Family Farm Defenders is seeking nominations and sponsorships for the 2017 John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize!


Deadline to submit your nominee for the 2017 John Kinsman Prize is Jan. 16th!
The criteria to be nominated include: jk
Engaged in own farm for less than 5 years        
Small scale livestock and/or vegetable and/or fruit production
Market products locally
Practice sustainable management of natural resources
Promote healthy soil
Conserve biodiversity
Support food sovereignty principles
Winners of the prize will be honored at an award dinner held in conjunction with the Food Sovereignty Symposium and Celebration at UW-Madison on Sat. March 11th, 2017
Please send name(s) and complete contact information of your nominee(s) by Jan. 16th, 2017 to:
Family Farm Defenders PO Box 1772 Madison, WI 53701
Tel/Fax. 608-260-0900   or  email: 
Sponsors of the 2017 John Kinsman Prize will also receive mention in the celebration program, and any sponsorship donation over $100 will also receive two complimentary tickets to the award dinner itself.
Tax deductible donations to “Family Farm Defenders” can be sent to the address above.  You can also make an online donation through Razoo on our website:
Previous prize winners include: 2011: Lindsey Morris Carpenter of Grassroots Farm, near Monroe, WI, and Daniel and Hannah Miller of Easy Yoke Farm near Millville MN; in 2012: Nancy and Jeff Kirstein, Good Earth Farm, Lennox SD and Tracy and Dick Vinz, Olden Produce, Ripon, WI; 2014: Blain Snipstal of Five Seeds Farm near Sparks, MD and Jed Schenkier and Will Pool of Loud Grade Produce Squad in Chicago, IL; 2015 Carsten Thomas of Moorhead, MN and Polly Dalton and Oren Jakobson of Field Notes Farm near Amherst, WI; and in 2016 Donald (Jahi) Ellis from Vidalia, GA and Emmet Fisher and Cella Langer of Oxheart Farm near Mt. Horeb, WI.
Thanks for your support of food sovereignty and please spread the word!
Posted in Food Sovereignty | Leave a comment

The Trans Pacific Partnership Will Not Help Struggling Farmers

By: Jim Goodman, FFD board member and dairy farmer near Wonewoc, WI

Jim Goodman at TPP protestA recent 10/26/16 Associated Press article ( noted that Wisconsin dairy producers “see nothing but advantages” if the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) were passed during the final session of Congress.

A more accurate statement would be that some dairy producers see nothing but advantages. I am at a loss to understand how dairy producers would see any advantages to yet another “free trade” agreement. We have had a series of trade agreements over the past decades, all promising advantages for farmers, well, advantages for everyone, and I am waiting, when can we expect these advantages to come to fruition?

Do dairy farmers who support the passage of TPP assume it will mean increased money in their pockets? That would clearly be an advantage, but if the history of trade agreements is any indication of increased profits for farmers, they may be betting the farm on loosing odds.

Proponents of the TPP say it will open borders and increase exports of US dairy products, but increasing farm exports does not equate with increased farmer profit. Increased exports will, however, mean higher profits for multinational corporations who, in essence, wrote the text of TPP.

Economist Mark Stephenson at the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability notes that “we’d have the opportunity to sell, we would also have to open our borders” “dairy is a major focus for all the players”. And, one might ask, why assume that the “other players” in TPP are not continuing to build their own dairy production capabilities? Do they need or will they even want our exports?

Trade does go both ways, and US dairy farmers should be wary of opening US borders to more dairy imports from say, New Zealand, where low cost dairy production has been taken to an art form. The National Milk Producers Federation tells us that US dairy farmers will loose billions of dollars to New Zealand’s dairy imports under TPP–-not a good deal.

And its not just dairy, when beef prices rose to a point where US producers were able to make a profit, USDA allowed increased imports from South America and Africa, (including areas with endemic foot and mouth disease) to drive down US farm prices. TPP will make unrestricted imports a regular occurrence.

