I’m delighted that this week’s guest blogger is Daniel Tucker, co-author with Amy Franceschini of Farm Together Now. He’s been touring all over the US the past few months getting the word out about all the incredible farmers and farms featured in this book.
Michael Pollan had this to say about the book a few months ago:
“My favorite book of the season is Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places and Ideas for a New Food Movement, by Amy Franceschini and Daniel Tucker. It consists of interviews with a wide range of farmers (and activists) who you haven’t heard of. Inspiring without being romantic in the least, it advances the whole conversation about sustainable agriculture and access.”
Do you work on a farm, or participate in a community-supported agriculture program? Do you have a community garden, and if not, have you thought about joining or starting one? Let us know by posting a comment on the blog and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of this special book that I’ll be giving away at random.
Connecting the Dots from Wisconsin, Milk Prices and Farm Together Now
Last week I went to Wisconsin to show my support to the workers and residents who are trying to keep their right to unionize and dispute the influence of corporate money in influencing elections. I also went to check out Tractorade organized by Family Farm Defenders, an organization featured in the book I recently co-authored: Farm Together Now: A Portrait of People, Places and Ideas for a New Food Movement. Seeing the participation of Wisconsin farmers in the rally in Madison symbolized to me the kind of intersections of concerns that I encountered back in the summer of 2009 when Amy, Anne and I traveled the country working on our book. Interviewing people from Santa Cruz to Atlanta for Farm Together Now confirmed for me that the “food movement” so many of us are talking about is nothing if it doesn’t connect the dots to other parts of life. Food is a lens through which we can talk to all sorts of people about the economy, personal health, workers rights and sustainable care for the earth’s resources.
In Wisconsin I saw Joel Greeno, one of the farmers featured in our book. As usual Joel was coordinating a meeting or discussing what happened at the day’s action on his phone. When we first met in 2009, Joel was protesting the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the influence that their financial market has on food prices around the world – especially dairy farmers like him and his Family Farm Defender friends. They were making connections between their small town in Wisconsin, food riots in Middle East and Africa, the financial crisis, and food prices at the grocery store. There is no profession that can help us make the links in our human ecology clearer than the farmer.
Presented here is an excerpt of the interview that I did with Joel for Farm Together Now as a way to honor the fight they find themselves in today. Please check out Family Farm Defenders report on Tractorade and support your local farmer as they connect the dots.
Organizing body: 1
Scale: 160 acres of pasture
Type: for profit
Key crops: raw milk
In operation: since 1993
Third-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer Joel Greeno has been farming for more than fifteen years and is the current president of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association (ARMPPA), an organization of dairy farmers dedicated to establishing a raw milk price that returns to dairy producers their cost of production plus a profit.
Greeno is also the vice president of Family Farm Defenders, the founder of the Scenic Central Milk Producers Cooperative, and serves on the executive committee of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) as a representative of ARMPPA. NFFC is the U.S. branch of La Via Campesina, the largest farmer organization in the world. These folks make translocal connections between their Wisconsin life and peasant farmers all over the world, often traveling to farmer summits in Europe and Latin America.
Greeno participates in protests and advocacy for farmers’ rights while maintaining a head of forty dairy cows. On top of it all, he steals time to participate in tractor pulls with his friends on the weekends.
Interview with Joel Greeno
Did you grow up on a dairy farm?
Joel Greeno, founder: Oh, yeah. I’ve been milking cows since I was ten years old. But ever since I could walk I was in the barn, doing chores of some kind, or feeding cows or calves. During harvest season, I was bailing hay and unloading hay and mowing hay. I spent all summer putting it up and all winter feeding it up. I bought this place in 1990 and then brought cattle here in ’93. Been farming here ever since.
Could you say a little bit about the land and the context here?
There are a lot of traditional family farms here, and a lot of these farmers pasture one single lot that’s used continuously throughout the summer. But I do rotational grazing, whereby you rotate the cow every few days throughout individual managed paddocks. This way, there isn’t as much fuel going through tractors and equipment, and I cut down on fossil fuel too by not using commercial fertilizers. I’m probably looked at as the oddball because of that.
What motivated you to attend your first meeting around farmer activist work?
In October 1996, “Black Friday” happened: Farmers’ milk prices dropped six dollars a hundredweight over a two-month period—almost a 30 percent drop at the time. It left all farmers in an income crunch, struggling to pay bills. People’s parents were getting put out of business. I began to wonder, “Why?”
In February ’97, I was invited to a meeting of the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association. I met John Kinsman, Francis Goodman, and others; joined the organization; and eighteen months later I became president.
What led you to establish the Scenic Central Milk Producers Cooperative?
I recruited a group of farmers who’d agreed to be the interim directors of the co-op, and they filed the articles of incorporation. We were naive to think we could have a co-op up and running in a month or two—we ended up fighting state of Wisconsin red tape for ten months to obtain all of our permits and inspections.
In ten years’ time, we were able to grow from the smallest co-op in the United States to the fortieth largest in the country. We’re very successful in what we do: marketing farmers’ milk, paying top prices, providing excellent services, providing retirement plans in the form of Roth IRAs, Christmas bonuses . . . things to benefit farmers.
What inspired you to join so many organizations and coalitions?
Meeting John Kinsman and also becoming a member of the American Raw Milk Producers (ARMPPA)—and eventually becoming the vice president. Through that organization and Family Farm Defenders, we look at the whole picture; we know we’re not going to fix the milk situation by just dealing with milk. Everything is interwoven, and in order to save dairy farmers, we have to look at all farmers and take on the actions to protect all farmers, whether they are milking cows, organic or conventional, or raising corn and beans.