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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Building bridges in dairy country

Bridges are important links for people living in communities along the Mississippi River. Several miles inland, a different kind of bridge is being built--the kind that connects one human heart to another.

Nestled in the valleys and bluffs above the river, in the scenic Coulee country of western Wisconsin, are large dairy operations that more closely resemble factories than traditional dairy farms. These are busy places, working around the clock, 24/7, milking each cow three times a day. This requires a stable workforce, many of whom are from Mexico.

John Rosenow, a Buffalo County milk producer, hired his first Mexican workers in 1990. Now, out of 17 employees, nearly half are Latino. He describes them as "hard workers who are paid well. They stay on the job for years at a time, are thrifty, often sending money home or saving to start a business in their homeland."

Once a month, Eleva [Wis.] Lutheran Church hosts a worship service in Spanish. Almost immediately Rosenow was frustrated by his inability to communicate with his Mexican employees. "You have to be able to talk with any employee," he says. "Dealing with a different language and culture poses a whole set of challenges."

Rosenow took his concern to Carl Duley, University of Wisconsin county extension agent for Buffalo County. What evolved from that conversation is an innovative program known as Puentes, the Spanish word for bridges.


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