“I enjoy words,” Martin said. “My dad was a poet and my sister is a librarian. Words are in my blood. Well, that and dirt.”
He was raised by his mother and grandmother, in rural Chickasaw County, Iowa, after his father died serving in World War II.
“A lot of my pals were farm kids,” Martin said. “I have an affinity for farmers and what they go through.”
Aside from the one summer he traveled with a carnival, Martin spent most summers working on a road crew for Chickasaw County and occasionally visiting his uncle’s farm. After earning his master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Illinois, he wrote for a Milwaukee newspaper in the 1960s and 70s before becoming self-employed as an author of articles, guidebooks and columns.
Martin’s wife, Pam Percy, is also an author. The twosome have a column called “Boris and Doris On the Town” in Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express where they write reviews of events, artists, authors and exhibits. Among the books they have written together are the “Off the Beaten Path Wisconsin” guidebook and “Wisconsin Cheese: A Cookbook and Guide to Wisconsin Cheese.”
“I think we gained a couple of extra pounds that year,” Pam joked since each recipe for the cheesy cookbook had to be tested several times.
As a self-proclaimed chicken lover, Pam has raised chickens and traveled the nation to speak about them for 25 years. The couple usually has between 100-125 laying chickens and some broilers. Among her best known books is the 144-page “The Complete Chicken.”
Farming on the Fringe
Martin and Pam also operate Pampered Produce, a small farm whose crops are sold through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Their home is a former dairy farm, located just 13 minutes north of downtown Milwaukee. What started as a small garden aside from their house has turned into more garden then grass.
“People are fascinated,” Martin said. “They cannot believe we are doing this. I think everyone thinks it is quite quaint.”
They spend a lot of time educating those who stop to buy eggs or pick up their weekly supply of produce. Their community outreach includes taking chickens to the public library and inviting culinary arts students to the farm.
“Some of these kids have never seen a pig or a chicken before,” Martin said, “or know how warm an egg is when it is first laid.”
The members of the Milwaukee County Farm Bureau agreed that such education is important in our state’s largest city.
“I like what (Farm Bureau) offers with the agriculture education program. In this area it is especially crucial,” Pam said.
Their CSA is in a growth mode. With 24 members, they are looking for new plots to grow more food and have plans to more than double that number in 2013.
Pam prides herself on the fact that they provide a wide variety of herbs, unique vegetables and at least 10 varieties of tomatoes. She sends out weekly emails to the CSA members with recipes, cooking tips and surveys of what they want grown each season.
In 2013, Martin and Pam look forward to growing food year-round with a high-tower greenhouse, thanks to a grant, and possibly hire someone to help during the busy part of spring and summer. As for future writing plans, the authors never know what idea they might come up or what they might be approached with.
Martin summed up their balancing act of being farmers and authors in one sentence: “Each day it’s a toss up. Do I work in there or do I work out there.”
Wisconsin Farm Lore
Martin’s recent book, “Wisconsin Farm Lore” is broken up into short excerpts on Wisconsin’s unique and diverse agricultural history. It is organized into sections on landscape, people, animals, crops and products.
“It is important to know where we came from, where we are now and where we are going,” Martin said in reference to agriculture.
Martin strived to have the book include jokes, poems, photos and stories directly from other farmers and agriculturists.
A light-hearted conversation from a farmer named Tom Heath and his father from the 1940s can be found in the book.
‘My dad said if you’re a farmer there is three things. He says,
“You’ll never go hungry. You’ll never get rich. You’ll never run out of a job.” And I said, “Why the hell can’t a farmer be rich as well as anybody else? “
He said, “If they did, who would do all the work?”’
“People in the (agriculture) industry are so helpful, and you try to tell the story the best you can and with their words,” Martin said. “Every time you talk to someone you learn something new.”
Martin has written two other books for The History Press; “Forgotten Tales From Wisconsin” and “The Spirited History of Milwaukee Brews and Booze.”
According to Martin, the latter had a lot of research involved. However, his smirk indicated he did not mind the hardship.
Story by Amy Manske. Original version appeared in the December/January 2012-13 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.