ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) honored four of its members for their service to agriculture and Farmers Union during their annual banquet, Nov. 20.
Alan Perish of Todd County received the Lifetime Service Award. A retired dairy farmer, Perish has been active in MFU for more than 20 years. He’s earned several awards for member recruitment, and he’s been a delegate to the state convention for more than 20 years.
“Receiving this award is an honor. It’s been a privilege to work with so many qualified and understanding great people,” Perish said. “We need an organization that supports the smaller and mid-sized family farmers because the larger farmers’ interests are protected by agribusiness where the smaller farmers stand on their own with the assistance of organizations like Farmers Union.”
Rice County farmer Steven Read received the Distinguished County Officer Award. Read operates Shepherd’s Way Farms sheep dairy with his wife, Jodi, and their four sons. He has been a lifelong advocate for family farms, small towns and rural development.
“Minnesota Farmers Union is a true supporter for Minnesota’s family farmers and for all Minnesotans and I’m grateful to be part of it,” Read said. “I continue to be impressed by all the ways the Farmers Union responds to farmers’ concerns, creating real change that helps keep our Minnesota farm families farming and rural Minnesota strong.”
Melany Thomas of Clay County was named the MFU Rising Star. She has farmed on her own for three years. She raises organic small grains and soybeans. Thomas is a graduate of MFU’s New Leader Academy and served on the National Farmers Union (NFU) Policy Committee in 2022.
“It was a shock to learn that I won the Rising Star award,” Thomas said. “It’s really cool to be recognized for my efforts. I like the fact that Farmers Union is very diverse and there are such a variety of farmers working together. I like that we can have different political views, but the same values.”
Madeline Schultz of Faribault was named the Ag Educator of the Year. Schultz has grown the agricultural education program in Faribault from 90 students in 2020 to 415 students in 2022.
“Earning this award is a very humbling experience,” Schultz said. “When I started the program in 2020, I had hopes for what it could become. Being able to expose a group of students to an industry that means a lot to myself and my family in the school I graduated from has been a great experience and makes me excited for what the futures holds.”
“It was an honor for me to recognize these members for their leadership,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “Each of them is making a difference for family farm agriculture.”
Members adopt special orders, elect delegates to national convention
Minnesota Farmers Union members adopted special orders and elected delegates to the National Farmers Union Convention at their 81st annual state convention.
The main purpose of the convention is to debate and pass the organization’s policy platform, which is developed by members at the grassroots level. Delegates debated policy surrounding health care reform, federal farm programs, a grain indemnity fund and supporting beginning farmers.
They also passed five special orders of business:
- Making health care affordable and accessible.
- Limiting corporate control and ensuring competitive markets.
- Expanding local and regional processing.
- Creating climate resilience.
- Passing a comprehensive farm bill in 2023.
The special orders of business are the organization’s main legislative priorities for the upcoming year. They are a timely message to policymakers about what Farmers Union members want them to act on in the near term.
Delegates were elected to represent Minnesota Farmers Union at the National Farmers Union Convention, March 5-7 in San Francisco, Calif. Delegates from across the nation will gather to debate National Farmers Union policy. MFU member Melany Thomas of Clay County will chair the national policy committee.
Delegates who will represent Minnesota:
- John Beaton, St. Louis County
- Karen Benitt, Marshall County
- Hannah Bernhardt, Pine County
- Eric Hatlested, Kandiyohi County
- Larry Jacobson, Clay County
- Danny Lundell, Goodhue County
- Tessa Parks, Rice County
- Paul Sobocinski, Redwood County
- John Thormodson, Blue Earth County
- Harmon Wilts, Swift County
Seminars on carbon markets, meat processing, insurance and women in leadership
Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) kicked off its 81st annual state convention with four panel discussions.
The first, “Meat Processing: Update on MFU’s Efforts to Build a System that is More Distributed, Resilient and Fair,” provided an update on MFU’s work with Ridgewater and Central Lakes colleges, member leaders and a wide array of other partners to train the next generation of meat cutters in Minnesota and address the bottleneck in local and regional meat processing.
“For the first time in over 15 years, students are learning the art of meat cutting in our state,” said Sabrina Portner, who farms with her family in Brown County and serves as a Graduate Research Assistant with MFU and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. “As a student and farmer, it’s been energizing to see this progress and how MFU members have contributed to it through advocacy, applied research and working to build new models for meat processing. We’ve got a long way to go, but as a farmer I’m counting on our success.”
Last year, many members starting asking questions about carbon markets and MFU partnered with Farmers Legal Action Group and other organizations to produce a “Farmer’s Guide to Carbon Markets.” Members saw an advance draft of the report and discussed a variety of carbon market contracts during the panel, “Carbon Markets: An Introduction to a Farmer’s Guide on Navigating the ‘Wild West’ of Carbon Markets.”
