By Elizabeth DiNovella on January 22, 2014

Wisconsin recently lost a dairy farmer. But this was not just any dairy farmer.

We've lost John Kinsman, a pioneer of organic sustainability before it became cool and commodified.

In the March 2012 issue of The Progressive, Marc Eisen wrote about Kinsman. Here's an excerpt of Eisen's piece:

On a winter afternoon, Kinsman is just another Wisconsin farmer as he walks his 150 acres. He and Jean bought the worn-out, rock-strewn farm in the early 1950s not far from where his parents farmed. An early run-in with chemical pesticides put Kinsman in the hospital and converted him to organic farming. He points to the results. Here are the pastures on which he rotationally grazes his milking herd of thirty-six Holsteins, the forested hills where he's planted, literally, tens of thousands of trees, and the stand of fruit trees and bushes he's grown around his house. And that patch of cacti -- the prickly pear -- was no exotic transplant but a stubborn native remnant from a warmer geological age in Wisconsin. Sort of like Kinsman himself.

He acknowledges that organizing farmers isn't the easiest thing in the world.

"Farmers are bombarded by propaganda in the farm press," he says. "They think they're very independent, but they're all getting government help. Organizing them is like pushing a wheelbarrow of frogs."

Kinsman chuckles as he says this. He's a cheery man with sparkling blue eyes and a work-hardened body. Activists praise his good humor. They like hanging with him. To draw attention to their cause, Kinsman and John Peck, his colleague at Family Farm Defenders, dress up in cow suits when they conduct their yearly picket at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They charge that the privately run exchange has allowed Kraft Foods and the Dairy Farmers of America to fix the prices that farmers receive for their milk and cheese.

Kinsman is unrelenting.

I ask him what is the key to successful organizing?

"Three things," he says, smiling broadly. "Relationships, relationships, and relationships."

What have you learned all these long years?

"Justice is 'just us,'" Kinsman replies. "If we don't work at it, it's not going to happen." Sure, some people lose hope and burn out, he admits. "They work and work and hit a plateau. Then they give up. But if they just stay at it, it gets easier. It does. And it helps if you can laugh and have fun."

Here's an extensive interview with Kinsman as well:

John E. Peck of the Family Farm Defenders notes John Kinsman "has literally touched the lives of thousands of people as a grassroots pioneer of organic sustainable agriculture and globe trotting advocate of food sovereignty for decades."

His family is still planning the details for his funeral, but are hoping to have a wake at Hoof Funeral Home at 312 N Park St. in Reedsburg on Fri. Jan 24th in the evening and the funeral at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Lime Ridge on Sat. Jan. 25th. The exact times have not been set yet, but people can check with the Hoof Funeral home (tel: 608-524-2337) if they wish to attend.

The 3rd Annual John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Dinner to be held on Sat. March 15th at UW-Baraboo with Raj Patel as the keynote speaker. Sponsorships of this tribute are still being accepted.

His voice and spirit will be sorely missed.


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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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