TPP has very little to do with free trade, we already have trade agreements with 6 of the other 11 countries that are part of the TPP. Trade barriers are already very low, so if these countries wanted to import more US dairy products or anything else, there is little to stop them.

TPP is really about protectionism, protecting the global corporations that profit by moving goods around the world, buying low and selling high. Producers (be they farmers or factory workers) in the global economy seldom sell their product to the end user, that is done by the middle-man, the multinational corporations. These multinational giants ultimately take any available profit and continue the trend of redistribution of wealth upward at the expense of those on the bottom and the few who remain in the middle.

It makes little sense for US dairy farmers to continue to increase milk production when farm-gate prices are below the cost of production, yet that is what we are told we must do— continue to produce and look for foreign markets to dump our surplus and hope for a little profit.

Fair farm prices, ending imports of low priced foreign dairy components, encouraging local, regional and national markets that are fairly and honestly regulated, and an end to the get big or get out mentality that has fostered the consolidation of agriculture and decline of rural America, that would seem to be a more sensible path.

If dairy farmers really believe that their only path to profitability lies in following the advice of the agribusiness industry –- to grow, produce more, get more efficient, if they truly believe in the neo-liberal economic model, if they wish to believe that they can prosper and “call the shots” in a global economy controlled by multinational corporations— well, good luck.

Posted in Fair Trade | Comments Off

The Revolution is Community – Naim Edwards, Voices for Earth Justice, 9/15/16

       The “world hunger” discussion – certainly in the media – focuses on the overdeveloped nations and wealthy individuals figuring out how to help and provide resources for less industrialized nations to feed themselves. Whether it’s the G8, Monsanto, the Gates Foundation, or any other corporate entity, their answer to solving world hunger includes economic growth and some new agriculture technology. Both of those solutions are misinformed and unnecessary. The solution is actually quite simple; the people experiencing hunger probably know the answer better than most. World hunger will cease to be an issue when all people have the right to produce and share food as they see fit.

            When examined from a political lens, world hunger is fundamentally a power issue. Governments have co-opted the power of their people in order to join the rat race of capitalism; corporations also deceive governments and people with false promises of a better quality of life once they’re given permission to establish themselves. The creation of world hunger probably began with the onslaught of colonialism and continues with the perpetuation of neoliberalism through trade agreements and more militarized foreign affairs. In both cases, stable populations of people are coerced into divesting of power, which leads to increased dependence on global forces.

            Local people power can neither be measured by weapons technology nor GDP.  Rather, the power of a community can be qualified by the health of individuals and their bonds with one another. When a group of people is healthy and has strong relationships built on trust, it possesses resilience. Food production gives people the power to sustain themselves. Moreover, a society that supports agriculture that is healing to the Earth and its people is arguably the fundamental building block of civilization. Regarding world hunger, it is clear that widespread starvation is the result of taking a population and individuals’ ability to feed themselves.

            With this understanding, it is encouraging to know the solution to hunger is clear; give the power back. Stated differently, countries and corporations must acknowledge and allow populations of people to have food sovereignty. Via Campesina, the world’s strongest grassroots organization fighting for food sovereignty defines it as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” As simple as it sounds, there is strong opposition to the food sovereignty movement. Such a model does not play into and benefit the profit driven model so many countries and companies adhere to.

            Nonetheless, the movement has been named and defined and people all over the world are pursuing it. More importantly, groups of people are organizing collectively, and one organization doing that in the United States is the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA). The USFSA is dedicated to ending poverty and bringing forth more democratic control over the food system locally, nationally, and globally. The alliance also hosts the Food Sovereignty Prize, an annual event that honors organizations leading the food sovereignty movement.

            This years honorees are the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). Both organizations are challenging systems of oppression through organizing people experiencing injustice in the food system. They also practice principles of agroecology, which seek to incorporate culture, activism, and ecologically sound practices into food production. Thanks to the efforts of AFSA and FWAF world hunger is not simply being addressed by feeding people or making them conform to foreign food production techniques. These grassroots organizations are building resilient communities and recognizing the power and dignity of the people they serve.

