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Doen to Earth: Langlade County

Wisconsin’s state soil is Antigo silt loam.

May 21, 2018
Francis Hole sings about dirt.

Did you know that a UW professor designated Antigo silt loam as Wisconsin’s state soil?

Across about 300,000 acres of Wisconsin, stretching from Langlade County west to the Saint Croix River, you’ll find one of the state’s greatest resources — if only you look down.

Antigo Silt Loam — that brown dirt that formed under the state’s hardwood forests — is a particularly productive soil for corn, grains, hay, and potatoes. And thanks to the efforts of UW professor Francis Hole PhD’43, it’s the Badger State’s official soil.

If you didn’t know that Wisconsin has a state soil, you’re not alone. People tend to treat soil like dirt. But Hole was so passionate about the substance that makes up so much of the earth that he could wax poetic about the substance beneath our feet.

“Soil is the hidden, secret friend, which is the root domain of lively darkness and silence.”

“Soil is the hidden, secret friend, which is the root domain of lively darkness and silence,” he once wrote. “My goal in promoting popularization of the soil resource is not so much to attract young people to careers in soil science as to give all children and their parents and grandparents a chance to enjoy the soils of their native landscape.”

An Indiana native, Hole came to Wisconsin for his doctoral studies and joined the soil-science faculty in 1946. With a whimsical style and sincere love for his topic, he became a popular teacher on campus and spokesperson for his subject in the wider community. At first, his efforts to get Wisconsin to name a state soil crashed to earth, but then he drew on his most powerful allies: sixth-grade students.

With an army of children taking up the cause, the state legislature’s opposition crumbled like dust and, in 1983, it was moved to pass Act 33, which honors Antigo and its indigenous loam.

This came 22 years after Wisconsin had its state rock, red granite, which Hole also praised — and penned an ode to:

Darkle, darkle, little grain,
I wonder how you entertain
A thousand creatures microscopic.
Grains like you from pole to tropic
Support land life upon this planet
I marvel at you, crumb of granite!

Hole passed away in 2002 at the age of 88, but his legacy lives on among the state symbols — and in a love for the mundane things that underlie Wisconsin’s strength.

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