By Tommy Enright, Wisconsin Farmers Union Communications Associate
The Wood-Portage-Waupaca County Chapter of Wisconsin Farmers Union made history in November with the election of Alicia Razvi, a CSA farmer from Stevens Point, as their chapter president. Razvi served as the chapter’s secretary/treasurer for two years prior to her election to the office of president.
“Two years ago, I walked into a meeting to enroll my kids in a youth program and found a group of dedicated, hardworking, passionate folks with whom I felt a quick connection,” Razvi said. “After two years’ worth of meetings as the secretary/treasurer and learning as much as I could about issues that face farmers in our area, I have taken the leap both in becoming a small farmer myself but also by developing my advocacy skills so that I can be a voice for other family farmers in the area.”
In addition to being a farmer, Razvi has been an eighth grade science and second grade teacher, a pre-college camp director for students of financial need at UW-Stevens Point, a caregiver for her husband as he underwent a bone marrow transplant for Leukemia, and a home-school educator to her three children until this past September when they all went back to school.
WFU President Darin Von Ruden was also present for the meeting. “We had a historic day for Wisconsin Farmers Union and National Farmers Union on November 14, with our first Muslim county president being elected to the Wood-Portage-Waupaca Chapter,” Von Ruden said. “I think this shows the true diversity of our organization as we continue the path forward.”
Farmers Union has a long history of being ahead of the curve regarding equality and opportunity for women. In 1906, the Pleasant Valley Union in Rooks County, Kansas elected Miss Amanda Bates—the first known woman president in all of the Farmers Union —14 years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote. In 1925, the Alabama Farmers Union elected Ida Mathis to be the first state president in Farmers Union history. Women leaders from across the U.S. pushed for development of a uniform Farmers Union youth program at the 1930 national convention.
More recently, National Farmers Union has hosted a yearly Women’s Conference, offering adult education classes specifically designed for women in agriculture and providing participants with important leadership and management skills, as well as networking opportunities. It is clear that Farmers Union, historically and presently, places value in all people, regardless of gender.
WFU has been no exception to this; the first female board member listed in WFU records is Mrs. Ruth Huntington of Mondovi in 1935. Ruth was a founding member of WFU. Around that time, the board allocated $200 to establish youth work and designated Huntington as the junior leader. Jean Long was also a founding member and served as WFU education director for 27 years, beginning in 1952. She joined the state staff in 1940 as director of public relations. Member Janet Nelson has been a long-time leader in Wisconsin Farmers Union, serving on the board since 1980. In 2003, Sue Beitlich of Stoddard was elected as the first female president and ninth overall president of WFU, serving from 2003-2009.
WFU has also been a key sponsor of Soil Sisters, a weekend-long immersive farming and culinary event, and in recent years has organized a Women Caring for the Land series of women’s networking events and farm tours (in partnership with Women, Food & Agriculture Network).
Occurring only one week after the culmination of a tremendously divisive national presidential election, which often included offensive anti-Muslim sentiments, the cultural significance of her election is not lost on Razvi.
“It is pretty amazing to think that the Farmers Union members felt that I — a beginning farmer, Muslim woman, wife, and mother of three — represented the general membership,” Razvi said. “I am humbled by the belief that the group put into me to advocate for our chunk of Wisconsin. And I do not take the responsibility lightly.”