Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) honored several individuals for their dedication to family farmers at the 92nd annual Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention Dec. 9-11th. The event drew more than 200 farmers to Wisconsin Dells for a weekend of networking, educational workshops and grassroots policymaking.
Friend of the Family Farmer
WFU recognized two Friends of the Family Farmer, Joy Kirkpatrick and Mandela Barnes. First given in 2013, the award recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in efforts on behalf of family farmers and rural communities.
Kirkpatrick has worked in the University of Wisconsin since 1993. She began her university career as a county-based Dairy & Livestock Extension Agent. In 2004 she became the Outreach Specialist for the Center for Dairy Profitability, earning distinguished status in 2019. She has facilitated hundreds of farm succession discussions with farm families, organizing programs like “Returning to the Farm” and “Shifting Gears for Your Later Farming Years.” She also helps farmers address stress and access mental health care through Wisconsin’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. Joy grew up on a hog farm in Southern Illinois.
“The work Joy has done around farmer mental health through the years has undoubtedly saved lives,” said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. “Her ongoing work to support family farm transitions helps ensure the future of Wisconsin agriculture.”
Von Ruden noted the WFU Board of Directors’ decision to honor Lt. Gov. Barnes was not taken lightly, given the organization’s nonpartisan nature.
“After watching Mandela reach out to family farmers and rural Wisconsinites this year during his ‘Barnes to Barns’ tour, we wanted to recognize his efforts,” Von Ruden said. “Mandela was the first candidate in a long while who truly seemed to tune into the issues that mattered on our farms and in our communities.”
Barnes, the son of a school teacher and a United Auto Workers member, became Wisconsin’s first African American Lieutenant Governor in 2019. Born and raised in Milwaukee, he attended Milwaukee Public Schools and Alabama A&M University and has become a recognized leader on issues of economic justice, racial equity, and sustainability. At age 25, Mandela was elected to the State Assembly, serving two terms.
Barnes oversaw the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, where he gave farmers a seat at the table and invited WFU to help lead the discussion. This past summer and fall, during his run for Senate, Mandela visited WFU member farms and attended WFU’s candidate roundtables that focused on small businesses and family farm issues — even after other candidates opted to no-show.
“Mandela truly showed up, and we look forward to seeing how he continues to show up for Wisconsin,” Von Ruden said. “We wish him all the best in his next chapter and look forward to seeing how he continues to be a Friend of the Family Farmer.”
Jane Hansen of Ogema received the Builders Award, which recognizes outstanding commitment to building Farmers Union through county involvement, leadership development and member recruitment.
Hansen is an officer of the Taylor-Price Farmers Union and shepherdess of Autumn Larch Farm, located near Ogema. She has opened up her farm to educate others about regenerative agriculture and to share the techniques she has learned in the pursuit of healthy sheep, high quality wool, environmental stewardship, and a commitment to the regional economy. This fall Hansen, who is also an active member of Three Rivers Fibershed, pulled together collaborative partners, including WFU, for the inaugural Farm and Fiber Tour. The event included tour stops on farms throughout western Wisconsin and educated community members about farming practices.
“Jane has strengthened WFU’s visibility in her region and beyond,” Von Ruden said. “She is also active in policy discussions, educating other farmers about the value of farmed fiber for textiles. Farmers Union is stronger due to her leadership and collaborative spirit.”
This is the third year that WFU presented a special Emerging Leader award to an individual who has ignited energy and engagement in WFU. This year’s Emerging Leader is Paul Adams.
Until 2020, Adams and his wife, Joann, and daughter, Becky, operated a 900-cow organic dairy farm in Eleva. Adams Dairy had been in his family for nearly 150 years before a crash in the organic dairy market forced the family to make the difficult decision to sell the herd. Adams went into dairy farming after graduating from high school in 1970, starting out with 30 cows and attending the UW Short Course.
Adams has been heavily involved with WFU’s Dairy Together efforts, attending two fly-ins with WFU in 2022 to promote the Dairy Revitalization Plan.
“Despite his family’s loss, Paul continues to have a passion for Wisconsin agriculture,” Von Ruden said. “While many people in his situation could have turned completely away from agriculture, Paul has taken the challenges life has thrown at him and has let the adversity mold him into a strong advocate for his fellow farmers.”
Bruce Miller Award
WFU also announced that Cathy Statz was chosen to receive the 2023 Bruce Miller award, which will be presented at the National Farmers Union Convention in San Francisco in March.
The award is named in honor of the late Bruce Miller, who was an active member WFU and served on the staff of Minnesota Farmers Union. It recognizes individuals within Farmers Union who display a true passion for family farming and rural America, while promoting the work of Farmers Union.
Statz wrapped up her Farmers Union career in 2022, after 30 years staffing and 41 summer participating in the camp program. She spent her childhood on a 50-cow dairy farm near Sauk City and grew up attending Farmers Union meetings. Prior to joining WFU full-time, Statz spent four summers working on the WFU and NFU camp staff. She dedicated her career to cooperative education and advancing the quality of life for farm families, rural communities, and all people in her work with Farmers Union.
“Cathy’s reach in Farmers Union went far beyond the education department,” Von Ruden said. “She was often the first face of Farmers Union for new members, as they dropped campers off at Kamp Kenwood, or out and about at the countless dairy breakfasts, college career fairs, and cooperative events that she attended. Cathy instilled institutional knowledge and a cooperative spirit in those around her, and left an undeniable mark on this organization.”
Statz moved to Poland with her husband, Tom. He teaches at an international school; she continues to work remotely on projects that fit her passion: cooperative education.
Learn more about WFU’s work on behalf of family farmers at www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.