John Kinsman

Sauk County, WI

John kinsman
John Kinsman, center, on his farm.

We are saddened to report that John Kinsman passed away in January 2014. Please read our tribute to him on our blog and check out our Growing Change profile of Family Farm Defenders to read more about John's role in the family farm movement.

Nestled in the verdant, rolling hillsides of Sauk County, Wisconsin, John Kinsman starts each morning with a hearty, country breakfast before pulling on his boots and beginning farm chores on his organic dairy farm. At age 84, John now has a partner who does the milking and heavy farm work, but he still puts in fourteen-hour days feeding the calves, maintaining the barn and pastures, and rotating fences.

The Kinsman family purchased their farm shortly after World War II. “The farm was eroded and part of the pasture looked like Stonehenge. Weeds wouldn’t even grow,” recalls John. “We put every bit of organic matter back into the soil and built it back up.”

On the farm John now grows hay and employs a highly intensive rotational grazing system for his thirty-six dairy cows and thirty-eight calves and heifers. He moves the fences to new pastures every twelve hours. “The cows depend on it and let me know if I don’t do it,” laughs John, “They do all the work by eating the grass and leaving manure as fertilizer.” He also has a rotation of contour crops on ninety acres, with sixty acres preserved as woodland.

John kinsmanJohn is committed to using methods that do no harm to human, environmental, and animal health and to use as little fossil fuel as possible. He has been farming organically since a health scare in the 1960s changed his mind. When he started farming, extension schools were encouraging farmers to use pesticides and herbicides. “Without thinking I began to use them, because we trusted the universities, until I had nerve damage on the covering of my sciatica. I went organic overnight and I’ve never been better,” says John.

When he’s not out in the fields, John can be found working tirelessly for democracy in our food system as president of Family Farm Defenders. In between moving fences and feeding calves, John keeps busy writing press releases, traveling to meetings in the U.S. and abroad to discuss food and farm issues, and taking phone calls from farmers, politicians, and activists. Over the course of his career, John has witnessed substantial changes in the agriculture sector, and more specifically in the dairy industry. “The Great Depression wasn’t nearly as bad on the farm as today’s economic crisis is. [Back then] we had 12 cows, a diversified farm and we ate from our garden,” John recalls. “My parents did not work 15-20 hours a day like farmers do now. They took time to go places and do things. They went to the World’s Fair in Chicago and to California by train way back when.”

But times are different for farmers and their families today. For generations John and his neighbors have cared for the land in Sauk County through rotational grazing, and strip farming of crops well suited for the rocky, ridges of southern Wisconsin. But, today John sees farms around being put into corn and soy production. “It is wrong for the land,” says John. “The farming methods that many farmers are now using are not what the farmers want to use. They are getting huge subsidies to do so, but they are destroying the future of food producing capacity of the land here with monocropping, no crop rotation or grazing animals, and the use of industrial machinery and chemicals.”

As president and founder of Family Farm Defenders, John has worked diligently since 1994 to transform the food system through grassroots activism. John remembers the first informal meeting of Family Farm Defenders, held in a Washington, D.C. hotel basement after a frustrating meeting with a farm-lobbying organization that catered to large agribusinesses instead of farmers. He and his fellow farmers “felt that the interests of farmers were not being considered.” Family Farm Defenders now reaches out to farmers across the country and across the globe, from both the urban and rural sectors, to help create a democratic, farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food system. The organization also works to create new cooperative endeavors for farmers that will help them market their products, connect them to consumers, and return a fair price to the farmers.

A living example of the principle “think globally, act locally,” John has dedicated the past twenty years to improving U.S. food policies as well as fighting for food sovereignty worldwide with an international organization called Via Campesina. Locally, Family Farm Defenders is providing a model to ensure farmers receive fair prices for the products they produce. Family Farm Defender cheese, which provides a fair price to dairy farmers providing the milk, and a healthy, safe product for consumers, is now being sold in Wisconsin. “We sell our organic cheese as cheap as conventional cheese, but our cheese does not have to travel 1,500 miles. We are trying to get people more involved with food on a local level.”