Posted in Food Sovereignty | Leave a comment

Summer 2016 Defender Newsletter is published – Check it out!

If you enjoy the Family Farm Defender newsletter and would like to also receive a paper version in the mail, please become a member and make an online donation through Razoo!

You are also most welcome to share and/or reprint the articles below as long as you give credit to the individual authors and Family Farm Defenders as an organization.  Enjoy!

Summer 2016 Family Farm Defender newsletter









Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So You Want to Be a Farmer – Keynote Address by Prof. John Ikerd for the John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Ceremony – March 12, 2016 Madison

JohnIkerdKeynoteJKPrize2016When I was growing up, I wanted to be a farmer. I grew up on a small dairy farm in south Missouri before the rural electrification reached that part of the country. We milked cows by hand, twice a day, every day in my early years. So, I knew that farming wasn’t an easy way life. But I still wanted to be a farmer.  I didn’t leave the farm because of the hard work or lack of economic rewards but because there were five kids in my family and only one farm. I had other ideas of things I might also like to do. My younger brother has never wanted to do anything other than be a farmer. In spite of the odds against small farmers at the time, he has been able to make a good living on the “home farm” – and it is still small.


When I graduated from high school in 1957, poor kids of modest intelligence could still attend their state universities. I left for college with something like $300 in my pocket and was able to pay my way through college working in university cafeterias. After a three-year stint working with a large meatpacking company, I returned to graduate school and eventually earned my Ph.D. degree in agricultural economics. I ultimately concluded that I really wasn’t meant to be a farmer. I was meant do what I have been doing for the past 40 to 50 years: trying to understand how the world works and where we humans fit within it, so we can decide how best to live our lives. It took me quite a while, but I finally found my purpose.


Ironically, much of my 30-year academic career was focused on changing farming from a purposeful way of life to a bottom-line, profit-driven agribusiness. We told farmers to either “get big of get out,” because only large farms could achieve the economies of scale needed to be competitive. However, during the farm financial crisis of the 1980s, I was forced to confront the reality that there was no future in this kind of farming. I eventually understood that in order for some farmers to “get big,” others inevitably had to “get out” – even if they had to be forced out. If this process continued, I could see that eventually there would be no farmers left – just a handful of large corporate agribusinesses. Then, no one would have the choice of being a farmer.


Fortunately, the sustainable agriculture movement emerged in the 1980s. It was a response not only to the demise of family farms but also a variety of growing environmental and societal concerns.  Sustainable agriculture is about meeting the basic food needs of all in the present while leaving equal or better opportunities for both farmers and consumers in the future. Sustainable agriculture reflects an understanding that all economic value ultimately must come from the earth, and beyond self-sufficiency, must come by way of society. Sustainable farmers know they must be productive to meet the food needs of today but also must leave their land and their communities as healthy and productive as when it was passed down to them.


The sustainable agriculture movement reflects a commitment to continuing opportunities for new generations of farmers as well as new generations of consumers. It is a commitment firmly rooted in sense of purpose – not profits. Profits are necessary to support a desirable quality of farm life. But, profits are only a means of pursuing a purposeful way of life. The sustainable agriculture movement gave a new sense of purpose and direction to my professional and personal life, as it has for many farmers.


The sustainability movement has not changed the world, at least not yet, but it has come a long way since the early days of ridicule and marginalization by defenders of the economic status quo. Virtually every agricultural organization now has a sustainable agriculture initiative. Even large agribusiness organizations, such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Con-Agra proclaim their commitment to sustainability. However, such commitments are shallow: nowhere do they address sustainability as a purpose rather than a management strategy. In the absence of an organizational purpose, there is nothing to guide decision makers, other than the pursuit of individual self-interests – typically economic self-interests.


