Wisconsin State Farmer
 |  Wisconsin State Farmer

The 90th annual Wisconsin Farmers Union that took place Jan. 30-31 recognized several award winners that exemplify rural leadership.

Five WFU members and two Wisconsin state legislators received awards for their work and dedication to the state’s rural and farming communities.

“We appreciate the work that this year’s awardees have been doing to improve life in rural Wisconsin and to strengthen this organization,” said WFU president Darin Von Ruden. “These awardees remind us that though we faced challenges in 2020, there was also a lot of good happening around the countryside.”

Friend of the Family Farmer Award

WFU member Michelle Miller of Madison is a researcher who was recognized for her work on farm profitability and sustainability at the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems. The award recognizes members of Wisconsin’s farming and rural communities for going “above and beyond” in their efforts.

“Supply management has been a focus area of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s membership for several years and we are so glad to have strong partners in the effort,” Von Ruden said. “We’re grateful to Michelle for her commitment to the subject and for her work with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.”

US Congressmen Mike Gallagher and Ron Kind, Republican and Democrat respectively, also received the Friend of the Family Farmer Award for their bipartisan introduction of the Dairy Pricing and Policy Act of 2020. The legislation directed the US Department of Agriculture to create the Dairy Pricing and Policy Commission, which would improve milk pricing for dairy farmers.

“Representatives Kind and Gallagher put aside political differences and reached across the aisle to find real solutions for dairy farmers,” Von Ruden said. “America’s Dairyland has been hit particularly hard in recent years; we applaud the bipartisan response to an ongoing crisis that threatens Wisconsin’s dairy heritage. Wisconsin agriculture needs more of that collaborative spirit as we charge forward.”

Builders Award

WFU members Rachel Henderson of Menomonie, Sarah Lloyd of Wisconsin Dells and the late Dave Fauska of Elroy all received the Builders Award for their dedication to improving WFU through recruitment and involvement at the county level.

Henderson, president of the Dunn County Farmers Union, owns Mary Dirty Face Farm, an organic mixed-fruit orchard on 12 acres that includes a community-supported agriculture model with 120 members. The farm also raises poultry, hogs and lambs. Henderson also works as a remote organic specialist for Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services and serves on the board of directors of the Land Stewardship Project.

Lloyd, president of the Columbia County Farmers Union, works on a 400-cow dairy farm with her husband and his family. The farm also includes 1,000 acres of crops as feed and bedding for the cows. Lloyd was the director of special projects for WFU until 2020, when she left to become a food systems scientist for the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and a supply chain specialist for the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative. Additionally, she is the director of development for the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative.

The late Fauska, who died aged 90 in August 2020, was an active member of the Monroe County Farmers Union as a dairy farmer with his wife Myrna. The WFU was established the year Fauska was born, with his family of farmers soon after becoming members. He attended Farmers Union Camp and Kendall Local chapter meetings as a boy, eventually serving as delegate to the National Farmers Union conventions while also driving membership recruitment.

Emerging Leader Award

For the first time ever, the Emerging Leader Award was given to Aaron Ellringer, who WFU said “ignited energy and engagement” in the union through his home county of Eau Claire, including recruitment and event planning.

Ellringer, originally from Rochester, Minn., is a graduate of UW-Eau Claire with a degree in geology and environmental science. After graduation, he shifted focus to agriculture by working on farms, becoming interested in local food cooperatives. He co-founded Just Local Food Cooperative in his garage, which has since grown into a million-dollar grocery store. Ellringer also started Kubb Farm and has worked with Farmer to Farmer and Pablo Group, where he developed Pablo Food Hub. He raises goats, poultry, prairie, veggies and berries on his own farm.

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