Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part article. The first part was published in the Oct. 8 issue of Agri-View.
Our nation desperately needs a new generation of farmers to nurture the land and produce wholesome food. The strength of our nation depends upon it. In Wisconsin near Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay there are many small farms producing food for local and regional consumers.
Michaela Fisher majored in natural resources at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. She may return to the Chequamegon Bay area, as many Northland graduates do, but for now she’s close to home in New York state working on a graduate degree.
Her start in agriculture began early.
“I grew up on 21 acres on a dead-end road,” she said. “My family has always had livestock. Being in 4-H as a kid nurtured my love for agriculture. I loved showing livestock in the fair, and took great pride in it.”
Though she’s busy with graduate school she still finds time to farm.
“Northland College taught me that everything is connected, and how nature and farming can work together,” she said. “I learned how climate change can either be hindered or helped by agriculture, depending on your practices. I engage in agriculture because it is good for the environment, makes me happy, and is more humane and healthier than the alternatives. I raise my own chicken and duck for meat and this year I’m raising my own pork. These animals all get a chance to feel grass under their feet, see the sun rise and have space to run. I also have dairy goats. I make cheese, yogurt and soap.”
Riley Kaiser grew up in the Dejope area near Madison, Wisconsin.
“It’s a unique place with incredibly fertile soil, sacred earth mounds and very vibrant local agriculture,” she said. “At age 13 I started working at an organic farm as a weeder.”
During several years Riley also harvested, packed and vended at farm markets.
“My time on that family farm instilled in me a deep love and respect for physical labor and illuminated a lot of the privileges I had as a suburban kid,” she said. “Most of my co-workers worked longer, harder days than I did, and would work restaurant jobs on the weekends so they could send money home and provide for their families on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I am currently growing food and medicine at Diaspora Gardens on Moniwaanikaaning (Madeline Island). We grow in service to the land and our communities. My time at Northland College broadened and deepened my passion for growing food while exposing me to a broad variety of ways to move through and be in the world. I was in the Growing Connections academic track, where we approached the history, science, stories and spirituality of growing food and being in such an openly intimate relationship with life and death.”
“When we say yes to food grown on small-scale farms we’re affirming that everyone’s time and energy is valuable and deserves fair compensation. It’s a privilege to live in alignment with my values in such a meaningful and concrete way. I believe it is a human right that we should all have. Growing food and medicine in ways that regenerate the land and disrupt systems of abuse helps to create a world in which we all are free. It gets us one step closer to all of us being able to live out our values whole-heartedly.”
Karl Solibakke isn’t a farmer. He’s the president of Northland College, one of the schools in Wisconsin that has been helping young people along the path to becoming farmers.
“The mission and vision of Northland are firmly rooted in the idea of sustainability, environmental sensitivity and understanding that change has to occur to secure the future of food systems and our values,” he said. “It comes down to the idea that we are working to support a sense of humanity and equity across our area.
“There is a certain attraction to this area. Students come from other places and become enamored with the region – the lake, the ruggedness of the area and the climate. That makes it more exciting to be here. It’s so incredibly beautiful. I’ve seen any number of people who come here and want to spend the rest of their lives here. The emphasis on sustainability and social justice, and now climate justice, plays strongly into our Sustainable Agriculture minor. We are looking at ways we can create systems that are productive and allow for continual delivery of food to the people of this area.
“The path that we have chosen to take is one that will create an intergenerational equity so that people will still love this place 100 years from now. Sustainable agriculture is a way to create a food system that is not exploitative, but is living in harmony with this region.”
Some people live to farm. They may own their own operations that feed a community, grow mainly to feed their own family and friends, or work on operations owned by others. They often are introduced to agriculture early. They attend schools that nurture and teach the farmer in them. They have help from farmers, landowners and programs to begin the farming life. And of course they need customers who know and value farmers.
The next generation of farmers is here. We just need to help them start on that path.
Jason Maloney is an “elderly” farm boy from Marinette County, Wisconsin. He’s a retired educator, a retired soldier and a lifelong Wisconsin resident. He lives on the shore of Lake Superior with his wife, Cindy Dillenschneider, and Red, a sturdy loyal Australian Shepherd.