Milk Money was actually born at Dartmouth. I first uttered the idea for a book on the dairy industry to my friend Tom Zoellner, while we were sitting on a bench on the Dartmouth green. Zoellner, an author of numerous books including Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World, was working on his MALS degree at Dartmouth and also teaching a class on creative nonfiction in White River Junction, of which I was a student.
The year was 2009 and the dairy industry was experiencing some of the lowest milk prices in history. It was a full blown "dairy crisis," and farmers were going bankrupt at a shocking rate. The whole thing wouldn't have meant much to me, except that my daughter went to daycare on a family dairy farm in Barnard. They were my connection to the dairy industry, and I was never able to hear bad news about milk prices in the same way again. I saw how hard that family worked, and that they made a high quality product consumers valued. Yet they were losing money, and it seemed unfair and un-American. A freelance journalist at the time, I thought it would be an interesting and worthy topic to investigate.
The first step in writing a nonfiction book (at least for a no-name like me) is to create a book proposal and a sample chapter; something to sell to a publishing house. Think of it like a business plan for a start-up hoping to win seed funding. It takes a lot of work researching, interviewing, organizing information, and then writing. I did the bulk of the quiet toiling in the clerestory carrels in Baker Library. Ever since my days at Vermont Law School, Baker has been the place I go when I really want to get something done. The placid atmosphere among the stacks, or at the tables on the third and fourth floors, makes me want to turn off the email and concentrate. I can work in other places, but Baker is the redoubt I have held as a solemn space for honest effort.
About a year after I finished the book proposal I was lucky enough to land a book contract with the University Press of New England. By that time, I was working as a writer at Dartmouth and had built a "tiny house" in my backyard as a writing studio. But I still returned to Baker to take out books and to use the amazing interlibrary loan programs, and as a staff member I didn't have to pay for the privilege. I work at Tuck now, and while there are plenty of quiet places here to work, I still take shelter in Baker when I have to be most productive. I look forward to continuing the habit with my next book, whatever it may be.
-Kirk Kardashian, Tuck School of Business
Kirk Kardashian is Senior Writer in the Office of Communications at the Tuck School of Business. His book Milk Money: Cash, Cows, and the Death of the American Dairy Farm is included in the current Dartmouth Authors book display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.