Library project will emphasize state agriculture

April 3, 2019

A plaque on the outside of the Watertown Public Library commemorates the site of the first meeting of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association.

A group of seven dairymen met in February 1872 and formed that organization.

The plaque speaks to the history that agriculture has had in the Watertown community and the surrounding Dodge and Jefferson counties.

With this plaque still in place on the east side of the Watertown Library it is appropriate that agriculture take center stage in the conversion of the traditional Watertown Public Library to a Library Center.

The new Library Center will include many new features -- additional meeting and program rooms, more technology and an innovative early learning TalkReadPlay Center.

Peg Checkai, director of the Watertown Public Library, said, “As the gateway to downtown, our library is a pillar of the community.”

The agricultural showcase is proposed for the lobby and community social seating area of the renovated library. This area is made possible through the Earl and Eugenia Quirk Foundation.

While the remodeling has not yet been done, a committee of library and agricultural enthusiasts from around the area has been looking at ways to make the best use of the space.

About 40 people came to the agricultural information meeting Friday night to offer suggestions on what messages to convey and how to best present those messages.

Erin O’Neill, vice president of the Watertown Public Library Board of Trustees said, “I know agriculture is more than just black and white cows and green tractors. It’s so much more and we are looking for ways to show that.”

O’Neill has run the farmers market in the library parking lot for the last seven years and knows there is a wide variety of products that come from area farms. Outside of the library there is green space and already area children have become engaged in planting and caring for plants in the raised beds. Library officials are hoping to expand on this and tie it together with the agricultural displays.

O’Neill and others involved in planning the display visited the Milton Library, where a similar display has been developed.

She pointed out that in that library area farmers and FFA members have been coming in weekly to do demonstrations and talk about their particular farm.

“One girl brought her horse to the library and then read a book on horses,” she said. “Another man brought in his maple syrup equipment and showed how to make it and also read a book on it. Soon others were lining up to take a turn demonstrating and reading.”

She envisions FFA members and 4-H’ers doing the same type of thing in Watertown.

Vicki Coughlin, Sally Schoenike and Dave Frohling led the discussions at Friday’s meeting.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to talk about agriculture and help people understand where their food comes from,” Coughlin said.

Frohling noted agriculture goes way beyond the farm. He pointed out how many businesses in Watertown are producing products or services related to agriculture.

Watertown dairy farmer Daphne Holterman would like to see an interactive display in which a child could “adopt” a cow, follow it as it eats, sees the veterinarian, has a calf and produces milk.

Others added to the suggestion, recommending using videos or photos of area farmers. One farmer noted, “Put a face on area farmers. Consumers trust people. We want them to ask a farmer, not Google.”

Dairy farmer Pat Dolph suggested murals depicting old agricultural businesses and how they progress through the years.

Others suggested using photos to depict the progression of technology in various aspects of farming. In dairying, for instance, milking has gone from hand-milking to stall barns, milking parlors and now robotic milking. In the area of crop production, farmers have moved from horse power to tractors to GPS and self-driving equipment.

Members of the Watertown FFA offered to share scrapbooks and trophies from the FFA. Four-He’rs suggested bringing in model farm displays, a popular 4-H project in both Jefferson and Dodge counties.

The planning committee will continue to evaluate ideas.

O’Neill expressed thanks to the participants for their overwhelming enthusiasm in helping to develop this project. She also thanked the supporters who donated to Friday’s event including the Dodge-Jefferson County Beekeepers Association; Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese; Tietz Family Farm; Kraemer Wisconsin Cheese; Emerald Clovers HCE, Dodge County; Dodge County Dairy Promotion Committee and Watertown FFA.