joe schroeder farm aid

Blog | August 29, 2017

Joe Schroeder’s journey to Farm Aid to advocate for family farmers

by Joe Schroeder

I grew up in the rolling hills of the Ohio River Valley during a time when burley tobacco was far more prevalent than the current dominant scene of corn and soybeans. My family didn’t farm, but because both of my parents worked in the school system and my father worked nights as a family social worker, we were deeply invested in our community and not far removed from agriculture as a way of life. Everything from our public schools to our hospitals were built with tobacco money and many friends spent the summer working in the fields earning money for college. Of course, the tobacco economy has shifted greatly in my lifetime and a short drive through the surrounding country gives a pretty good snapshot of its continuing decline as an economic driver.

After graduating from Earlham College where I studied international politics, economics and Mexican land reform history, I moved to Chicago and started working as a union organizer with SEIU local 880. While the childcare providers we represented were scattered across the state, the majority were concentrated in the South and West side of Chicago in outdated public housing and densely populated neighborhoods. I gained valuable insight in this work, and confirmed that people generally know what’s best for themselves and that organizing towards that end can lead to tangible changes for people and communities.

After a hard-fought campaign, we were successful in gaining union representation for 50,000 state-funded childcare providers, and I moved back to my native region to apply those lessons in a food and agriculture context while working for a statewide farm organization called Community Farm Alliance. Fittingly, the organization was propelled in the mid 1980’s with a grant from Farm Aid, and it’s still working for Kentucky farmers. After around three years of work there to build local opportunities for mutual benefit to rural farmers and urban entrepreneurs, I left Kentucky to work for the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) in North Carolina. There I was exposed to a huge diversity of farm communities and leaders who would help me learn how to address the problems within their communities. This work also introduced me to Farm Aid’s broad national network of farm advocates and organizations leading the positive changes we’ve seen in farm lending policy, civil rights settlements and reforms, and the creation of a myriad of programs and funding in Washington for environmental and social benefit for farm communities throughout the country.

“People generally know what’s best for themselves and that organizing towards that end can lead to tangible changes for people and communities.”

My new role as a Farm Advocate at Farm Aid is a dream come true for me, and a chance to come home to my community of comrades, advocates and agriculture leaders who gave me so much over the last decade of learning and working. I’m hopeful to build on and leverage that network for the benefit of farmers who continue to struggle in our volatile and ever-changing agricultural communities and economies. Please join me in solidarity with those who feed us and the heroes who keep fighting alongside them to keep the snakes from their proverbial chicken houses, feed bins and pantries.

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