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Summer Grower Team Updates

Throughout the month of July, we were excited to both introduce and update you on a few of the new and expanding projects FairShare is spearheading!


With assistance from multiple funding opportunities, including several grants supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), FairShare has been working to expand and deepen our services to specific geographies and communities.


Below, you'll find an introduction to a few members of our team engaged in this work, and they'll be telling you all about what they've been up to.

  • We'll hear from Chiang Rai about his work with Hmong (HMoob) growers throughout Wisconsin, and FairShare's efforts to support HMoob growers in becoming more resilient in the face of climate and market disruptions - including the development of alternative markets beyond farmers' markets.

  • Then, Sam will take us through his work to expand and deepen FairShare's relationships with growers in the Milwaukee area.

  • Finally, Beth will talk about her role in developing a grower network to serve diversified vegetable growers in Ohio.

As we share these exciting projects, we invite you to engage with and support our efforts in areas that resonate with you. And while these projects are new and in expanding locations, FairShare's core mission of connecting farmers and eaters is a constant.

 

Connecting with Hmong growers with Chiang Rai:


I'd like to tell you a little bit about Xiong Lo, a HMoob (Hmong) grower in the Wausau area who is interested in entering into Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Xiong owns 80 acres of land, and 30 of these acres have already been organic certified.

As you may know, accessing land (especially for those who wish to grow organically) is extremely challenging and can be a huge barrier to starting farming. Xiong's dream is to provide local HMoob growers with certified organic land to grow on, and then aggregate the produce grown from several farmers into a single market share.


Xiong understands the struggles many farmers face in getting their farms established, and he hopes that by providing a space to grow without having to worry about paperwork, more new farmers can flourish. I'm excited that we will be hosting a field day in August at Xiong's farm, covering topics like weed management and post-harvest handling, and bringing Xiong and other Wausau-area farmers together to collaborate and learn.


In my role as Aggregation Coordinator, I have connected with many HMoob growers like Xiong Lo, as well as with numerous HMoob organizations and professionals throughout Wisconsin working to support the HMoob community.


For instance, in the Madison area, I am currently working with Groundswell, Garden To Be, and Rooted to support Samba and Jerreh, the owners of a new grocery store called Gooh Grocery Store. Samba and Jerreh aim to support local Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities by providing culturally relevant produce to their customers, sourcing from local BIPOC growers. We are also working to gather 3 or 4 HMoob growers to prepare and sell at their new store.


The challenges that face HMoob growers can feel daunting to overcome: language barriers, record-keeping, infrastructure needs like hoophouses and greenhouses, access to land, and weed management techniques are all areas in which HMoob growers need support. Luckily, I have many great partners that I can work closely with to bring resources and training opportunities to HMoob growers.


I look forward to supporting HMoob growers on their journey and helping them flourish.

 

Supporting Milwaukee-area growers with Sam:


Did you know the Milwaukee area has a diverse group of vegetable farmers?


This region is full of multi-generational conventional farmers who have been selling at local markets and roadside stands for many years, Hmong farmers with deep experience of traditional farming techniques, newer and experienced first-generation organic farmers, and so many others! It has been a joy to meet and build relationships with such a variety of experiences in my role as Vegetable Educator.


I have been able to share one of my passions (weeding tools) with a group of Milwaukee farmers who grow at the Fondy Farm, just north of Milwaukee. We are working directly with three farmers and introducing them to a suite of weeding machines purchased through a grant award.

I meet with these farmers throughout the season to make sure the mechanized weeding tools are working well with their crops. The other 25 farmers who grow at Fondy Farm are able to learn more by informally joining educational sessions throughout the growing season.


Another exciting project has been working with University of Wisconsin-Madison staff, Milwaukee-area farmers, and the Fondy Food Center to create a farm financials survey. The goal of the survey was to learn about farm profitability and work-life balance to determine long-term farm viability.


After the survey results were compiled, we hosted a conversation with the participants to discuss finances, profitability, and challenges the farmers were facing. The answers to this survey, as well as the discussion after, helps us better design programming and events that will serve growers' needs.


Looking ahead to the fall, I am excited for our upcoming Weeding Tool Field Day, hosted at Fondy Farm in September, and a grower gathering discussing season extension for HMoob growers in October. With so much happening day-to-day in the wonderful world of Milwaukee-area vegetables, I hope you have enjoyed a few highlights!

 

Bringing FairShare to Ohio with Beth:


Since establishing a presence in Ohio, I'm excited to announce that we now have 11 FairShare Farms across the state!


This season, I'll be visiting farms and farmers' markets to hear from growers about their technical assistance and educational needs so we can continue to develop programming that will help growers get where they want to go, and encourage their involvement with FairShare.


In the fall of 2022, we hosted grower gatherings in Southwest and Northeast Ohio, drawing 46 farmers across the two events. Robust discussions were held around labor challenges, effectively utilizing high tunnels, and cover cropping for soil fertility and weed suppression. Connecting Ohio growers to BTEC and TEAMS, our labor management training programs, as well as the Organic Vegetable Production Conference have supported a few of the technical assistance needs identified during those gatherings.


I'm particularly excited about working with colleagues and other agriculture professionals to bring the Midwest Mechanical Weed Control Field Day to Wooster, Ohio on September 27. We'll also have a presence at the Black Farming Conference on September 29 & 30, and will be sharing information about the benefits of CSA and how to start one.


I hear from a lot of growers that they're looking for informal opportunities to get together, too, so a couple of casual grower gatherings to foster community and camaraderie are in the works. Additionally, we're working on shaping Workplace CSA programs to increase demand for CSA shares for growers, while supporting direct connections with consumers.

 

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the various ways our mission manifests in our work. Whether it’s in Ohio, in service to HMoob growers, or in Milwaukee, our goal of connecting farmers and eaters guides the projects we develop and tackle.


This work is fundamental to helping farmers succeed. From building connections with peers, to embarking on new sales outlets or honing production skills, our grower team works tirelessly to respond to what growers tell us they need. And by directly supporting our growers, this complements our efforts to educate consumers and connect them to local food, creating fertile ground for robust and resilient food systems across the Midwest.


If our work resonates with you, please support our grower programs here. We hope you've gained a fuller understanding of the breadth and depth of how FairShare supports growers across the Midwest.



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