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“Devastated” is the word Tony Schultz uses to describe his feelings the night he came home from high school football practice, and his father announced that the family would have to sell its 50 dairy cows.
Farmer, fighter and firebrand, Tony Schultz is not an easy man to devastate, but he saw the future he’d chosen for himself falling victim to a relentless wave of factory farming, and he’s been battling back ever since. It’s been an uphill struggle, but he says it’s a long way from over.
“The decision was made to sell our cows, but not necessarily by my father,” he recalled. “He wasn’t making any money. He couldn’t go on having a conventional dairy farm in a market where farmers were getting nine dollars a hundred weight when it cost 18 dollars to produce that 100 pounds of milk. It happened because of the consolidation of the dairy industry.”
“Get big or get out” is the message Schultz sees coming down from state and federal government policies that rig subsidies against family farmers, provide higher payments for mass producers and decline to enforce monopoly law. But he’s done neither while helping to lead the fight for family farms.
When you hear Schultz talk to tens of thousands at a rally in Madison, you think he was born to be in front of a microphone. But the 32-year-old third generation farmer is most at home with his partner, Kat Becker, running Stoney Acres Farm in Athens where they grow organic fruits and vegetables on 12 acres alongside a pasture-fed beef and pig business on 90 acres. He grew up on the place, and it’s about as far from a factory farm as it can be.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) like the one proposed near Adams like to pretend that their interests are the same as the interests of family farmers. But Schultz will tell you nothing could be further from the truth.
“Look at the agricultural landscape,” he said. “We’re hemorrhaging family farms. People are selling out every day at the same time as you have a rise in CAFOs. The two are directly related because of agribusiness domination. When these big farms come into play, they leverage out small farms.”
Is the situation hopeless for family farmers? “Absolutely not,” said Schultz, who sees the rise of organic farming, a boom in farmer’s markets and a consumer interest in buying food locally as major positives.
“It’s not just about being organic,” he said. “It’s about having a system where there’s economic democracy where lots of people can have access to the land, to production and to a livelihood that supports them.”



The lesson’s I’ve learned….

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As printed in the Defender, the newsletter of the Family Farm Defenders.

I thought that we were doing good deeds. I thought that in some small way we were doing our part to support local agriculture. We have belonged to a local CSA for years. We buy as much “organic” labeled products as we can (whatever the definition). We buy local. We have cut back on our waste. We espouse energy conservation and recycle everything. Of course we were making a difference. But for these reasons I was unprepared for how much I didn’t know.
My education came fast and furious this past summer as I embarked on a journey.. a fight really, to protect our local area from a new dairy CAFO. The Richfield CAFO was moving in not too far from our home on Pleasant Lake in Coloma, WI. What I learned scared me. 4500 cows in this small space? So much waste that it needs to be spread on over 16,000 acres? Think of the pollution. Think of the smell. Think of the disruption. Think of the impact on our local tourist economy. Think of the antibiotics that will enter our food supply. What I didn’t know was that which caused my visceral reaction was just the tip of the pile so to speak.
We forced a public hearing to which hundreds came, signs appeared along roadways, t-shirts were created, and the press took up our cause. And out of nowhere many individuals and organizations came out to help. From the beginning, Family Farm Defenders became a great supporter of our efforts to stop this CAFO. Members of the team and the board provided information, ideas and most importantly, education as to what I should expect. When word of the initial approvals for the dairy came down FFD  stepped in to support us in initiating legal action against the WDNR. This action helped to slow down the approval process which dragged out all summer. Recently, the WDNR issued the final permit and the approval of the high capacity well. Disappointing but not unexpected, we are planning our next move.
But there were surprises as well. While I thought that we were supporting the family farm through our actions, I had no idea of the size, scale and diversity of the major issues impacting these farms today. My education continued as I learned how the economics of these large factory farms negatively impact the market, how families were struggling to survive while large corporate farms dominate the industry. I had no idea how sand mining drove up land values to the detriment of those needing to lease the land. How pesticides sprayed from above power lines would drift down on organic farms and in so doing render them out of business. I didn’t realize these issues were pitting neighbor against neighbor and families against themselves. I was blissfully unaware of the extent of the problems faced by those who practice agriculture in a sustainable manner. Having grown up in rural Minnesota surrounded by farms, with many of my friends living on those farms, I still had this idyllic image in my mind. I had no idea.
Our fight continues against the Richfield CAFO. Win or lose however, this fight has become much larger. This experience has taught me the hard lessons about the “process”. Governmental agencies we rely on are not looking out for our best interests. The fact is that as citizens, we need to balance the influence of corporations. We need to stand up for what we believe. We must take a stand. We must be visible and influential. The state may be “open for business” but as consumers we have a choice in what we buy. The growth of factory farms in Wisconsin and elsewhere cannot continue unabated and unchallenged. We must make sure that the proper regulations and policies are in place to protect us from big business. This process has given rise to a realization that government per se is not the problem but rather that big business has too much influence in the government. We must ensure that our food system and our environment are protected by proper and effective policies. We must vote our way to effective and appropriate transformation in the management of our food supply.
As I put these words on paper I realize that most of you reading them are wondering why the rest of us don’t understand the magnitude of the problems. I confess that I thought I had…but clearly I did not. So consider me a new crusader on the battle field…eager to learn, eager to make a difference. I have much to learn and until I know better, I will do what I can to continue the fight.


If it looks and smells bad must be bad!


New Chester CAFO – Before the expansion!

It looks bad, It smells bad, it can be extremely hazardous to your health, and 14,000 truckloads of it may be coming soon to a school near you.

Like most things in life, manure has its place. The south end of a northbound cow comes to mind, and so do acres of farm fields that legitimately need fertilizer. But do we really want millions of gallons of it being generated every year by a single factory farm barely a mile from the Grand Marsh Grade School?

That’s the question being posed in Adams County by corporate farm giant Milk Source Holdings LLC as it completes plans to double the size of its New Chester Dairy Contained Area Feeding Operation to a mind bending 9,100 cows. Milk Source probably knows the answer, but it hasn’t showed many signs of caring. And unless people from all across Wisconsin demonstrate that they do, the DNR and state government won’t either.

Manure is of course both necessary and natural – just not in liquefied form at 100 million gallons a year spread within sniffing and drinking distance of the Grand Marsh kids’ playground. That’s what you’d get from the New Chester expansion, along with three waste storage ponds that can hold 63.1 million gallons of the stuff. And with it comes all the nitrates and phosphorus that have been linked to birth defects, thyroid problems and various types of cancer when it’s been allowed to leak into our drinking water.

It’s the DNR’s job to make sure the leaking doesn’t happen, but the department’s approach to the job is anything but reassuring. Milk Source is planning another Adams County CAFO near Coloma called Richfield Dairy where the DNR has required the drilling of wells to sample and analyze the nitrogen and bacterial content of the waste water. But incredibly, the department doesn’t specify what levels would be harmful and what if any consequences would come from exceeding them.

The Richfield CAFO by the way is projected to house 4300 cows, but the DNR hasn’t put any limits on its size, and the CAFO could file applications to double in size at any time. With three law suits making their way through the courts, Richfield is a long way from a done deal. One look at what’s going on at Grand Marsh should tell you why it’s worth the fight.