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Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) members gathered in Stevens Point March 10-12 for the family farm organization’s annual Emerging Leaders Retreat. The event offers an introduction to Farmers Union and the chance to network with other members from throughout the state.
“This is always one of the best weekends of the year, as we gather aspiring leaders within Farmers Union for a few days of connection and empowerment,” said WFU Communications Director Danielle Endvick. “We spent the weekend learning how to become effective leaders, tell powerful stories, and organize around the issues that matter to our farms and food system.”
WFU President Darin Von Ruden noted that the event mirrored growing diversity in the membership. “We had a range of attendees from different farm types to ages to geography. With participants in the room from two weeks old on up to retirement age and from dairy farmers to those participating in urban agriculture, it was an inspiring group.” The cohort included representation from farmers who raise beef, sheep, flowers, poultry, hemp, vegetables, and more. Among the crowd were conventional and organic farmers, direct marketers and farmstay hosts, as well as a few non-farmers looking to amp up their involvement in supporting local food systems, championing conservation, and addressing inequities in health and school funding.
“The Emerging Leaders Retreat helped me to recognize the power of my personal story as a tool for connecting with others and then presenting a vision for the future of agriculture,” said Dan Kaatz, of Pennycress Studio, a flower farm and design studio in the rolling hills of the Driftless region “The retreat was also a wonderful time for sharing and learning from other farmers' first-hand experiences both on the farm as producers as well as off the farm as changemakers in their communities.”
“The Emerging Leaders program is exactly what I've been looking for -- a passionate group of like-minded individuals, all with different backgrounds but with a similar purpose,” said Jenn Rittenhouse, a farmer from Elroy. “I continue to feel more driven and connected with the organization and this past weekend strengthened my desire to become more involved.”
Participants included Paul and Joann Adams, Eleva; Nadia Alber and Chad Backes, Arena; Hannah Alden, Dorchester; WFU Administrative Assistant Camryn Billen, Eau Claire; Becky and Ryan Brathal, Woodville; Mike and Nicole Butler, Sheboygan Falls; Julie Case, Avoca; WFU Education Director Grace Clardy, Eau Claire; WFU Communications Director Danielle Endvick, Holcombe; WFU Communications and Special Projects Coordinator Tommy Enright, Amherst; Jeremie Favre and Ellen Geisler, Mineral Point; Michael Friend, Evanston, Ill.; Jill Gaskell, Blanchardville; Brian and Pam Guthman, Holcombe; Jane Hansen, Prentice; Rufus Haucke, Viola; Marci Hess, Blanchardville; WFU Local Foods Organizer Forrest Humphrey, La Crosse; Dan Kaatz, Viroqua; WFU Special Projects Director Lauren Langworthy, Wheeler; Wisconsin Women in Conservation Communications Specialist Kriss Marion; Amos Mayberry, Belleville; Joshua Mechaelsen, Pewaukee; Samuel Odin, Oak Creek; WFU Membership Engagement Director Kirsten Slaughter, Madison; Alexandra Spaulding, Merrill; Dixie Stechschulte, Argyle; Melissa Mahon Stein, Soldiers Grove; WFU Regional Membership Coordinator Alicia Razvi, Middleton; Jenn Rittenhouse, Elroy; WFU President Darin Von Ruden, Westby; and Daniel Werchowski, Stevens Point.
For Dixie Stechschulte, the weekend felt like finding her place as a new WFU member. She was struck by the values she shared with her fellow attendees. “We were already leaders, but now we're friends with a purpose.”
The best aspect of the event unfolds over time, says Endvick, noting, “Paying attention over the next few years and seeing these folks take their leadership to the next level is the real reward of this weekend’s efforts.”
Learn more about WFU and educational programs you can get involved with at wisconsinfarmersunion.com.