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Historical Books

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Roshara Journal: Chronicling Four Seasons, Fifty Years, and 120 Acres

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A photographic diary of a small Midwestern farm and the family who’ve made it their home

In Roshara Journal, father-and-son team Jerry and Steve Apps share the monthly happenings at their family’s farm in central Wisconsin. Featuring Steve’s stunning photos and fifty years of Jerry’s journal entries, Roshara Journal captures the changes—both from month to month and over the decades—on the landscape and farmstead.

The Apps family has owned Roshara since 1966. There they nurture a prairie restoration and pine plantation, maintain a large garden that feeds three generations, observe wildlife species by the dozens, and support a population of endangered butterflies. In documenting life on this piece of land, Jerry and Steve remind us how, despite the pace and challenges of modern life, the seasons continue to influence our lives in ways large and small. Jerry explains that his journal entries become much more than mere observations: "It seems that when I write about something—a bur oak tree, for example—that old tree becomes a part of me. . . . Writing takes me to a place that goes beyond observation and understanding, a place filled with feeling and meaning."

In the tradition of Bernd Heinrich in Maine, Barry Lopez in the Canadian Arctic, and Aldo Leopold just an hour down the road in Baraboo, Jerry and Steve Apps combine observation, experience, and reflection to tell a profound story about one place in the world.

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Telling your Story

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In Telling Your Story, Jerry offers tips for people who are interested in telling their own stories. Readers will learn how Jerry Apps weaves together his stories, and gain valuable tips on how to turn their experiences into cherished tales. He explores how to choose stories from memories, how to journal, and tips for writing and oral storytelling, as well as speaking to a live radio or TV audience. Along the way, readers will learn about the value of storytelling and how this skill ties generations together, preserves local history, and much more.

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Wisconsin Agriculture: A History

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"I'm embarrassed to say I thought I knew anything substantial about Wisconsin agriculture or its history before I read this book. 'Wisconsin Agriculture' should be required reading in history classes from high school to the collegiate level. It makes me thankful that Jerry Apps has such a sense of commitment to Wisconsin's agricultural heritage--and to getting the story right." --Pam Jahnke, Farm Director, Wisconsin Farm Report Radio

Wisconsin has been a farming state from its very beginnings. And though it's long been known as "the Dairy State," it produces much more than cows, milk, and cheese. In fact, Wisconsin is one of the most diverse agricultural states in the nation.

The story of farming in Wisconsin is rich and diverse as well, and the threads of that story are related and intertwined. In this long-awaited volume, celebrated rural historian Jerry Apps examines everything from the fundamental influences of landscape and weather to complex matters of ethnic and pioneer settlement patterns, changing technology, agricultural research and education, and government regulations and policies. Along with expected topics, such as the cranberry industry and artisan cheesemaking, "Wisconsin Agriculture" delves into beef cattle and dairy goats, fur farming and Christmas trees, maple syrup and honey, and other specialty crops, including ginseng, hemp, cherries, sugar beets, mint, sphagnum moss, flax, and hops. Apps also explores new and rediscovered farming endeavors, from aquaculture to urban farming to beekeeping, and discusses recent political developments, such as the 2014 Farm Bill and its ramifications. And he looks to the future of farming, contemplating questions of ethical growing practices, food safety, sustainability, and the potential effects of climate change.

Featuring first-person accounts from the settlement era to today, along with more than 200 captivating photographs, "Wisconsin Agriculture" breathes life into the facts and figures of 150 years of farming history and provides compelling insights into the state's agricultural past, present, and future. 

Check here for a review of the book from Shepherd Express, Door County Pulse, and Wisconsin Academy.

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Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening

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Step into the garden with writer and rural historian Jerry Apps. In this treasure trove of tips, recollections, and recipes, Jerry combines his hard-earned advice for garden success with a discussion of how tending a garden leads to a deeper understanding of nature and the land. From planning and planting to fending off critters and weeds, he walks us through the gardening year, imbuing his story with humor and passion and once again reminding us that working even a small piece of land provides many rewards.

Gardening has always been a group endeavor for the Apps family. In Garden Wisdom, readers will learn gardening basics along with Jerry’s grandchildren as they become a new generation of gardeners. They’ll devour Ruth’s recipes for preparing and preserving fresh garden veggies—from refrigerator pickles to rutabaga pudding. And they’ll savor son Steve’s beautiful color photographs, capturing the bounty of the family garden throughout the growing season.

Click here for a number of reviews on the book!

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Campfires and Loon Calls 

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During his twenty-five years of canoeing in the wild, Jerry Apps has experienced it all—wicked thunderstorms, inquisitive bears, swamping a canoe, night skies filled with more stars than imaginable, falling asleep to the lullaby of water lapping at the water's edge. 

In his latest book, Apps generously shares his seasoned advice, from how to set up camp and protect food from hungry bears to minimalist cooking and appreciating a rainy day, all the while weaving in the incredible history of the Boundary Waters region.

