Most people who visit the Babcock Hall dairy store for the first time come out with a generous serving of ice cream and a hankering for more of the same. Bethany Laursen came out with that and something more: An idea for a research project on landscape governance.* Or to put it in less academic terms: A history of how this icon of cool and sweet ended up on the campus of a major research university. Her article, “An Environmental History of the Babcock Hall Dairy Store,” was published earlier this year in the Wisconsin Magazine of History and is now available online. It’s not just a history of the Babcock store itself. It’s a history of dairy product sales on campus that begins with the arrival of ag chemist Stephen Babock in Madison in 1887.

“The Dairy Store is perhaps the most obvious example on campus of the productive tension inherent in the Wisconsin Idea between industry and education, elite privilege and service, profit and not-for-profit,” says Laursen, who last May received an M.S. in Environment and Resources and Forestry, advised by Mark Rickenbach and Gary Green.

“I hoped by publishing this story, when readers are standing in line at the Dairy Store, it would make us think a little more reflectively on how we are contributing to the Wisconsin Idea today,” she says. “Are we still walking the line appropriately and harnessing that productive tension?“

For most of us, those will be second thoughts—the ones we’ll have after we’ve wrestled with whether to go with Mocha Macchiato or Union Utopia or give it up and have a scoop of each.


Landscape governance refers to the set of rules, norms, and strategies that describe how people make decisions about a landscape.