We Are NFU
Meet some of the farmers who make up National Farmers Union.
Jameil Saez was born and raised on an organic produce farm in Puerto Rico and came to Washington, D.C. after finishing college. He first came in contact with NFU through an internship with the public relations department but always knew that he wanted to eventually return to farming. Jameil understands that growing up on a farm versus running a farming business is two very different things, and became interested in furthering his education through the Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI). “I have a real passion for farming but at the same time I knew that I needed to learn the nuts and bolts of the business-side of farming in order to do it successfully,” he said. “And I was able to accomplish that through BFI.” Today, Jameil works on a two-acre farm in Hawaii while teaching agriculture classes in Molokai, Hawaii. “I want to keep farming but at the same time I’m also interested in the public policy side and educational side of farming as well,” he noted. “It’s great to connect children with our food production system so they better understand that food comes from farms and not grocery stores,” he added.
Denise Brown grew up in rural North Dakota in a small farming community with a population of 50 and from a very early age became interested in agriculture and the role cooperatives play in helping farming pool their buying and selling power to attain better prices and more affordable inputs. Denise became a North Dakota Farmers Union member as a child and enrolled in a number of Farmers Union education programs that taught the basics of cooperatives and how to make them more effective. Denise has been quite active in the Bismarck/Mandan cooperative for the past nine years and is proud to be a female leader in agriculture, given women make up just 14 percent of principal farm operators nationally. Denise noted “it is important for people to realize that the cooperative in their community is a vital business. A cooperative provides jobs, products and services to the community. When community business starts to diminish in size it is usually the cooperative that is what holds the community together.”
Donn Teske is a fifth-generation Kansas cattlemen who resides on the land homesteaded by his family when they came to Kansas in a covered wagon after the Civil War. His deep roots in farming and concern for the environment has motivated Donn to become heavily involved in legislative policy issues, which is why he currently serves as president of Kansas Farmers Union and vice president of National Farmers Union. Donn recognizes that American consumers are increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of the food they’re purchasing and feeding their children, and applauded the passage of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), a law mandating that meat products be labeled with their country of origin. “Raising cattle in Kansas has been the main source of income for my family since the late 1860s. Producers happily embraced COOL because we are among the most productive farmers and ranchers in the world, raising the most affordable and safest products on the market. And frankly, we’re proud to see the “Product of the U.S.” label on the things we produce,” he said.
John Hansen grew up on a farm in Nebraska and operated a diversified grain and livestock operation for decades before moving to Lincoln to take the reigns as the president of Nebraska Farmers Union. John believes that family farmers need a strong presence in the legislative arena – both nationally and locally – to ensure that agriculture’s best interests are being represented. John says that one of the best things that has happened to family farmers in the last several decades is the enactment of the Renewable Fuel Standard, the law mandating that a targeted amount of renewable fuels be blended into the nation’s fuel supply annually. “The passage of the RFS by the U.S. Congress, coupled with appropriate state policies that focused on renewable ethanol production development, created the single largest and most effective rural economic development strategy ever implemented,” says Hansen.
Rob McClure and Erin Schneider
Rob McClure and Erin Schneider grow 53 different types of vegetables that represent 153 varieties, plus lot of herbs and about a dozen fruits including hardy kiwi, apples and raspberries, operating Hilltop Community Farm in LaValle, Wis. under a model known as community supported agriculture (CSA). “Our members subscribe to our farm for 20 weeks and get to experience the ups and downs of farming and the food cycle,” they noted. “Patrons make a commitment to fund our work and we make a commitment to grow them socially conscious, healthy and sustainable food.” The couple have been NFU members for five years, and developed their appreciation for NFU through the Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI). They say that their involvement in Farmers Union has allowed them to meet farmers who span the entire spectrum of production types. “One of the beauties of Farmers Union is that we meet new and interesting people who are in very different aspects of the production chain and everyone values each other’s contributions and expertise.”
Kent Wright is a sixth generation rancher farmer raised in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. While in college where he played baseball and attained a Master’s Degree in Science, Kent heard about NFU’s Beginning Farmers Institute (BFI) and thought the educational opportunity would benefit him as he returned to the family farm to pursue a living in the cattle business. “The Beginning Farmer Institute opened my eyes to how to approach agriculture in a more sustainable way. I got to know ranchers and farmers at BFI who were working with much smaller pieces of land and my discussions with them planted the seeds in my mind for how to develop more intensive grazing practices for my cattle.” In the process, Kent also became and NFU member and is the President of Northwest Farmers Union. Kent still maintains a close connection with the family ranch Wright Way Angus and serves as the marketing and communications manager and assists in daily operations.