Pickle: A Family Farm Story
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Reviews for In a Pickle:
For Literary Snobs Who Doubt The
Inspirational Power of Pickles. In a Pickle by Jerry Apps.
Life among the pickle patches of Link Lake,
Wisconsin moves along at a folksy crawl until the H. H. Harlow
Pickle Company starts bearing down on farmers to crank out those
cukes. UW Professor Emeritus Jerry Apps’ novel, In a Pickle: A
Family Farm Story, published by UW Press, follows young farmer,
Andy Meyer, who also helps run the company’s factory, as he butts
heads with a pushy new district manager. As the conflict ascends to
a briny broil, Apps fleshes out such charming supporting characters
as Quarter Mile Sweet, self-mocking Polack Agnes Swarsinsky, and
Preacher Ketchum. It’s not the first American novel to pit country
wisdom against corporate sliminess, but when was the last time a
good story taught you this much about the pickle-curing process?
Family Farm Defenders:
Farm-raised retired UW Professor, Jerry Apps,
has been a prolific chronicler of country life in the Midwest, with
fifteen books penned by his hand to date. His latest novel tells
the 1950s coming of age story of Andy Meyer, a young farmer and
pickle maker. Life in Link Lake was relatively peaceful and
downright neighborly until the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company rolls
into town with its big city “get big or get out” attitude and its
nasty agribusiness tactics. Andy has to make some tough choices to
defend himself and his community. Should he follow the course of
least resistance or does he stick up for a way of life that revolves
around more than just money? Reminiscent of Wendell Berry’s
Jayber Crow, In a Pickle offers a poignant personal perspective
on the clash between agriculture and industrialization that is still
going on in the U.S. and around the world today. Whether it’s a
huge pickle factory, a factory dairy farm or a massive ethanol plant
being foisted upon a community, the lessons to be learned are
similar. John Peck.
Booklist (American Library Association)
*Starred Review* Apps, a veteran Wisconsin
author of rural fiction and nonfiction, proves once again just how
charming he can be. Set in 1955, this warmhearted novel tells the
story of 25-year-old Andy Meyer, a veteran of the Korean War, who
has returned home to Link Lake, where he works on his father's farm
and, during the summer cucumber season, manages the H. H. Harlow
Pickle Company's factory. Life in Link Lake has gone on pretty much
the same for generations, but big changes are afoot: Harlow is
encouraging local cucumber farmers to plant bigger fields, to use
more modern equipment, and to enter into exclusive contracts with
the company. When spot-rot hits a local cucumber farm and spreads to
other, smaller patches, farmers are suddenly unable to sell their
cukes; families whose heads are barely above water are in danger of
sinking; and Andy finds not only his livelihood, but also his very
way of life in jeopardy. This is one of those slice-of-life novels
that utterly wins us over with rich characters, homespun dialogue,
and a story that, although it takes place half a century ago,
involves a subject that's still current: the elimination of small
farms by big agribusiness. Apps, who was born on a farm and who
managed a pickle factory in the 1950s, invests the novel with the
kind of realism, precise detail, and local color that only someone
who had lived the story could do. David Pitt
Portage County Gazette
Jerry Apps has fashioned a little rural
Wisconsin classic in his novel of this year, “In a Pickle.” It’s a
page-turner for anyone who loves a good yarn, rural Wisconsin and
country life, and the story rings especially true around here, since
it’s based in central Wisconsin. “Pickle,” published by the
University of Wisconsin Press, captures life in 1950s rural
Wisconsin so well you’d think you were there with his hero, young
Andy Meyer, back from combat in the Korean War. Meyer runs the
pickle factory for the summer in a town that the author admits
resembles little Wild Rose, where Apps once lived and worked.
What a colorful tale it is, full of twists and
turns, and rife with corollaries to the challenges faced by
agriculture and rural people to this day. Get big? Stay small? How
to survive as the big wheels keep turning?
In the book, kids who grew an acre of pickles
in central Wisconsin in the summer for spending money or for their
education are being squeezed out by canning companies and big
operators that don’t want to mess with processing an acre of
pickles. Farmers who went big needed big equipment and people to
pick the crops, and migrant workers arrive on the scene.
Apps weaves his story around these forces, and
you’d swear you knew the colorful characters in the book. His good
guys and bad guys share some of the same vulnerabilities, and that
makes for honest storytelling. Somehow Apps manages to weave a love
story into the book, and at the same time pit the fathers of Meyer
and his girlfriend against one another in the “big vs. small”
The author has rural Wisconsin in his blood.
