Most years I like to acknowledge Dairy Month. Every June we celebrate the state’s multi-billion-dollar industry that puts Wisconsin on the map with some of the world’s most delicious cheese, among the other many fantastic dairy products our farmers produce.
This year, things are certainly a little different. Large events to celebrate dairy and industry events have been cancelled. Like so many Wisconsinites, farmers are suffering and unsure about the future of their work. Supply chains have been interrupted, sometimes ceased completely, and this has left many farmers to dump out excess milk and take a financial hit.
As we know, farming in Wisconsin has been hard hit long before the pandemic. Last year, hundreds of farms closed. Farmers are facing severe mental health challenges as they feel increasingly isolated and struggle financially.
This Dairy Month, I want to broaden my support to all farmers, the incredible community of agriculture producers throughout our state who need our support. From the blueberry-growers in Bayfield to the cheese-makers in Monroe, they are all facing a set of unique and trying circumstances during the time of COVID-19.
I’m happy to report that there has been some action at the state level. Gov. Tony Evers has directed $50 million in direct aid for farmers who have suffered losses under COVID-19. For farmers who are interested, visit the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website starting June 15 to apply.
There is also a $15 million program to fund and supply Wisconsin food banks to purchase and store agricultural products made in the state. This will be a great way for farmers to use their surplus and get food to those who need it most.
While this is all great news, I know there is more we can do. We must invest in mental health support for farmers, expand rural services like broadband and remain open to innovative and creative ways to support our farming communities.
As for what we can all do now, I ask those who are able to support their local farmers. Check the label on products at the grocery store for the words “Made in Wisconsin.” Support shops and vendors that sell local produce, meat and dairy. Farmers markets will be open this summer, providing a safe and fun outing for all ages and a perfect way to directly support farms in your area. I know I’ll be out there, with my mask on, buying some of the best fresh food in the country.
Farming, especially small family farming, is not just an important economic driver in Wisconsin (which of course it is — dairy alone generates $43 billion annually for our state). It’s a vital part of our legacy, and it should be an integral part of our future. Supporting locally produced food makes our communities healthier, more successful and a better place to live. We must take care to thank our farmers by supporting them through this tough time.
Beth Meyers represents Wisconsin’s 74th Assembly District.