Through beautiful prose and photos from award-winning photographer Steve Apps, Jerry also reflects on how the Boundary Waters is a place to connect with nature.   Check here for an interview with Jerry about the book.

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Barns of Wisconsin (Revised Edition) (Places Along the Way) (Hardcover, Wisconsin Historical Society Press; 3rd edition July 2010)

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Review from Forward Magazine: In these eco-conscious times, taking the family on a gas-guzzling road trip verges on sacrilege. But Jerry Apps, author of the new edition of Barns of Wisconsin, entices readers to indulge in touring the still rural parts of the state to contemplate its barns: the architecture brought by families from Germany, Finland, and England; the woodwork and whitewash; and even the weather vanes and other ornaments that gussy them up. No ageist, Apps covers the oldest stone barns, built in the 1800s, as well as the modern steel and canvas structures of contemporary dairies. But old barns have become an endangered species: many featured in the original edition, published in 1977, have since been razed to accommodate parking lots and malls. Preserving the ones that remain seems as self-evident a need as dusting the Sistine Chapel. Noticing barns celebrates a time in America when hard work was edifying and neighbors were sources of free labor.
Accompanying Apps’s idyllic depiction of rural life is a chaotic, colorful history of con artists and cash crops gone bust. During the 1850s, an itinerant phrenologist evangelized about the virtues of octagonal barns; others promoted round barn construction, leaving Vernon County with ten circular barns that can be seen today. Meanwhile, farmers struggled to adapt their fields and equipment to alien crops. Wheat, the original cash crop, ruined Wisconsin farmers long before ruining the farmers of the dust bowl during the 1930s. Farmers took up the next cash crop, tobacco, and then potatoes. Finally, they turned to tending the icon of Wisconsin, the dairy cow, a difficult enterprise that industrialized farms and reduced farmers to suppliers of milk for cheese factories. Though it is rarely mentioned, Wisconsin certainly had its own Grapes of Wrath epic.

Jerry Apps, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has also written Old Farm: A History and Horse-Drawn Days: A Century of Farming with Horses. His son, photographer Steve Apps, is an award-winning photographer with the Wisconsin State Journal. The Places Along the Way book series, of which this book is a part, represents a renaissance in writing about Wisconsin; written to encourage tourism, these books celebrate Wisconsin’s history and culture. In addition to the plethora (140) of vivid color photos, Apps has provided a map of Wisconsin barns for readers making the scenic driving tour.

Apps, a rebel against the looming urban sprawl that threatens barns, exhorts readers and tourists to espouse the preservation of farm history. What he has created is not quite Motorcycle Diaries, but perhaps Motorcycling to Dairies. ~Korina Cornish

Check here for a video trailer or recent awards for this book!


Horse-Drawn Days: A Century of Farming With Horses. (Paperback, Wisconsin Historical Society Press. May 2010)

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Horse-Drawn Days: A Century of Farming with Horses captures stories of rural life at a time when a team of horses was a vital part of the farm family. Author Jerry Apps pairs lively historic narrative with reminiscences about his boyhood on the family farm in Wisconsin to paint a vivid picture of a bygone time. Featuring fascinating historic photos, ads, and posters, plus contemporary color photos of working horses today, Horse-Drawn Days evokes the majesty of these animals and illuminates the horse's role in our country's early history and our rural heritage.

Old Farm: A History (October, 2008)

By Jerry Apps With Photographs by Steve Apps

Hardcover: $29.95
ISBN: 978-0-87020-406-7
256 pages, 100 photos, 2 maps, 8 x 9 "

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"Jerry Apps has a historian's eye and a storyteller's heart—count me among his legion of grateful readers."
—Michael Perry, author of Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story

One of the Midwest's best-loved authors tells the story of his land, from the last great glacier that dug out its valleys and formed its hills, to his own family's forty-year relationship with the beloved farm they call Roshara. In this quiet but epic tale, Apps describes the Native Americans who lived on the land for hundreds of years—tapping the maple trees and fishing the streams and lakes—as well as the first white settlers who tilled its sandy acres, ploughing the native grasses that grew taller than their teams of oxen. For all their work, the farm proved tough to tame. Hardscrabble farming methods—and hard luck—often brought failure, not success.

Breathtakingly beautiful color photographs by Apps' son, Steve (a professional photographer), highlight the ever-changing beauty of the land in every season, and hint at the spiritual gifts that are the true bounty this family reaps from Roshara.

Central to Apps's work is his belief that the land is something to cherish and revere. Like Aldo Leopold before him, Apps sounds an inspirational call to readers to preserve wild and rural places, leaving them in better condition that we found them for future generations.

Click here for Reviews of "Old Farm: A History"

Radio program I did on "Old Farm", the Best of Our Knowledge, National Public Radio.

Recent Awards

Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc. - First Place in 2008 Ellis/Henderson Outdoor Writing Category
The Council for Wisconsin Writers (CWW) is a non-profit, tax-exempt, membership organization dedicated to promoting local, state, and national awareness of Wisconsin's great literary heritage and to encouraging excellence among today's Wisconsin writers.

