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Gathering Growers, Creating Community

I joined the FairShare team in July of last year through a joint position with UW-Madison Extension. My role as Vegetable Educator has been primarily to support vegetable farmers around the Milwaukee area, creating a supportive community of new and established growers.

I have been involved in vegetable production since I was young (although I am still young at heart, I hope!) and enjoyed working for Peter Seely at Springdale Farm, as well as on an Amish produce farm. These experiences, in addition to running my own CSA farm and working with farmers all over the world, have shown me the power of a strong and supportive community of growers.

A big part of what I do is building relationships with farmers. By visiting farms and speaking with growers on a personal level, I hope to get to know farmers and understand their challenges and successes. My conversations with both farmers and agricultural professionals allows me to act as a connector - when a farmer encounters a challenge, I try to connect them with someone who can work with them to help find a solution.

Farmers Sur and Martice work with 2-wheel tractor weeding tools at Fondy Farm, part of a Sustainable Agriculture & Research Education (SARE) - funded FairShare project.

By understanding the issues facing farmers today, the FairShare team can also work to create educational events and collaborative conversations around these topics. This could be either a big winter conference with hundreds of farmers, like the Organic Vegetable Production Conference, and, more informally, Grower Gatherings.

Milwaukee-area farmers gathered in March to discuss the results of a farm-profitability survey written by farmers and FairShare and UW-Madison staff.

Grower Gatherings bring together a group of farmers in a geographic region to learn from each other about a specific issue or topic area. A few examples of previous grower gatherings include: learning about the greenhouse irrigation system on a farm, participating in a field-walk to learn about crop rotation, or discussions on farm labor. I have found that only farmers truly ‘get’ farmers, and so in addition to improving technical skills, the grower gatherings are also important as a social time for farmers to check-in with each other, meet new colleagues, informally solve problems, and of course, to laugh and have fun. Some of the most successful aspects of grower gatherings are often after the formal activities end, where growers can relax and share their problems and joys with the only other people who understand their reality.


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