“Farmers’ Legal Action Group is dedicated to providing legal services and support to family farmers to keep them on the land,” said Lindsay Kuehn, FLAG staff attorney. “That is why it was crucial for us to be a part of this project, along with MDA (Minnesota Department of Agriculture) and MFU, to promote fairness and transparency in the carbon marketplace.”
The third panel, “Women in Leadership: How Elevating Women into Leadership Positions Strengthens Membership Organizations,” was a lively discussion about how to create a stronger Farmers Union with more equal representation. Women represent 36 percent of farm owners and are the fastest growing demographic of farmers in the United States.
“The value of gender diversity in the workplace is widely acknowledged. The research shows that women bring different perspectives and approaches to business and leadership, resulting in more inclusive workplaces and often better performance for organizations – including better financial performance,” said Claudine Arndt, MFU Membership and Minnesota Cooks Director. “I appreciate the insightful perspectives and stories our panelists brought to this important ongoing conversation.”
The final panel, “Insurance 101: Don’t Let Disaster Strike Twice,” provided information about protecting farms and families during these volatile times.
“There will be many disruptions in the insurance industry as we go into 2023 to due key factors such as inflation, weather events, poor investment returns and reinsurance,” said Josh Vickerman, President of Farmers Union Agency. “I talked about what you can do to best protect family and farm to prevent disaster from striking twice.”
Author Sarah Vogel speaks
Sarah Vogel, author of “The Farmer’s Lawyer: The North Dakota Nine and the Fight to Save the Family Farm,” was the keynote speaker at the 81st annual Minnesota Farmers Union banquet.
Vogel, of Bismarck, N.D., is an attorney and former politician whose career has focused on family farmers and ranchers. In 1988, Vogel became the first woman in U.S. history to be elected as a state commissioner of agriculture. In 2006, the American Agricultural Law Association awarded her its Distinguished Service Award for contributions to the field of agriculture law, and Willie Nelson honored her at Farm Aid’s 30th anniversary in 2015 for her service to farmers.
“I’ve known Sarah for years. She has spent her career protecting family farmers and advocating for farmer’s rights,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “The groundbreaking work she did in the 1980s was critical to the survival of many family farmers and many of the programs that are so crucial to farmer’s rights today were started by Sarah and her colleagues during the dark days of the 1980s farm crisis. It was an honor to have her join us at convention.”
Rob Larew, president of National Farmers Union also spoke to the more than 325 members and guests gathered for the banquet.
“Minnesota Farmers Union continues to lead the fight for fair treatment of family farmers,” Larew said. “We have many challenges facing us today as monopolization of agriculture, climate change, and razor-thin farm margins continue to threaten the viability of our communities. By working together, the Farmers Union family is best equipped to meet these challenges head-on and to the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.”
MFU draws winning Trustbuster ticket at annual convention
Just before the 81st annual Minnesota Farmers Union state convention concluded on Nov. 20, the winning name was drawn in the Trustbuster raffle.
The Trustbuster is a Polaris Ranger 1000 wrapped in Fairness for Farmers graphics. It was raffled to raise awareness of the devastating impact corporate consolidation has had on family farm agriculture and to raise money for the Minnesota Farmers Union Foundation.
Brianna Johnson of Kasota was the lucky winner. Both she and her husband, Andrew, purchased tickets.
“We wanted to support the Farmers Union,” Johnson said. “This is the first thing I’ve ever won.”
The term Trustbuster is a throwback to the 1880s when activists began demanding states pass antitrust laws to make monopolistic practices illegal. In 1890, Congress passed the first national antitrust law, the Sherman Act. The Clayton Act, passed in 1914, more clearly defined anti-competitive business practices. The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 is designed to protect poultry, hog and beef farmers from unfair, deceptive and anti-competitive practices in the meat markets.
Farmers Union believes now is the time to reinvigorate those laws and launched the Fairness for Farmers campaign in fall 2021 to gather stories and push for legislative changes.
“Profitable farmers of all sizes are essential for small towns and rural communities to survive and thrive,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “With our concentrated marketplace, there are fewer options for farmers and consumers. We need healthy competition for our capitalist society to work and Farmers Union has advocated for policies that support farmers and farm families, workers and consumers since its founding in 1902 in Point, Texas.
The Minnesota Farmers Union Foundation funds an anti-trust legal fellowship and also a variety of activities in the meat processing, youth, local foods and climate spaces.
Learn more about the Fairness for Farmers campaign at https://nfu.org/fairness-for-farmers/.
The 81st annual Minnesota Farmers Union State Convention was Nov. 18-20 at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Minneapolis Northeast, Minneapolis.
About Minnesota Farmers Union
Minnesota Farmers Union works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life of family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. MFU is a nonprofit membership-based organization. Membership is open to everyone. Learn more and join at www.mfu.org and follow MFU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
— Minnesota Farmers Union