Corey Geiger | Mukwonago, Wisconsin
My dad had been studying to be a Catholic priest; but in 1966, when he was 16, his dad died. Heart attack at age 46. Boom, dead. My grandmother was left with 12 kids, ages one to 18, and three dairy farms. They were milking 100 cows on three sites. So, dad left the pre-seminary, finished up his high school degree, and basically took over one of the farms He also became kind of like a surrogate father to a lot of his younger siblings.
I grew up in that farm family environment. I was one of the first grandkids in the family, so as a young boy I listened to all the adult conversations. I learned to be around adults and converse with them when other kids were out playing in a sandbox.
By 1981, my parents sold that farm to Albert, one of my dad’s younger brothers. My parents moved to my mother’s family farm, which has been in her family since 1867. When my mom arrived on that farm, she was the third generation of women in the family that took over the farm.
The house was built in 1916. My grandmother was born in the house in 1918 and her heart never left there. My grandparents came over five, six, seven times a week. And there I was again, Corey the kid at the breakfast table listening to stories and learning about a multi-generation farm.
I never ventured out of Wisconsin much until I was a senior in high school. I’d left the state once. But it was that little tight-knit community that I learned from. And I loved cows, and so I was just fine with that. I grew up on the border of Calumet and Manitowoc County in Northeast Wisconsin, near Brillion and Reedsville. I always wanted to be a dairy farmer. My dad didn’t have a chance to go get an education since his dad died so young. He took night classes at a business school and my mom had a four-year education. When I was a teenager, I milked cows with my parents all the time. We had our best conversations on the dairy barn floor; we could really get right to it. Even as an adult, I’d go back and milk cows with them because I’d get more good conversation there than anywhere else.
One day, my dad said, ‘If you don’t go get a four-year degree, you’re never walking in a barn again.’ Well, I was not happy. I wanted to milk cows. You know, I was a teenage boy, full of testosterone. But my mom said, ‘We talked about this; we agree.’ I ended up going to UW Madison because they had a dairy science program and I like judging cows. I majored in dairy science.
One day two of my college buddies were walking down the street, looking like they were on a mission. They were going to the dean’s office to declare a double major in dairy science and ag economics. I walked along with them—that’s how much thought I put into my major—I always liked numbers and I thought it sounded like a good idea. And quite frankly, agricultural economics proved out to be the more important degree that I got—not taking anything away from dairy science.
As a college junior, I interned at a cattle artificial insemination stud service then based in Ohio. A lady there was on maternity leave and they didn’t have someone to do the company newsletter. There was a great debate the first week I was there at a meeting about who was going to do it. I was in the back of the room, and I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ They sent me on some assignments to Georgia. I didn’t have a lot of journalism courses, but I liked to tell stories. I remember the draft of the first article I wrote. My internship supervisor came in with the paper pretty marked up, and I said, ‘Oh boy, I’m not very good at this.’ He said, ‘No. You’re exactly wrong. Farmers are going to read this. We just got to polish. In fact, I need to tell your college professors that you need to be in journalism.’ I said, ‘I’m graduating in a year. I’m not starting another degree.’ He said, ‘Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter’ And so, that fall, I was offered a job at the Hoard’s Dairyman magazine. I didn’t graduate for 15 months yet. It set me on a whole new course, and I needed to start thinking a lot bigger about the dairy industry, really quickly. I’ve since been to 46 states and a dozen countries all covering dairy—I’ve been there 26 and a half years.
I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to have a party in the paper. We’re going to celebrate this, but we’re going to talk beyond our farm and we’re going to talk about our local farming community.’
I called the editors of The Brillion News and I proposed that I would write a weekly column called The Homesteader’s Hope in their weekly paper. I talk about our family, the greater community, and what was going on in Wisconsin and the world to have these people make these decisions 150 and 100 years ago. Decisions like why did people make the voyage across the Atlantic to immigrate to the U.S.; once in America, how could they earn a living; and how people came together to help each other out in the pioneer days. Of course, most of this activity was farm country law and that resulted in many colorful stories. I requested no pay, but that I’d hold the copyright on my writing. I promised them 20 columns. They put the first one online and it had over 1,500 views in the first week. It kept going, and people started subscribing to The Brillion News. It’s a regional paper up in the Calumet, Brown, and Manitowoc County area. Eventually, people had subscribed from 17 states because of that Homesteader’s Hope column. People started writing me and emailing me with ideas. I went from writing 20 to 95 columns. Halfway through it, they approached me about writing a book. I published ‘On a Wisconsin Family Farm: Historic Tales of Character, Community and Culture’ in 2021, and my second book is coming.
My wife read all the manuscripts. My mom, my father-in-law Pete, my Uncle Albert did and Aunt Annie, also read my manuscripts, to give edits from the farmer’s perspective. My book is a celebration of Wisconsin farm life. My best story ideas come to me in two places. One is when I am working on the farm, whether it be on a tractor, whether it be walking pens at my brother-in-law’s farm, or my hobby, making firewood. And the other place is on my Harley. There are times I’ll have to pull over on my Harley and jot something down or take a quick note on my phone because my mind just creates.
I’ve also found time for other fun. Some people call me The Dancing Dairyman. The Dancing Dairyman reference began on November 21, 2015, when my wife and I, along with three other members of my wife’s family auditioned for Family Feud. Having made it past the first round of auditions, we created monikers to make us unique in the field of contestants. Mine became The Dancing Dairyman and we made it past the second round of auditions and eventually made it onto Family Feud, where we taped a show in August 2016.
Prior to that time, my wife and I had been taking dance lessons at the Fred Astaire studio in Pewaukee and competed at a regional dance competition and at the Fred Astaire Cross Country Dance Competition national finals where we won top amateur couple honors in our division. That’s when my friends started calling me The Dancing Dairyman more often.
Late in the summer of 2018, Scott Bentley, the general manager of World Dairy Expo in Madison, invited us to kick off the Supreme Champion Ceremonies of World Dairy Expo with a dance performance. That’s when The Dancing Dairyman really gained momentum. We prepared a synchronized routine together for the event. This required nightly practices leading up to the 2018 World Dairy Expo. We practiced the routine late at night to keep the pending performance as confidential as possible. Then, The Dancing Dairyman and his wife Krista performed in front of about 3,500 attendees in the Alliant Energy Center — right before America’s Supreme Champion was crowned.
Farming has never left me, and I won’t leave farming. I own cows that are at my brother-in-law’s farm. And I have some at friends’ farms in Manitowoc County. Hearing from the readers of my column and my book is the most rewarding thing for me. ‘Your written words remind me of my family—of a story about my grandpa or my grandma.’ If my stories spur conversations with other families, that is as big a win I could have ever hoped for in writing the book. People hunger for their connections with the soil. I understand that because, really, what’s the local food movement all about? My grandpa and grandma would define it as being a farmer, being connected to the land, and producing good food. Today, that’s really the same deal in a rebranded package when people go to a farmer’s market or support a local farmer those things. It’s all the same circle. The tie to the land, to the farm, to nature. it’s a connection to the earth. It’s really important to me.
Share This Post
Photo #1:1966 photo of Corey’s dad and uncles. Photo #2: Corey with his late father Randy Geiger at the 1992 Manitowoc County Fair. Photo #3: The cover of Corey’s book, On A Wisconsin Family Farm. Photo #4: Corey and Krista Knigge’s engagement photo taken at the sixth-generation family farm. Photo #5: Randy and Rosalie Geiger received the Sesquicentennial Farm Award for 150 years of Continuous Family Ownership at Wisconsin State Fair.