Sustainability is commonly defined in terms of its requisites: ecological integrity, social responsibility, and economic viability. In many cases, reduce, reuse, and recycle are accepted as proxies for ecological, social, and economic integrity. Substitution renewable energy for fossil energy is also a popular sustainable strategy. Incidentally, such practices typically are deemed acceptable only if they also are more profitable. Similarly, sustainable farming is often defined in terms of “best management practices” or BMPs. Farmers are called sustainable if they reduce tillage to limit soil erosion, use cover crops to reduce pollution, use crop rotations and organic fertilizers to replace synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or perhaps put solar panels on their barns. Sustainable BMPs can be profitable – particularly with the aid of government subsidies.


However, practices are not purposes, regardless of how innovative, well-meaning, or good they may seem. While business strategies and farming practices can represent steps in the right general direction, sustainability is ultimately about purpose. The ultimate purpose of any sustainable organization, including a sustainable farm, must be to sustain a desirable quality of human life on earth – indefinitely into the future. Sustainability makes sense only if there is some positive purpose for sustaining humanity. If we humans have no purpose, the rest of the earth probably would be far better off without us. So, sustainability accepts as its fundamental premise that our lives individually and collectively have purpose. Furthermore, sustainability accepts that the purposes of our lives, individually and as members of humanity, are intrinsically good, rather than bad. Otherwise, the sooner the earth rids itself of humans, the better.


Current concerns about sustainability also reflect an understanding that the well-being of humans is integrally interrelated with all of the other living and non-living things of the earth. We depend on them for our well-being and they depend on us. Thus, sustainability is co-centric, meaning it is both human-centered and earth- or eco-centered. We and the other things of the earth have a common purpose to fulfill. To fulfill that purpose, we must care for each other and care for the earth. If we humans persist in failing to care for the earth, is questionable how long the earth can continue to care for us. People can choose whether or not to believe that life has purpose and whether the purpose of humanity is integral to achieving some greater common good. But without some worthy purpose for being, sustaining humanity make no sense.


So what does this have to do with being or not being a farmer? It suggests that sustainable farming must be a purposeful endeavor. It suggest those who choose to farm should have a sense that farming is their means of fulfilling their purpose in life. Farming is a “calling,” not just a job or occupation. Making money is a means of sustaining a farming operation but is certainly not a legitimate purpose for farming. First, there are many easier ways to make money than farming. More important, we now know that farming as a means of making money, or farming for the economic bottom-line, is not sustainable. This kind of farming hasn’t met even the basic food needs of many, if not most, people of current generations and it most certainly is not leaving equal or better opportunities for those of future generations. Simply changing farming practices, while necessary, will not be sufficient to achieve sustainability. Sustainability is a purpose.


I recently came across a blog piece on the National Young Farmers Coalition website. It began: “You want to be a farmer? [i]  That’s great news because we need a lot more farmers! But there are some things you should know before diving in:” The author is a young farmer who has been farming with her partner in the Pacific Northwest for more than 10 years. She went on to name five things that anyone who wants to be a farmer should understand:  1. Farming is really, really hard. (Let me stress that one more time….) 2. Farmers are not just farmers (They have to do a lot of other things.)  3. Farming can be dangerous. (You can get hurt farming.) 4. It takes money to make money (particularly to get into farming).


She finished with 5. “It’s the best work you’ll ever do.” She went on to explain: Do you want to feel completely satisfied and fulfilled by your work? Lay your head down at night knowing you are doing something that helps the planet and your fellow humans? There is nothing more satisfying than providing a basic need: food. I love what I do, and wouldn’t trade it for anything—sore muscles, financial risks, and all.”