John kinsmanA dairy farmer first, John considers farming to be “a very dignified way of life. Farmers must work with nature, not against it. It gives you a great feeling when nature and the environment cooperate with you.” His work as a farm activist and advocate over the past sixteen years has also given John great pleasure. “Seeing the local movement starting to unfold is invigorating. People are healthier, and their health of mind and outlook on the world and people is changing, but we can’t push people too fast. We want to throw the book at them but they are just ready for one page.”

Despite these small, incremental changes, John is improving the lives of producers and eaters alike. His passion for food and farming is a living example of how one farmer can make a lasting, global impact on what we eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced.

Date: 6/29/2010

Sandra Garner - Snow Hill, NC

Robert Elliott - Louisburg, NC

Orpha Gene Watson - Nash County, NC

Harold Wright - Bladenboro, NC

Sarah Hoffmann & Jacqueline Smith - Weston, MO

Art Tanderup - Neligh, NE

Tom Rogers - Madera County, CA

Abbe Turner - Kent, OH

Deb Windecker -  Frankfort, NY

Chuck Deichmann - Belmont, NY

Carroll Wade - Jasper, NY

Ben Shute - Clermont, NY

Kevin Jablonski - Argyle, NY

Andrew Pittz - Missouri Valley, IA

Chris & Donna Garza - Calhan, CO

The Crutchfields: Life Under Contract - Lamar, AR

Jeff & Annie Main - Capay, CA

Kate Canney - Needham, MA

Kara Fitzgerald & Ryan Wood Beauchamp  - Cuttingsville, VT

Dru Peters & Homer Walden - Dover, PA

Jenn Halpin - Carlile, PA

James & Ida Burkholder - Berks County, PA

Zoë Bradbury - Langlois, OR

Rosie & Ward Burroughs - Denair, CA

Gary Purgason - Madison, NC

Stanley & Evan Hall - South Paoli, IN

Jim Gerritsen - Bridgewater, ME

Zach Ducheneaux - Eagle Butte, SD

Jacob & Courtney Cowgill - Conrad, MT

Tom Nuessmeier - Le Sueur, MN

Sherri Harvel - Kansas City, MO

Gail Fuller - Emporia, KS

Jason Schmidt - Newton, KS

Nick Meyer - Hardwick, VT

The Local Food Hub - Charlottesville, VA

Corky Jones - Brownville, NE

Pat Trask - Wasta, SD

Carol Ford & Chuck Waibel - Milan, MN

Mike Weaver - Fort Sybert, WV

Glyen Holmes - Dothan, AL

Will Allen - Milwaukee, WI

Rebecca Goodman - Wonewoc, WI

Eric Odberg - Genesee, ID

John Kinsman - Sauk County, WI

Luciano Alvarado - Fayetteville, NC

Russ Kremer - Osage County, MO

Hector Mora - Monterey County, CA

Theresa Podoll - Fullerton, ND

Mary Hendrickson - Columbia, MO

Jen Friedrich & Dom Fernandes - Carver, MA

David Senter - Washington, DC

Jere Gettle - Mansfield, MO

Rhonda Perry & Roger Allison  - Howard County, MO

Walker Claridge - Hatton, MO

David Marvel - Harrington, DE

Jerry Harvey - Promise City, IA

Donley Darnell - Newcastle, WY

Greg Massa - Hamilton City, CA

Stuart Veldhuizen - Dublin, TX

Joel Greeno - Kendall, WI

Jeremy Freymoyer - Hamburg, PA

Alan and Lori Callister - West Concord, MN

Jeanne Charter - Billings, Montana

Susan Meredith & Brenna Chase - Brunswick, Maine

Elizabeth Keen - Great Barrington, MA

Missy Bahret & Casey Steinberg - Amherst, Massachusetts

Justin Pitts - Jones County, Mississippi

Kim Buchheit & Mike Robinson - Wise Acre Farm

Ben & Alysha Godfrey - Cameron, TX

David & Serena  - Mount Vernon, WA

Andres Mejides - Homestead, FL

Jamie Collins - Carmel & Carmel Valley, Ca

Kenneth Barber - Ithaca, N.Y.

