Farmer Heroes | August 30, 2010

Rebecca Goodman

Wonewoc, WI

Rebecca Goodman and her husband Jim, along with Jim’s brother Francis Goodman, raise beef, dairy and homegrown forages and grain on Northwood Farm in Wonewoc, WI, about 80 miles northwest of Madison. The animals are certified organic, and are not fed antibiotics, genetically-modified crops or animal by-products. In their free time, the Goodmans keep busy “agitating” — advocating for farmer-controlled, consumer-oriented agriculture and a good food system for all.

The 500-acre Northwood Farm has been home to both Goodmans and cows since 1889. Rebecca and Jim took over the family farm from Jim’s parents 31 years ago, alongside Jim’s brother Francis. They were very “successful” (Rebecca stressed the quotations) conventional farmers through the 80s, but in the 90s they didn’t like where the farm was heading.

“Everything was becoming so expensive and dangerous sounding,” Rebecca recalled. With young children on the farm, she went on to explain, there had to be a better way. It was a long, slow process to return the farm to its roots – becoming diversified again, building up the soil so that it was healthy, the animals were healthy and the Goodmans were healthy too. The farm became certified organic in 1999. In addition to pasture, they raise homegrown forage for their animals — hay, winter wheat, oats, barley and corn.

Despite growing up on a small grain farm in southwest Minnesota, Rebecca’s father initially didn’t want her to marry a farmer. It is hard work, she said, but you feel like what you’re doing is valuable. You can see what you accomplish, and it feels good to be outside and tired. On raising kids on the farm, Rebecca said it was like a “family adventure.”

Her favorite chores take her outside, moving the grazing fence, walking the pastures and bringing the cows in and out. She loves looking at the clouds and full moons, feeling the breeze in her face. “These are my favorite things about farming.”

“The first thing they do whenever they come home is head straight to the barn”

profile 8The Goodmans practice intensive rotational grazing. In total they have about 120 animals, 45 of which are dairy cows, 25-30 steers of different age groups, 5 bulls that they use and market as breeding stock, and the rest as replacement heifers. The organic dairy makes up the bulk of their farm income. They sell their milk to Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, WI, the first cheese producer in the country to pledge that its products were rBGH-free.

In addition, the Goodmans direct market 12-15 steers per year at the famous Dane County farmers market surrounding the state’s capitol building in Madison – the largest producer-only farmers market in the country. Any given Saturday, approximately 75 customers buy everywhere from one pound of ground beef up to $100 of varying cuts from the Goodmans. Rebecca expressed what an honor it was to be at such a first-class farmers market. The producer-only aspect is really important to her, as it gives consumers the chance to talk with their farmers and ask questions. 2010 is the Goodmans’ 12th year at the market, and both Jim and Rebecca try to go each Saturday if they can. “It is such a social event and a great way to connect to the community.” Furthermore, Rebecca laughed, “Someone has to do the heavy lifting!” Loading and unloading the meat freezers is quite a job.

Jim and Rebecca have two grown children. “The first thing they do whenever they come home is head straight to the barn,” Rebecca explained. “Then I have to deal with all the sneezing and sniffling.” Turns out they are both allergic to animals.

“We want to go out and be an active voice in support of local food and local community.”

profile 15Despite farming not being in the cards for their own children, the Goodmans certainly have the next generation in mind. They are currently seeking a young couple to come and take over the land. “There are plenty of land barons out there who would be more than willing to plow it all up and turn it into corn and soy.” And that’s exactly what the Goodmans want to avoid.

So what would retirement from the farm look like for Rebecca and Jim? Time to relax, read…catch a few Dave Matthews Band shows? (Turns out Rebecca’s “kind of a Dave Matthews groupie”!)

“Mostly we want more time to agitate,” Rebecca says with energy in her voice. “We want to go out and be an active voice in support of local food and local community.” The farmers market is currently their major venue for getting the word out. But they want to do much more. “That’s our real quest – to be a more active voice instead of just a working body.”

“We’ve watched the face of farming change many times in 30 years,” Rebecca said. “Still it is the big corporate influence that is controlling what [farmers are] doing and taking the control of the price away from us. It is sad to see how fast it has happened in the organic industry even.”

Both Rebecca and Jim are already dedicated “agitators;” both are on the board of Family Farm Defenders and members of the National Family Farm Coalition. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary protesting World Trade Organization negotiations in Cancun alongside peasant farmers. Rebecca and Jim were at the first Terra Madre Slow Food delegation in Italy, and Rebecca is one of the candidates for the National Organic Standards Board. Jim, a writer and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Food and Society Fellow, has marched alongside tomato workers in Immokalee, Florida, and currently serves on Secretary Tom Vilsack’s appointed Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, among other positions.

Rebecca’s advice to other dairy farmers and livestock producers is to “Pay attention and get involved,” she said. “Get involved in your co-op or any organization that you buy from or sell to — get involved so that you have some say in what’s happening. It is quiet and complacency that allows things to happen. Farmers need to know, we need to educate ourselves about what is happening, about who’s controlling us and how to get some of that control back.”

And advice for consumers? “Local, local, local!” she exclaimed. “Know your food, know your farmer. With all of the food scares out there,” she continued, “they try to pin it on the small farmer. But everyone knows it’s the mega out-of-control places that are the culprits. Very seldom is it the little guys. That’s why you want to talk to your farmer, so you’ll know the real story.”

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