Born and raised on a central Wisconsin farm, he has about 15 books
out there, many on rural history and country life. He is a professor
emeritus at UW-Madison and maybe one of the best authors Wisconsin
has produced in the late 20th and early 21st
century. Certainly when it comes to cultural history in rural
Wisconsin, Apps shines. Not only do his books serve as important
pieces of the historical record, but they are darned entertaining. A
list of his titles is at
Ben Logan, the octogenarian Wisconsin author,
once commented that there are precious few authentic rural voices
out there, people who understand the land and speak up for its
needs. Maybe that’s one reason why Logan’s “The Land Remembers,” an
autobiographical account of growing up on a southwest Wisconsin
farm, is in its ninth printing, on Itchy Cat Press in Wisconsin.
Apps happens to be one of those authentic
voices. Ready for the cold winter nights after the holiday rush?
Pick up a copy of “In a Pickle,” or “The Land Remembers” for that
matter, curl up in a comfortable chair and get ready for sweet
reading. Bill Berry
A PICKLE captures the heart of rural America half-a-century ago!,
are typically not on my 'to read' shelf. But I picked this one up
because Apps' non-fiction has always been so much fun and chocked
full of right-on memories for me. IN A PICKLE is about the time when
I grew up and about a place only half-a-county from where my
family's farm was. This book is right up there as one of Apps' best,
and it superbly captures the essence of the culture and the times.
It tells an engaging story in a down-home and straightforward style
that shows why Apps should be on everybody's list of really good
The book is a character-driven tale that's not only a fun read, but
it will give you an effective insight into what small-farm life was
really like half-a-century ago in middle America. After the first
couple of chapters of IN A PICKLE, I found it to be one of those few
books that is so enjoyable that I forcibly (and with difficulty)
limited myself to just a chapter or two a day - that way I knew I
would get to enjoy it for a lot longer. The book has several layers
to it: 1) an enjoyable novel about the relationships of a cast of
characters trying to get through tough times together, 2) a
chronicle of small farm families documenting some of the everyday
realities of that life fifty years ago, 3) a commentary on how
progress in the big picture of things can impact the lives of the
individual people being swept through those changes, and 4) a
depiction of how the modernization of technology can be a good
thing, but how, whether it intends to or not, and for better or for
worse, it can significantly disrupt the traditional order of things
and much of what goes with that tradition. Those aspects can all be
enjoyed on their own merits with IN A PICKLE. But the book also
gives the reader a combined experience of all those things fitting
together in one place and one period of the American landscape, an
indispensable part of our country's character.
If you're old enough, IN A PICKLE will jog your memory about the old
days and tickle your funny bone at the same time. If you're younger
than that, the book takes you back in time to a part of your
parents' world, and it does that in an entertaining way that leaves
you appreciating some new things about that world your folks grew up
in. In either case, you're apt to see some things in a way that you
maybe hadn't considered before - until Jerry Apps let you know about
it with IN A PICKLE. Jim Pope
Literary lunch: Family farm 'In a Pickle' in novel by Apps
by Heather Lee Schroeder,
Special to the Capital Times —
Apps on farming: For Madison-based author Jerry
Apps, the politics of farming is serious business. He grew up on a
small family farm near Wild Rose, Wis., and spent many years
teaching agricultural education at the UW. He's seen firsthand what
the changes in farming practices have meant for the rural landscape
Apps explores this issue in his latest novel, "In a Pickle: A Family
Farm Story." The story follows Andy Meyer, a farmer and seasonal
manager of a pickle factory in fictional Link Lake, Wis., in the
mid-1950s. The community's way of life is threatened by the
introduction of large-scale farming practices and economic pressures
brought on by, in large part, the owners of the pickle factory.
This little-known portion of Wisconsin history -- cucumber farming
and pickle production -- serves as a fine metaphor for the
continuing debate about the importance of family farms. The novel,
though entertaining, remains deeply political at its core.
"What I'm trying to do is continue a discussion about the demise of
the relatively small family farm and to have that discussion include
more than just the economics of it," Apps said in a recent
Issues such as neighborhood and community, family relationships,
work ethic and beliefs and values all come into play in the novel.
"It's not only the family farms that are disappearing but at the
same time the small village throughout the country, but especially
in the rural areas," Apps said. "They depended on each other, and
when farmers disappeared, all of those businesses that supported the
family farm disappeared."
The author said he wants both to give a voice to the farming
community and to reach an urban audience that is interested in the
Although it would have been easy for Apps to write a lengthy
nonfiction (and academic) book exploring the politics of small farms
versus large agribusiness, he said that approach wouldn't allow him
to reach his audience as successfully as fiction does.
"I cannot go at the issue head-on in my nonfiction work without
sounding like I'm preaching," Apps explained.
Politics aside, Apps said writing novels that are accessible and
entertaining to a non-reading audience is particularly important to
"I get calls and letters all the time, and they usually start like
this: 'I don't read books,' and they're usually from a man who is
over 50," he said. "That keeps me going."
In fact, since retiring from the UW in 1994, Apps has written more
than 15 books geared for a general audience, and he recently
received the 2007 Major Achievement Award from the Council for
Wisconsin Writers in recognition of his efforts.
