Westby dairy farmer Darin Von Ruden was re-elected president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union in Wisconsin Dells, where more than 200 family farmers and rural advocates gathered for the organization’s 92nd annual State Convention.
Von Ruden is a lifelong Farmers Union member, and returned to the Farmer Union presidency this summer, after a brief term by Rick Adamski of Full Circle Farm in Seymour. Adamski shifted to the role of WFU’s Government Relations Director in July.
Von Ruden has served as the organization's District 5 director since 2008, representing Crawford, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, and Vernon counties. He also leads the WFU Foundation Board of Directors, serves on the National Farmers Union Board and is chairman of the NFU Membership Committee. Von Ruden and his wife, JoAnn, live in Westby and recently transitioned the farm to the fourth generation, when son Brett purchased the machinery and 50-cow dairy herd.
Von Ruden has been active with Farmers Union at the local, state and national levels. He is a seven-time recipient of the Silver Star Award, National Farmers Union’s highest recognition of membership development.
Von Ruden’s presidential address focused on a theme of “persistence,” tying it to the tenacity of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s founders nearly a century ago and that same spirit that fuels the organization’s efforts today.
“None of our work would be possible without members sharing their stories, engaging on the issues they care about, and leading at the local level,” he said. “We are stronger together. It was true at WFU’s founding in 1930, and it remains true today.”
Von Ruden encouraged members to remain persistent, whether facing struggles on the farm or a stumbling block in the passage of policy at the Capitol.
“It’s easy for those of us in agriculture to get jaded over time,” he said. “I encourage you to not lose hope, to keep working, and to lean on Farmers Union. Creating lasting change can take years of work. Through the persistence of Farmers Union members throughout the past century -- and those in the room here today -- we’re seeing forward momentum.”
Von Ruden said he’s seeing progress in ways he has never experienced in decades of farm advocacy.
“We are experiencing a rebuilding and re-envisioning of the American food system, and Farmers Union has been on the front lines of those conversations,” he said. “We are leading the charge on issues like rural infrastructure, meat processing, competitive markets, and more.”
Looking ahead to 2023, Von Ruden said his sights are set on seeing some systemic changes implemented in the upcoming farm bill.
“Farmers Union is positioned to make a real difference and bring power back to family farmers and small businesses,” he said. “We must persevere, because we know the system we’re currently in is not structured to help the small and medium-sized farmer.”
Spotlighting successes from the past year, Von Ruden noted that WFU chapters hosted over 90 events this year.
In early 2022, WFU released a member-driven Meat Processing Report, which aided in successful advocacy around investments in meat processing infrastructure, workforce training, and new meat career educational programs at Wisconsin high schools and universities.
WFU’s Dairy Together initiative pushed forward with a series of educational meetings around the state, national coalition calls, and a July fly-in to advocate for the Dairy Revitalization Plan. Members also hosted government officials, candidates and policymakers on their farms, elevating key issues.
This summer, the organization underwent a strategic planning process focused on strengthening the membership and efforts on behalf of family farmers and rural communities.
Members throughout the state have been working to strengthen the local food economy and regional infrastructure, through endeavors like the St. Croix Valley Local Food Alliance, South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative, Community Kitchen Co-op, and Meatsmith Co-op.
“Members throughout the state have been hard at work to make rural Wisconsin a better place for future generations,” Von Ruden said.
WFU board members & delegates
Paul Adams of Eleva and Dylan Bruce of Ferryville were elected to serve as delegates to the National Farmers Union Convention March 5-7, 2023 in San Francisco.
Four district director seats were up for election this year, with all four incumbents retaining their seats. District 1 Director and board Secretary Linda Ceylor, who dairy farms near Catawba, was re-elected in District 1, which comprises Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Lincoln, Oneida, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Vilas and Washburn counties. Jen Schmitz of Cashton will continue to represent Buffalo, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe and Trempealeau counties in District 4. Maribel grain farmer Michael Slattery, who was appointed by the board to fill Adamski’s vacated seat this fall, will serve District 8, covering Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Door, Fond du Lac, Forest, Florence, Kewaunee, Langlade, Marinette, Manitowoc, Menominee, Milwaukee, Oconto, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Shawano, Sheboygan, Washington, Waukesha, and Winnebago Counties. New London beef farmer Rachel Bouressa retains the at-large seat.
Other board members include Ed Gorell, Eleva (Treasurer); Tina Hinchley, Cambridge (Vice President); Sarah Lloyd, Wisconsin Dells; and Dave Rosen, Glenwood City.
Wisconsin Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities, and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors, and civic engagement. For more information visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com.