Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) honored several individuals for their dedication to family farmers at the 89th annual Wisconsin Farmers Union State Convention Jan. 31-Feb. 2. The event drew 300 farmers and rural allies to Rothschild for a weekend of networking, educational workshops and grassroots policymaking.
Hans and Katie Breitenmoser of Merrill and Dennis and Deb Rosen of Emerald received the Builders Award, which recognizes outstanding commitment to building Farmers Union through county involvement, leadership development and member recruitment.
“A Builders Award is long overdue for this couple, who have contributed much of their life to Farmers Union,” WFU President Darin Von Ruden said as he presented the award to the Rosens. “Deb and Dennis have worked tirelessly for the mission and values of Farmers Union.”
Deb and Dennis grew up on dairy farms in St. Croix County and raised their four children on the farm that has been in Dennis’ family since 1883. Their sons, Dave and Dan, continue to farm there today, milking 125 cows and raising crops.
Though known as a quiet man, Dennis has been a strong voice for family farmers. He has served the family farm organization in many roles, first as president of the Forest Local Farmers Union starting in 1970, then joining the WFU board in 1977 and representing Dunn, Pepin, Pierce and St. Croix Counties for 41 years. He served as the board president from 1988 to 1994. Through the years he spoke up for fair tax and trade policies and was a strong advocate on dairy issues. He also has served on the board of the WFU Foundation and Farmers Union Industries.
Dennis is the first to note that much of the credit for his Farmers Union efforts should fall on his wife, Deb, who was home raising their children and milking cows when he traveled. Deb has also been active in the local chapter, organizing meetings and serving for many years as a St. Croix County Farmers Union youth leader.
Hans and Katie Breitenmoser own and operate a dairy and crop farm in Lincoln County. They took over the farm from Hans’ parents, Hans, Sr. and Margrit, who started farming near Merrill in 1968 upon emigrating from Switzerland.
The farm is home to about 430 Holstein dairy cows and about as many replacement heifers. The Breitenmosers raise most of the feed for their cattle on 1,300 owned and rented acres. The milk cows are housed in a naturally-ventilated free stall barn and managed pasture is used for dry cows and heifers during the grazing season. In 2017, the Breitenmosers partnered with Wisconsin Farmers Union, NorthWind Solar, and Legacy Solar Co-op on a solar project on the farm.
Hans has served on the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors since 2012, a role that inspired him to get involved in the fight to end political gerrymandering in Wisconsin. He has been a vital leader in the effort to pass county resolutions throughout the state in support of nonpartisan redistricting.
Katie is a certified professional midwife and owns Windy Hill Midwifery, providing care for families across north central Wisconsin. The Breitenmosers have five children: Maggie, Abby, Charlie, Calvin and Lilah, who all help on the farm and enjoy attending Farmers Union Camp each summer.
WFU Government Relations Director Kara O’Connor recognized the Breitenmosers’ dedication to stand up for rural Wisconsin.
“Hans and Katie have these deep ties with their community, and those ties are built on not only celebrating together, but also helping each other out when times are tough.”
She also credited Hans with being pivotal in the move for fair maps in Wisconsin. “Hans is steadfast in his convictions, while also being able to articulate the opposite point of view. This quality – this ability to understand the other side of the coin – makes Hans very effective in finding common ground and advancing the causes in which he believes so deeply. We need more people like the Breitenmosers in public life – people who embody both conviction and civility in generous measure.”
Friend of the Family Farmer
WFU recognized Farm Aid with the Friend of the Family Farmer award. First given in 2013, the award recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in efforts on behalf of family farmers and rural communities.
“We are so happy to celebrate Farm Aid’s warm-hearted and energetic staff and their innumerable contributions to family farms,” said WFU Special Projects Coordinator Sarah Lloyd. “Farm Aid is working to create real change in our farm and food system, from the ground up.”
In the midst of the worst farm crisis since the 1980s, Farm Aid distributed more than $1 million in grant funding in 2019, prioritizing organizations working to address challenges created by the dominant industrial agricultural system that has pushed family farmers to the brink of extinction. Farm Aid grants strengthen family farmers, build communities that can support each other in hard times, and organize people to stand up and challenge corporate power in our food system. WFU was among Farm Aid’s 2019 grantees and took part in the annual music and food festival in East Troy, WI in September. Farm Aid’s “Moving Forward From Here” pre-concert event shed a light on the need for more racial justice in agriculture and inspired WFU’s preconvention event, Groundswell: Building Rural Strength and Resiliency by Advancing Racial Justice.
The Dunn County Farmers Union chapter was celebrated for excelling in membership growth in 2019. The chapter will be recognized at the National Farmers Union Convention March 1-3 in Savannah, Georgia.
WFU Programs & Membership Organizer Kirsten Slaughter noted that in the past year the Dunn County Farmers Union hosted numerous events, organized a book club, collaborated with neighboring chapters and successfully brought together people over local food and “has truly been an example in building community not just among their farm neighbors but also in connecting with all stakeholders in our food system.”
Outgoing District 4 Director Craig Myhre from Osseo was also recognized for his years of service on the board. Myhre attended Farmers Union Camps as a youth, became active in the family farm organization and was elected to the board in 1996. He served on the Farmers Union Industries board and as a member of the WFU grain and investment committees.
Learn more about WFU’s work on behalf of family farmers at www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.