In a nation where men largely dominate agriculture, Deb Windecker, a fourth-generation family farmer, proves that this doesn't have to be the case. Juggling a family and a full-time job outside the farm, Deb still finds time to maintain the farm, lead a successful milk cooperative, participate in the good food movement as a farmer spokesperson, and mentor young people interested in agriculture. Above all, Deb's dedication and commitment to the importance of knowing where your food comes from is truly inspiring. Deb's extraordinarily active role on the family farm and in the central New York community makes her a family farmer hero!
Seven days a week and 365 days a year, Deb works on Windex Farm in Frankfort, NY, a farm that has been in her husband's family since the late 1800s. Growing up on a dairy farm, farming is in her blood. Now, she operates the 700-acre farm with her husband, 16-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son, and one employee.
Windex Farm is a registered dairy farm, meaning Deb knows all the genetics and pedigrees of her animals. She carefully cares for each and every one of her one hundred Holstein cows, naming every single one, and feeding them only the grass, hay and corn that she grows on the farm's tillable land. Deb takes great pride in her care for her animals, and recently has begun selling her own beef to diversify the farm's products. Her goal with the "grassy knoll" beef is for consumers to know where their local food is coming from and who is producing it. The meat is 90% lean with immense flavor due to local processing that ages the beef for a robust flavor that is extremely tender.
While Deb says there is no such thing as a typical day on the farm, she gave us an idea of her "day in the life." Every morning, she wakes up at 5 am to help out her husband on the farm. Together, they give fresh feed to the cows, milk all one hundred of them, clean the stalls, and let them outside for exercise. At this time of year, she also spends time harvesting the crops so they have enough feed to sustain their herd through the winter. Deb then starts the whole process all over again at 4:30 pm. In between, Deb works a full-time job, doing public relations for the New York State Department of Transportation.
Not only does Deb take care of her family, the farm, and maintain a full-time job, but she also makes time to play an active role in the good food movement, getting word out about the people behind the food we eat. Recently, Deb and several other women farmers from the central New York region put a proposal together for the Just Food conference, presenting the states' milk shed to New York City consumers. The goal of their presentation was to reconnect the farmer to the consumer. Deb is concerned that we've lost touch with where our food comes from, and wanted to show city dwellers that there are faces behind every food item, especially dairy and give them information to help clear up misinformation that often proliferates. For instance, Deb explained in an article about the presentation, "So many people think there are antibiotics in our milk. We are pleased to report that we dispelled that myth by explaining the penalties and protocols that are in place at the farm, at the processing plant, and with our regulators, to ensure that never occurs." For Deb, part of her responsibility as a farmer is making sure that eaters are getting accurate information about their food.
In addition, Deb is on the Board of Directors of the Holland Patent Producers Cooperative, a small milk cooperative in central New York that has been around since 1936. She is one of three women on the board, which is very unique in the agriculture business.
A dairy farmer herself, Deb is aware of the challenges American dairy farmers are facing today. In 2008, Deb was horrified when dairy processors were making record profits, while at the same time dairy farmers were filing bankruptcy. She sprang into action and began to organize farmers to stand up for fair prices. She flew to Iowa for a rally of dairy farmers calling for a fair price for dairy farmers. She also organized two bus trips to Washington D.C. for a dairy hearing, at which more than 200 farmers appeared, shocking the capital.
While Deb clearly possesses a passion for farming, it is her passion for being out there as a spokeswoman for family farmers everywhere and encouraging others to get involved as a successful female family farmer that is truly inspiring and absolutely crucial.
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