Small family farms are the backbone of this country. They’re where we came from and where we need to focus the future if we’re to escape the fate of the many troubling scenarios facing America today.
What happens when that backbone begins to crumble?
Failing small town America is no secret, but it’s also no joke. Too much of our rural livelihood is disappearing. Many think fondly of the term “Americana” and all that it stands for, but either don’t understand how to save it, or aren’t interested in making the changes necessary to save it.
And yet, it all starts with the family farm.
The rise of large-scale farms and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the United States, and particularly in Wisconsin, have certainly had a direct relationship with the failing of small-sized farms and family farms. From undercutting market prices to producing environmental problems, these operations have, generally speaking, not been a friend to either small farms or small-town America.
The problem is, it’s tough to fight back when you’re only one small farm, one voice. So the question becomes, how can one small farm make their voice heard?
This is where a grassroots organization like Wisconsin Farmers Union comes in. A part of the larger National Farmers Union, it provides an opportunity for all of those little voices to join into one booming roar that will be heard, a roar that can make a difference.
Yet for the northeastern part of the state of Wisconsin, a focused representation was still lacking. While anyone in the state can join the WFU regardless of if their county has their own chapter, it’s admittedly harder to feel involved, and to stay involved, when your representation is so far away.
Rick Adamski, a third-generation farmer from Seymour, WI who doubles as the District 8 Director for WFU and was a driving force in the founding of the new Lake to Bay Chapter, said, “The services that the Wisconsin Farmers Union supplies are absolutely beneficial, but most importantly they provide a strong boost in local awareness for those in any particular area. The increasing membership and activity levels in the southeastern WFU groups further demonstrated the need for a similar structure in the northeastern part of the state, creating a voice for agriculture that’s not being well-represented by elected officials.”
Jodi Parins, a member of the new Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter and one of the founders of the Rural Enterprise Network, said it best when she stated:
“To say I was disappointed in how small family farms were being harmed by the industrialized model would be an understatement. Legislation was being drafted by the CAFO lobby group and it was harmful to the rural economy; no one was representing the families that put their blood, sweat, and tears into their 40 or 60 head farms and into our communities, and no one spoke up for grazers or for the alternative farmers like the sheep or goat operations. I realized that there was a great opportunity to change the downward spiral for these people with the Wisconsin Farmers Union, and forming a local Chapter was step one.”
And so, on a chilly January day in 2018, the Lake to Bay Farmers Union was formed by a unanimous vote of the attending individuals to represent the northeastern portion of the state.
Since that time, the new Lake to Bay Farmers Union has been busy building its base – with their own unique logo, a Facebook page, and officers in place for the remainder of 2018, the chapter now looks to the future and toward how they can start making a difference. As Wisconsin moves into the busy summer season for farmers, the Lake to Bay Chapter is lining up events in conjunction with local family farm days and dairy breakfasts. The chapter has also made some excellent connections with Slo Farmers Co-op, New Leaf Market, the Oneida Nation, and the Wisconsin School Garden Network, and they’re just getting started.
Jodi continues, “I firmly believe that if the Lake to Bay Chapter can build our presence and speak up for all the independent family farmers in the area that we will see a preservation of and even a resurgence in the sustainable farming communities that once dominated the region.”
Using solid principles of agriculture of to create a healthy food system and healthy economies is really the basis for this chapter, as it should be for all of today’s small-town farming industries. And that’s what you can expect to see from Wisconsin’s newest Farmers Union chapter as they work towards a brighter future for small and family farms.