I hear similar comments from young farmers who attend sustainable agriculture conferences all across the county. These farmers know they have to find some way to make a living economically, but that’s not why they want to be farmers. They feel they were meant to be farmers – that farming gives purpose and meaning to their lives. To help these young farmers, and anyone else who wants to help create a sustainable future for humanity, I have proposed an Ethic of Sustainability:  A thing is right when it tends to enhance the quality and integrity of life on earth by honoring the unique responsibilities and rewards of humans as members and caretakers of the earth’s integral community. A thing is wrong when it tends otherwise.


First, this ethic of sustainability goes beyond the current shallow approaches to practices and management strategies. The ethic suggests that some things farmers do are “right” and others are “wrong”. Questions of right and wrong are moral or ethical in nature and cannot be answered using currently accepted scientific methods. They are accepted or rejected as matters of belief or faith. For this reason, scientists tend to avoid them, and lacking a scientific basis, most sustainability advocates do so as well. Yet, I believe questions of right and wrong must be addressed if we are serious about sustainable agriculture or sustainability in general. Failing to do so has allowed questions of sustainability to be ignored by scientists, trivialized and coopted by corporations, and marginalized by government agencies.


As Pope Francis observes in his Encyclical Laudato Si, for Care of our Common Home, “we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption.”[ii]  I would add, superficial sustainability today is “bolstering complacency and cheerful recklessness” in American agriculture and is being used as a “license” for blatantly unsustainable farming.


Second, the ethic of sustainability focuses on the quality and integrity of life – both human and non-human life on earth. Living things are the only possible means of sequestering the energy necessary to sustaining human life on earth. Our food, our clothes, our houses, and our cars all require energy to make and energy to use. Everything of any use to us ultimately comes from the earth or nature – air, water, soil, minerals. However, it’s the earth’s energy that makes the other elements of nature useful to humans.


According to a basic law of physics, the law of entropy, whenever energy is used to do anything useful, some of its usefulness inevitably is lost. Only living things have the capacity to use solar energy to offset the tendency toward entropy by renewing and restoring the usefulness of nature. So humanity, and the agriculture that sustains humanity, ultimately must be sustained “by nature.” The emphasis on life also is important because farmers can’t see the loss of useful energy on their farms, but they can see the diminished quality of biological life in their soils, in their crops and livestock, and in the lives of the people who farm and live in rural communities. Sustainable farming must enhance life.


Third, the ethic of sustainability reflects an “integral worldview.” All life on earth, including human life, is viewed as integrally interconnected and interdependent, and all living things are integrally connected with all non-living things on earth.[iii] Ultimately, sustainability is about sustaining the ability of the earth to sustain itself as a living planet. A person’s worldview depends on his or her individual perception of “how the world works.” Since our worldviews determine what we accept as fact or truth, worldviews also are based on beliefs – not facts. Thus, acceptance or rejection of the “integral worldview” of sustainability is inherently a spiritual or philosophical decision.


Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Biodynamic farming, understood the earth as an organ within the larger organism of nature. He conceived of the farm – soil, plants, & animals – as an individual organ within the sub-organism of earth. He wrote: “A farm is true to its essential nature… if it is conceived as a kind of individual entity in itself.”[iv]  He considered the farmer to be an integral part of the farm. He wrote: “We, in our farm, are going about in the belly of the farm.” Steiner and other early advocates of organic farming embraced a worldview of the farm, the farmer, humanity, and earth as integral organs within the larger organism or whole of nature.


Finally, the ethic of sustainability reflects the purpose of human life on earth. It states that we are to honor our uniquely human responsibilities as both members and caretakers of the earth’s communities. Without purpose, there can be no responsibility. Nowhere is this human responsibility clearer than in farming. As Pope Francis states it: “The biblical texts are to be read in their context, recognizing that they tell us to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (Gen 2:15). ‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”[v]


Farmers’ responsibility as caretakers was clearly understood by the pioneers of sustainable agriculture. J. I. Rodale, wrote, “The organiculturist farmer must realize that in him is placed a sacred trust, the task of producing food that will impart health to the people who consume it. As a patriotic duty, he assumes an obligation to preserve the fertility of the soil, a precious heritage that he must pass on, undefiled and even enriched, to subsequent generations.”[vi] Sir Albert Howard began his classic book, An Agricultural Testament, with the assertion, “The maintenance of the fertility of the soil is the first condition of any permanent system of agriculture,”[vii] as a means of providing a foundation for a permanent society.


