Fran and Alan Rademacher dairy farm with their daughter and son-in-law near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The Rademachers’ story, “Yardstick,” is featured in Curran’s book.
PHOTO SUBMITTED
Fran and Alan Rademacher dairy farm with their daughter and son-in-law near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The Rademachers’ story, “Yardstick,” is featured in Curran’s book. PHOTO SUBMITTED
SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. – Pete Curran never set out to write a book. Having no experience in agriculture at the age of 54, he merely wanted to learn what farming and farmers were all about so he could secure a job as a seed salesman for Pioneer. When he began knocking on farmers’ doors in 2017, Curran had no idea what kind of journey he was embarking on.
“I asked the farmers about their farm, their family, their ancestors,” Curran said. “I would then write a short story about what I saw when I listened to each farmer. I also started taking pictures of the farmers with my (phone). I then put fliers together that I used when prospecting, which helped create some relevance on the farms I was calling upon.”
Curran, a resident of Sun Prairie, also learned about farming by getting his hands dirty. He volunteered to milk cows, butcher chickens and conquered his fear of heights by climbing a silo to fix a farmer’s flagpole.
“These farmers showed me what their life is like,” Curran said. “I asked a lot of personal questions to get a sense of who they are, why they do what they do, and how they make business decisions. I like to focus on who people are not what they do.”
Over time, Curran’s collection of stories grew to the point that his cousin, Jim Brown, encouraged him to turn them into a book.
“Jim told me, ‘You need to write this book right now. People need to see this,’” said Curran, who is now a milk tester serving farms in southern Wisconsin. “So that’s what I did.”
Curran’s book, “When I Listened to a Farmer,” was published last July by Hearth and Home Press of Pennsylvania – an imprint of Sunbury Press. Containing photographs and lyrical stories, the book celebrates and honors farmers.
Writing is not a task that comes easy to Curran, who is dyslexic. This is why his stories are not written in the typical fashion. His sentences are short and oftentimes contain a single word. For example, a section from the story “A Beating Heart” reads: “Blessed? Or burdened? The farmer. The legacy keeper. See the beating heart. … Third generation. Nurturing. Fourth generation.”
Curran carefully selects his words for maximum impact.
“I never embraced reading,” he said. “I’m a visual person, and I choose written words that are as visual as my photos to communicate what I see. I write in a succinct manner, and lyrical, prose-style writing is the only way I know how to write. I hear and see what I write, and I want people to visualize as much as I did when I interviewed the farmers.”
Tried and true faces fill the pages of his book which features farmers of all kinds, including many dairy farmers.
“Photography is really important to my book and is a big part of storytelling for me,” Curran said. “I’ve always been intrigued by photos and started taking pictures of barns and landscapes as well as people. I would love to do a photo book someday.”
Curran’s book focuses on what he calls the three Rs of life – resilience, reverence and reality.
“Farming is work that tires your body and enriches your soul,” he said. “I’m in awe of the people who do this kind of work. I think farmers are chosen, and I think their families are chosen.”
It sometimes took Curran multiple visits to get all the information he needed to write a story. ‘A Beating Heart’ was three years in development and describes the burden of being a legacy keeper. It is about a farmer who reveres his parents and keeps the farm going for his son.
“Farmers are the original American entrepreneur,” Curran said. “They are incredible businesspeople, and anyone looking to learn about entrepreneurship should go work on a farm for six months or even a summer. You will learn so much.”
Resembling poetry, Curran’s stories are told from the heart.
“My stories are emotional,” he said. “I believe farmers are the caretakers of our souls. Farming is a meaningful way of life, and this book should make farmers feel good about themselves.”   
Curran admired the work ethic of the farmer so much that he continued writing stories long after he landed that first sales job in the industry. He has an idea for a second book which would be titled, “The Dirt Keepers.”
“This would contain more intense stories of who these farmers are,” Curran said.
Curran also created a gallery exhibit called “A life. From dirt.” Premiering at the Rountree Gallery in Platteville in 2020, the exhibit was also on display at last year’s Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. The exhibit can be borrowed for free and highlights people and possibilities in agriculture.
Demonstrating a genuine appreciation for the farmer, Curran has made countless friends of farmers who welcome him wholeheartedly into their homes and barns.
“One farmer told me, ‘You taught me how to notice things,’” Curran said. “He was surprised I saw what I saw in his life.”
Designed to bring joy and comfort to everyone who reads it, “When I Listened to a Farmer” will likely warm the heart of any farmer who pages through a copy. Curran also promotes his stories on his Facebook page where he continues to build his collection.
“When I listened to a farmer, I saw a life,” Curran said. “But it was more than that. I saw timeless best practices for living a meaningful life, and this is what I wish to share with the world.”