Cooperation, Legislation, and Education on the banks of Lake Wissota

One of the best parts of working at Wisconsin Farmers Union is spending quality time at Kamp Kenwood. Not only is it a beautiful and peaceful retreat, it’s also a strong pillar and testament to the importance of our education program. Throughout the summer, I’ve had several opportunities to visit with campers, tell them more about WFU’s policy process, plus share my thoughts on civic engagement.  


Usually this is the first time I am interacting with these youth, as the youth education side of the triangle doesn’t often intersect with the legislation side. I always enjoy meeting our members’ children, and I know how important it is that we include them in our activities. They are the future of this organization, after all.


One thing I noticed after arriving at Kamp Kenwood was how friendly and welcoming these young people were to me. Many of these youth have never met me, nor do they know my role within the organization. All they know is I’m a guest for a short time during their stay. So many young people came up and welcomed me, offered to help carry items to the lodge, or simply said, “Hello!” We hear so much about the current generation of youth being disconnected from others, unsocial, etc. This is not the case with Farmers Union youth. These young people are kind and generous. They are helpful and cooperative. They are concerned about the future, but also want to do what’s right, right now.


I saw this in my first visit to Kamp Kenwood this summer when I turned the campers loose to begin policy discussion. The group split up into “counties,” and each “county” was given a topic to write a policy proposal. I had nothing to do with the topics chosen, but it was encouraging to see issues like food waste, concentration in the agriculture industry, renewable energy, and high capacity wells listed as just a few of the topics for discussion.


As I walked around the room, I heard healthy debate on all of these topics. People were civil in their discourse, and no one was left out of the discussion. Pencils and erasers were getting quite a workout, and before we knew it, each group had a paragraph stating where they stood on their particular issue. After reading through each topic, the policy committee gathered and decided which proposals would move forward, and which proposals would need to go back to their county for further review.


This is a very simplified version of our policy process, but it shows the campers how WFU policy starts on the local level and works its way up the ladder. It is truly grassroots democracy at its finest.


On my next visit to Kamp Kenwood, we talked about civic engagement, and the importance of being involved in your community. I noted that, before moving to Wisconsin, I was very active on the local and even state level of numerous civic organizations. That involvement can be both a blessing and a curse for a young, single person living in a rural area. One always wants to give back to their community in some way, especially if that community has done so much for them over the years. Unfortunately, I soon found myself spread very thin, with little time for myself, let alone time enough for the groups that had entrusted me with a position on their board. Finding balance in life is not always easy, but it is important if you want to truly give back in a positive way.


After talking about ways the campers could get involved in their own communities, beyond their involvement in Farmers Union, I shared this little story about geese, and what we can learn from them as we strive to work together in life.



Next fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in “V” formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way.


As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.


Basic Truth #1: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.


When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance to trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.


Basic Truth #2: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.


When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.


Basic Truth #3: It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.


Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.


Basic Truth #4: What messages do we give when we honk from behind?


Finally – and this is important – when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.


Basic Truth #5: If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like they do.


I love sharing that message with young people, especially given everything young people are going through during such formative years. I hope it made an impact on them.


During WFU Kamp Kenwood’s official dedication back in October 1951, National Farmers Union President James G. Patton declared,


"In these buildings and others like them, you and I will pass on all we can of our experience and our knowledge, and hand over the torch into the hands of trained, energetic, clear, and farsighted young people of another generation. This camp is more than a symbol of the accomplishment of the Farmers Union of today. It is a link between today and tomorrow."

The longer we keep our focus on the future, the stronger we will grow. Kamp Kenwood and the lessons learned there are a rare lighthouse. Let’s keep it lit for those to come.

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