2008 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Finalist in Environment Category
ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards were established to bring increased attention to librarians and booksellers of the literary and graphic achievements of independent publishers and their authors. ForeWord is the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses.  This is a nationally recognized award.

2008 Midwest Independent Publishers Association - First Place in Nature Category and Finalist in Midwest Regional Category
Founded in 1984, MIPA exists today as a vibrant professional non-profit association that serves the upper Midwest independent publishing community and industry through education, networking and peer recognition. MIPA is proud to be a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

2009 Independent Publishers Book Awards - Gold in Best Regional Nonfiction in Great Lakes Region
To see all the winners in this category and in other categories, please click here

2009 National Indie Excellence Awards - Finalist in History Category
To see all the finalists in this category and in other categories, please click here


Breweries of Wisconsin,  Second Edition (April, 2005)

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The story of the Dairy State's other major industry—beer! From the immigrants who started brewing here during territorial days to the modern industrial giants, this is the history, the folklore, the architecture, the advertising, and the characters that made Wisconsin the nation's brewing leader. Updated with the latest trends on the Wisconsin brewing scene. This second edition of Jerry Apps's popular history of brewing in the Badger State brings the story up to the present.

"Highly readable. . . . Apps links together ethnic influence, agriculture, geography, natural resources, meteorology, changing technology, and transportation to explore some of the mystique, romance, and folklore associated with beer from antiquity to the present day in Wisconsin."—The Brewers Bulletin

"Apps adeptly combines diligent scholarship with fascinating anecdotes, vividly portraying brewmasters, beer barons, saloonkeepers, and corporate raiders. All this plus color reproductions of popular beer labels and a detailed recipe for home brew."—Wisconsin Magazine of History

Winner of: Distinguished Service to History: Award of Merit, Wisconsin Historical Society and Outstanding Literary Achievement Award, Wisconsin Library Association

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Ringlingville USA - The Stupendous Story of Seven Siblings and Their Stunning Circus Success (October, 2004)

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Ringlingville USA is the story of seven brothers who started with next to nothing and became the most famous circus family ever known. This is an extensively illustrated history with many never before published photographs. This history of the Ringling Circus, the first in more than fifty years, recounts the hard work, business savvy, and entrepreneurship of the Ringling Brothers as they created the largest, most famous circus in the world. Author Jerry Apps presents a comprehensive history of the family business while recreating the sights and sounds of the circus at the turn of the century.  Winner of Outstanding Academic Title award, Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association.  Video on this book here!

Reviews: JS Online, UW Madison, Amazon, Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Writer

The People Came First - A History of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension (July, 2002)

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352 pages.  Black and White photos throughout.  6x9" size softcover - An historical account of the development of Cooperative Extension in Wisconsin from 1850 to 2001. Included are stories from Extension staff, county office secretaries, historical photos, and a list of notable dates, plus a careful chronicling of how Cooperative Extension changed over the years.  Winner of Award of Merit, Wisconsin Historical Society and Scholarly Book Award, Wisconsin Council For Writers.

Cheese - The Making of a Wisconsin Tradition (April, 1998)

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In Cheese, The Making of a Wisconsin Tradition, award-winning author Jerry Apps narrates the history of cheese making in Wisconsin from the 1840s to the present. In his compelling yet conversational style, Apps documents the daily lives of early cheese makers and how Wisconsin became the nation's number one cheese producer. The experiences come from the cheese makers, milk haulers, cheese graders, and buyers with stories of snow-blocked roads and frozen milk, of fish in milk cans, wine in cellars, and cheese aging on shelves.  Winner of Award of Merit, Wisconsin Historical Society.

One Room Country Schools (April, 1996)

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Remembering his first day of school, award-winning author Jerry Apps writes, Mother insisted that I comb my hair, which I reluctantly did before clamping on my cap. A cap was wonderful for little boys who hated combing their hair, but now I had to comb mine before I could wear my cap. This simple event signaled great changes that were about to occur.

Barns of Wisconsin (September, 1977-- revised August, 1995)

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In this revised edition of an award-winning work, Jerry Apps provides an informative and moving account of Wisconsin's most hard working structures--its barns. Symbols of optimism, pride and practicality, barns are as diverse as the people who built them. Here Apps describes the exquisite craftsmanship with which the Finns, Norwegians, Germans and other immigrant groups built their pioneer barns. We learn, too, how round and octagonal barns developed, why cupolas and lighting rods were used, and how some of Wisconsin's barns became covered with colorful murals and billboards. Allen Strang's meticulous pencil sketches and eight stunning watercolors illustrate the text.

Mills of Wisconsin (October, 1980)

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The companion to Barns of Wisconsin, this book provides a warm and nostalgic look at the handsome mills that dot the landscape of Wisconsin and the Midwest. Illustrated with 8 watercolors and more than 35 pencil drawings, Mills of Wisconsin discusses, as author Jerry Apps said, "milling and mills from the perspectives of mechanics and poetry, economics and aesthetics, reality and myth -- all within a social and historical context.

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