Cows to Classrooms: Family Traces Success to the UW Jackson County

Connections in Jackson County

  • 16 UW—Madison students
  • 227 UW—Madison alumni
  • Also from Jackson County:

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

Chris Blaken FISC’98, ’02 and Becky Berezowitz Blaken ’03 are busy folks, juggling the demands of four young sons, 700 dairy cows, and seventh-grade English students.

Chris is the herdsman at Blaken Farms, a large dairy operation near Melrose, Wisconsin, and Becky teaches at Melrose-Mindoro Schools. They met at UW–Madison, where their educations helped to steer and shape their careers. “I felt like I learned a lot of the whys and reasoning behind what we do as farmers and how to do things better and more efficiently,” says Chris, who is the third generation of his family to work the farm.

Chris was introduced to UW–Madison through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ (CALS) Farm and Industry Short Course. Faculty members suggested that he continue in the bachelor’s program in dairy science. “I guess my grades were good enough to get in. I didn’t know if schooling was what I wanted to do for four years,” he says. “I’m glad I did.”

“I felt like I learned a lot of the whys and reasoning behind what we do as farmers and how to do things better and more efficiently.”

Growing up, Chris’s family farm had about 70 cows. By the time he graduated in 2002, the operation expanded to a herd of 700. “We built a new set-up in 2002,” Chris says. “I had seen these operations going when I was in college. The background the UW gave me in nutrition and reproduction helped ease the transition.”

The two met in a variety of CALS student organizations, where Becky, a native of Whitewater, Wisconsin, was majoring in agricultural journalism. She went on to earn an education degree at Aurora University, but credits her UW–Madison background for her success in English and language arts. “I met all of my lifelong friends because of the UW,” Becky says. “My journalism and communications degree gave me the background to teach reading and writing to my students.”

Becky grew up with 4-H and Future Farmers of America, and her grandparents had a dairy farm — but she never lived on a farm. She says the transition was smooth. “I appreciated the chance to be connected to agriculture, to work on the farm when I can, and to raise our kids (nine years, six years, three years, and five months old) on the farm,” Becky says.

Both Becky and Chris say they were apprehensive about coming to a large university after growing up in small towns, but that worry soon dissipated. “In the ag school, it was like a little family — in the classroom, clubs and volunteering,” she says. “It’s a community unto itself.”

Thank you, Jackson County, for farmers and teachers like Chris and Becky Blaken, who help build Wisconsin’s dairy economy and make sure the state’s children get an outstanding education.