks will be used to interview these subjects repeatedly. No date for final release has been set yet.

Berg added that both documentaries are mostly the voices of the people she interviewed and not her own. "I wanted these to be true to their voices, I didn't want to talk for them," said Berg.

Through this process Berg admitted to falling in love with radio production and has a new respect for it as well.

Previously, Berg has worked as a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and has recorded commentary on WPR.

For more information on the documentaries, contact Berg at 715/425-3169 or by e-mail at

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