The TVA Program in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is far from the Tennessee Valley, but the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) set up a program with Cooperative Extension in Wisconsin in the 1940s. Its goal was to promote use by farmers of commercial fertilizers, such as those produced at TVA’s fertilizer plants near Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the late 1950s, the UW Soils Department was working with Cooperative Extension’s Farm and Home Development Agents in several counties in western Wisconsin to establish test-demonstration plots with farmers who were working actively to improve farm management and farm income.
Each year in late June John Murdock, the Extension Specialist who led the program, set up a tour for staff from TVA and some university specialists to visit participating famers in each county. These tours were big events to the mostly young farmers, who were deeply honored to have visitors from the far away Tennessee Valley Authority come to their farm.
In Monroe County, these farmers and members of a local 4-H Club organized an informal reception for the visiting dignitaries at one of the host farms. They featured several kinds of locally produced cheeses along with coffee, iced tea and lemonade. These were set up on tables in the shady front yard of a host family. Near the end of the gathering, Forest Turner, a TVA representative who probably had never been north of the Mason-Dixon Line before, asked Murdock if he should try cheese from a plate he hadn’t sampled yet. Murdock, who had already eaten some of the aged brick on the plate in question, said, “Sure. Go ahead. And take a big piece. It’s really good!”
Turner did as instructed, and spent the next several minutes trying desperately to get the potent cheese out of his mouth and into his handkerchief discretely without offending his hosts. He found the taste of aged brick so memorable that he talked about it, not in favorable terms, the rest of the day. This gave Murdock and me an idea. We bought a small package of aged brick and Murdock slipped it into Turner’s suitcase just before he put the Alabaman on the plane home the next day.
About two weeks later Murdock got a letter from Turner. In it he noted that the airline had lost his luggage for several days, and when he finally received it, his clothing was so permeated with the aroma of brick cheese that he had thrown it all away. We hadn’t counted on the airline’s ineptitude when we started this practical joke, and sent him a letter of profound apology. But we laughed about the incident for years afterword.