Founded in a time of political upheaval and amid the Great Depression, Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) was chartered in 1930 by farmers who recognized they were stronger together. This member-driven organization continues to serve farmers and allies across political divides and to annually determine policy issues. WFU members span the full spectrum of farming. Ranging from “conventional farmers to organic and rural to urban, Wisconsin Farmers Union members find community in an organization that empowers them to have a voice in the issues that affect them,” says WFU Director of Communications Danielle Endvick.
With 27 chapters, WFU’s reach across the state is vast. Through field days, film screenings, potlucks, and other events, these chapters bring concerns from farm kitchen tables to WFU’s annual convention, which draws farmers from across the state to deliberate issues and set the agenda for WFU’s work throughout the upcoming year. Wisconsin Farmers Union’s was founded to set and advocate for policy to improve life on family farms and in their communities, and hundreds of farmers now carry on that tradition at convention each year.
Endvick notes that while the union was ahead of its time in crafting farmer-led conservation even when she first signed on nearly a decade ago, the organization has continued to strengthen the farmer’s role in addressing climate change and water quality. She explains that while there are still some skeptics, many members recognize changes in the climate—from water shortages out West, to historic flooding, to extreme temperatures—and the narrative surrounding climate change in rural Wisconsin has started to shift. Farmers Union’s policies acknowledge that “a bold proposal to transform our society is needed to address the effects of climate change, to ensure food security, a healthy landscape, climate mitigation, and to attain a prosperous rural American through a strong family farm system of agriculture.”
One step in that direction is the strengthening of regional food systems to reduce transportation inefficiencies in the food system, and one program the Farmers Union program is doing just that while addressing food security. The Wisconsin Local Food Directory, part of the new Local Food Purchase Assistance program, was developed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when many shelves were empty and people struggled to get fresh produce. The program aims to strengthen local and regional food systems, support Wisconsin farmers, and distribute locally-sourced nutritious foods to underserved communities. Launching this summer, the public online directory, features a map of local farms, helping bridge the gap between farmers and consumers, while also making it easier for hunger relief organizations to access local food. Consumers will be able to go online and learn more about individual farms through their listings. Through this program, WFU hopes to form connections between Wisconsinites and their local farmers.
Through WFU, farmers and family farm supporters continue to act as stewards of these lands, strengthening local food systems, and helping guide policy decisions for future generations.