Dairy sustainability group unveils name change, group transformation

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farmers for Sustainable Food logo

The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance, originally formed in 2016 to create solutions to climate change through sustainable farming, announced that they are now called Farmers for Sustainable Food to reflect a more diverse mission than what they originally set out for.

Lauren Brey, director of partnerships and sustainability for the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said the group had grown well beyond its original goals and target audience and the expansion warranted a change. She said the group welcomed many sub-groups as members and allies to the cause, like farmer-led watershed groups, and soon the group was no longer just focused on dairy farming.

Lauren Brey

"In the past year especially, the organization's work has become even more innovative, collaborative and widespread. Our membership has grown beyond just the dairy community, and our work is beginning to expand beyond Wisconsin as well," Brey said. "The stated vision for Farmers for Sustainable Food is to have a sustainable food system in which farmers, their communities and the environment thrive."

Still based in Wisconsin, Farmers for Sustainable Food will now begin to focus its attention on providing resources, support and empowerment for farmers of all kinds in their journey to implement better sustainability practices on their farms. Brey said the group serves as "an incubator" for farmers, researchers, processors, community leaders and others to share their ideas and goals.

Luxemburg, Wis., dairy farmer Paul Cornette is a member of the group's board after joining the former alliance a year and a half ago. He said his local group, Peninsula Pride Farms based in Kewaunee County and southern Door County, has benefited immensely from the connections. Cornette said it's led to a wide adoption of cover cropping and no-till practices in his own community.

Paul Cornette

"Since joining Farmers for Sustainable Food, I've been nothing but impressed with the work our staff does to support progressive farmers who are trying to take ownership of environmental challenges," Cornette said. "The support given to help manage Peninsula Pride and other groups allows us as farmers to focus on meaningful change, developing and improving innovative farming practices to meet those challenges."

Overall, he said the community response to Farmers for Sustainable Food's work and ideas has been "overwhelmingly positive." He said he's excited to see both this group and Peninsula Pride Farms increase positive change and influence in Wisconsin's rural and farming communities.

Steve Richter, director of agriculture strategies at The Nature Conservancy, said his group will work to help Farmers for Sustainable Food achieve their environmental sustainability goals despite the challenges that lay ahead. He said it will be difficult learning to grow more food for an expanding population with finite space and resources, but he's optimistic about their future success.

Steven Richter

"It's a group that has been really important in helping Wisconsin farmers pursue their conservation goals," Richter said. "These are big, really complex challenges. But I'm optimistic, and I love the challenge. Working in collaboration with Farmers for Sustainable Food and with new partners I've met in the agriculture community ... I feel confident we can make a difference not only in our state, but across the nation."

Richter added that many large food and beverage companies are ready and waiting to join the sustainability efforts in their own way, with Farmers for Sustainable Food being the driving force of uniting many organizations and companies across the world in the efforts. He also said that farmers and their ideas should be central to the organizational leadership in order to maximize success.

Lending specialist Greg Steele, representing Compeer Financial, said his organization has made significant grant funding investments in the group's sustainability projects over the years and they will continue to be a partner on the path forward. Steele said the group has made "invaluable" partnerships with University of Wisconsin campuses in Platteville and River Falls that help further the cause.

Greg Steele

"This project will demonstrate a ... commitment to the rural communities by engaging in local discussions on environmental stewardship," Steele said. "In addition, this project will help educate, build and improve local and state government relationships. I see this as a key element, because implementing practical farmer-led solutions to environmental concerns is far superior to increasing the costs associated with regulatory burdens on farming."