Genell Pridgen - Snow Hill, N.C.

Chris Kobayashi - Hanalei, Hawaii

Matthew Kurek - Jamesport, N.Y.

Elizabeth Ryan - Staatsburg, N.Y.

Klein Family - Silver Springs, N.Y.

McKinley Hightower-Beyah - New York, NY

Adam Barr - Rhodelia, Ky.

Stan Schutte - Stewardson, Ill.

Francis & Susan Thicke - Fairfield, Iowa

Ben Burkett - Petal, Miss.

Doug Flack - Enosburg Falls, Vt.

Bob and Kathy Perol - Troy, Maine

Bob Muth - Gloucester County, N.J.

Jim Kinsel - Pennington, N.J.

Mary Seton Corboy - Philadelphia, Pa.

Miguel Martinez - San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Tony Thompson - Cottonwood, Minn.

Laura Garber - Hamilton, Mont.

Wettsteins Update - Carlock, Ill.

Kelli Emenes - Covington, La.

Brian Futhey - Woodward, Pa.

Tom Trantham - Pelzer, S.C.

Ryan Wolfe - Chebanse, Ill.

Hank Moss - Erath, La.

Jim Core - Folsom, La.

The Wettsteins - Carlock, Ill.

Kristen Kordet - Madison, Wis.

Bruce & Fran Conard - Martinsburg, Ohio

Mike Nolan - Austin, Texas

Maggie's Farm - Athol, Mass.

Kristi & Brad Fernholz - Appleton, Minn.

Stacy Hall and Bill Dix - Athens, Ohio

Jack & Julie - Barre, Mass.

Bud Odland - Clarion, Iowa

Andrew Stout & Wendy Munroe - Carnation, WA

Rick and Lora Lea - Northeastern, Wash.

Cynthia & Joel Huesby - Walla Walla, Wash.

David Mills - Brandon, Vt.

Ed Snavely - Fredericktown, Ohio

Kim & Ann Seeley - Bradford County, Pa.

Mark Parrish - Boston, Mass.



Comments:
Showing 1 to 4 of 4   First | Prev | 1 Next | Last 
Anonymous @ 7/18/2010 12:18:32 AM 
Desde España os animo a seguir adelante con vuestro trabajo, aunque sean malos tiempos para todos los agricultores y ganaderos.
Anonymous @ 7/2/2010 11:36:05 AM 
John's my hero! His energy and wisdom are vast and we owe so much to his efforts through the years. Thank you, John.
Anonymous @ 7/1/2010 10:34:44 AM 
I love this great story. Wisconsin is the coolest! It made me feel a lot better just to read it.
Anonymous @ 7/1/2010 10:02:34 AM 
While farmers like John are struggling, like all Americans these days, a direct result of decisions made in DC by our representatives in the pocket & bed with banks, insurance, agri corruption, there is always something they don't get said.

I worked at Darigold in Boise, ID from 2002to 2006, sixth largest dairy in the nation a the time, I was making about $20 an hour. Now when the dairy industry is struggling to survive Daigold drivers are making $30 an hour & more at times.

How do we suggest family dairy farmers are represented when dairies like this are paying these wages & our tax $ is handed to corporate farms while family farms go broke.

Our mis-representatives are breaking US through bankiong, insurance, agri corrution, war, defense investments make war profitable, big oil, & a list perpetual.

The dairy industry has been fighting for a quarter century, meatpacking, contruction, landscaping, manufacturing & every job that ever paid a livingw age has been destroyed thro
Showing 1 to 4 of 4   First | Prev | 1 Next | Last 

Redraw Image


Your comments will not be posted until they have been approved by the moderator.