So, why should anyone want to farm? First, the opportunities for beginning farmers today are far greater than when I was growing up on south Missouri. Back then, the industrialization of agriculture was gaining momentum and there was no means stopping it from running its course. Today, the organic and local food movement reflect a growing rejection of industrial agriculture, creating opportunities for a different kind of agriculture with a different purpose: to produce good food for everyone, not just those with money, and to provide a good way of life for farmers – including a way to make a decent living. I wrote in the foreword of my book, Small Farms are Real Farms, “if I were 25-30 years old today I would choose the life of a farmer.”[viii]


I honestly don’t know if farming would ever have been the right choice for me. Only those who feel that farming is their calling or purpose in life should become farmers. That does not include all of us, but it does includes some of us. Those who are truly “called to farm,” must trust they will be able to find a means of sustaining a desirable quality of life – economically and otherwise. A world in which people were unable to fulfill their purpose, or would be miserable doing so, just doesn’t make sense – in farming or elsewhere.


Another good reason for being a farmer is that the pursuit of one’s purpose has rewards as well as responsibilities. As Pope Francis puts it: “We are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What need does the earth have of us? We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.”[ix] Our sense of self-worth, meaning, and happiness arise from a life of purpose. “Do you want to feel completely satisfied and fulfilled by your work? Lay your head down at night knowing you are doing something that helps the planet and your fellow humans? There is nothing more satisfying than providing a basic need: food.”[x]


We all have responsibilities as members and caretakers of the “earth’s integral community.” Farmers are just more directly and critically interconnected with the earth, and other beings that live within and upon the earth, than are most of us. As for the rest of us, we need to support those farmers who are faithful stewards of life with our food purchases and our public policy choices. We also need to find and pursue our unique purpose in life and be thankful that some people among us are “called to be farmers.”



End Notes

[1] Prepared for presentation at the John Kinsman Award Luncheon, hosted by the Family Farm Defenders, Madison, WI, March 12, 2016.

[2] John Ikerd is Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO – USA; Author of, Sustainable Capitalism-a Matter of Common Sense, Essentials of Economic Sustainability, A Return to Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms, Crisis and Opportunity-Sustainability in American Agriculture, and A Revolution of the Middle-the Pursuit of Happiness, all books available on Books and Kindle E-books.

Email:; Website: or .

[i] So You Want To Be A Farmer? First, Know This…. National Young Farmers Coalition, Posted By Chelsey Simpson On Monday, December 14, 2015,  .

[ii] Francis “Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home”. . (2015, May 24).  Retrieved from , para. 59.

[iii] For a deeper discussion of worldview and sustainability, see John Ikerd, Lonnie Gamble, and Travis Cox, “Deep Sustainability; The Essentials,” 2015

[iv] Rudolph Steiner, “The Agriculture Course Agriculture Course: Lecture 2,” On-line since: 26th June, 2007 .

[v] Francis, Laudato Si, para. 67.

[vi] J. I. Rodale, The Organiculturist’s Creed, Chapter 8. The organic front. Rodale press: Emmaus, PA, USA,1948. .

[vii] Sir Albert Howard, An agricultural testament. Oxford University Press: Oxford, England, 1940. also in Small Farms Library

[viii] John Ikerd, Small Farms are Real Farms, Sustaining People through Agriculture, (Austin, TX: Acres U.S.A., 2008).

[ix] Francis, Laudato Si, papa. 160.

[x] So You Want To Be A Farmer? First, Know This…. National Young Farmers Coalition, Posted By Chelsey Simpson On Monday, December 14, 2015,  .

Posted in Food Sovereignty | Comments Off