Apps has started writing another novel that relates to rural
America, although he says he can't reveal more about its content. In
addition, he's putting finishing touches on a book that will be
published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press next year.
Titled "Old Farm," this nonfiction book charts the changes on Apps'
65-acre farm in Waushara County since 1966.
"This will be, I hope, my strongest environmental book," he said.
"It's a land use story but a very personal one."
Book Smart (UW-Madison, Wisconsin Week)
In A Pickle: A Family Farm Story (University of
Wisconsin Press, 2007)
Jerry Apps, professor emeritus of
continuing and vocational education
Managing a cucumber salting station in the
1950s brought Jerry Apps in contact with both small-town farmers and
the multinational company processing the pickled produce. Then, as
now, corporate tactics affected everything from the corporation’s
stock to the lives of the farmers around him. Reminiscing on his Web
site, Apps recalls how “the big food processing companies insisted
on contracts with farmers and more control, including encouraging
farmers to grow larger acres of cucumbers.” This trend deepened over
the next several decades as he becomes a county extension agent and,
later, a renowned agricultural educator.
Combining Apps’ own experiences with extensive
historical research, In a Pickle tells the story of “pickle
patch” owner Andy Meyer. Caught between the demands of his fellow
farmers and his employers at the behemoth H. H. Harlow Pickle
Company, Andy sees his peers forced to choose between the Harlow Way
or the possibility of losing their land. Though the book serves as
an elegy for rural ways, Apps’ warm, humorous prose reveals how the
strength of a community keeps traditions – and hope – alive.
Apps’ interest in farm stories isn’t merely
professional. Memories of growing up in central Wisconsin’s sand
country echo the subtitle of his new novel: “You could guess the
size of a farm family by driving by and checking the size of the
pickle patch. The bigger the patch, the more kids in the family.”
Though In A Pickle takes place over 50
years ago, concerns about the negative influence of big
agri-business on rural farming communities remain current. Newspaper
editor Dewey John’s passionate columns ring just as true today as
they did in the Link Lake Gazette. However, Apps’ deft touch
with his characters – a fundamentalist preacher, quick-witted
businessmen, migrant workers and plenty of old farmers – allows him
to broach the topic without sounding stuffy or moralistic.
This accessibility has become a hallmark of
Apps’ work – novels, textbooks and children’s literature alike. “For
me,” says Apps, “a story is a powerful way of communicating, whether
it’s truth or fiction.” Transferring this approach to his teaching
has brought him many accolades. By delivering information with a
dash of humor, mystery or homespun wisdom, he says, “people begin
grasping rather sophisticated ideas without even knowing it.”
Though he retired from the university in 1994,
Apps has returned to his Extension roots by teaching adult writing
classes. In addition, his textbooks on agricultural and adult
education remain in widespread use. His book Mastering the
Teaching of Adults identifies multiple approaches
to adult education. One approach stands out: the Gardener, who
“cultivate[s] the mind by nourishing, enhancing the climate,
removing the weeds and other impediments, and then standing back and
allowing growth to occur.”
At his farm in Wild Rose, two miles from
his boyhood home, Apps has kept a garden every year since 1966.
“Picked a bunch this week.” --Susannah Brooks
Wisconsin State Journal
You can’t find anyone more Wisconsin than author Jerry Apps and you
can’t find a story more Wisconsin than “In a Pickle” Terrace Books,
Pickle farming (for you city slickers, the farmers actually grow
cucumbers not pickles) is a part of Wisconsin history much like
tobacco farming. Small “pickle patches” provide the substance for
any number of reminiscences, not altogether happy ones.
Apps tells the story of Andy Meyer, a young farmer who manages a
pickle factory during the 1950s in Link lake, a fictitious Wisconsin
town, and his confrontation with the H. H. Harlow Pickle Company, a
corporate giant that seeks to change the traditional ways of farming
in the area. Link lake is the kind of town Garrison Keillor
“Link Lake celebrated Pickle days the first weekend of August, in
the peak of the cucumber season. The parade on Saturday afternoon
drew the most people, followed by the “Big Pickle Polka Dance” on
Saturday night . . . .”
Meyer is all for the old ways of doing things. Not so for some of
his neighbors. Girlfriend Amy Stewart, for example, is the daughter
of a farmer who embraces the new, H. H. Harlow way of farming. Meyer
“You don’t take care of land by plowing 50-acre fields, by growing
30 acres of cucumbers, by pouring tons of fertilizer on the fields,
by trying to farm a thousand acres,” Andy said quietly.
Amy dumps Andy.
But, the farming is just a symbol of changes coming to Link Lake.
The school system wants to close the small schools in the area and
consolidate them into more modern facilities. City slickers start
buying up farmland for recreational property.
But change is a fact of life and, Apps suggests, those who can
mange change, can, sometimes even maintain the values they cherish.
William R. Wineke
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