Supporting ag, one sign at a time

Doyle’s Dogs in Lake Mills is seen Friday during the lunch crowd. The stand is a pick up spot for “Support your local Farmers” signs being sold by the Lake Mills FFA Alumni as a way to connect with the community and raise funds for FFA programing.

You may have seen the sings around town, but do you know why they are selling them? As a way to connect with the community and start conversations about agriculture the Lake Mills FFA Alumni has started a “Support Local Farmers” sign campaign. The group has been selling the signs locally with proceeds going to the Lake Mills FFA Alumni, which supports agriculture programs for youth in Lake Mills.

The signs are a way for the group to connect with the community. Typically, during Town and Country Day weekend the Lake Mills FFA Alumni hosts a pork barbeque. This year the event has been cancelled due to COVID-19, but local students and farmers still have things to learn and crops and animals to take care of.

“We knew we weren’t going to have that avenue to interact with the community, so we thought about the yard signs. It’s a way to support students today tomorrow and the future,” said Tracy Brandel, a local farmer and member of the Lake Mills FFA Alumni. “Our FFA Alumni looks at the students who are enrolled in agriculture education to help them prepare for life and careers in agriculture. To support those students in FFA and agriculture education. We’ve seen a lot of the support dairy campaigns and we have a lot of agriculture in Jefferson County. There is so much here. There is no better time to support local farmers and our future agriculture.”

Farmers in Lake Mills, in Jefferson County and around the state of Wisconsin are going through a tough time trying to survive and remain vibrant. Gov. Evers announced a plan May 20 to provide $50 million in direct payments to Wisconsin farmers in support of the agricultural sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wisconsin is a national agriculture leader, but COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for farmers, food processors, and all those in the food supply chain. Federal aid so far has attempted to support agriculture nationwide, but Wisconsin farmers have been left out.

The Lake Mills Market does a good job of displaying local products including fruits, vegetables, honey, milk and cheese, but how do you know if the products you are buying are helping local farmers?

Most of the milk that is produced in Wisconsin stays in Wisconsin, Brandel says. “Usually it’s about 24 hours from the cow to the grocery store. That’s how fresh the milk is.”

She said on the top of milk containers the “code 55” stands for Wisconsin.

“The milk that is produced here locally goes to your local grocers because of the amount of milk that is produced in the state.”

The best way to support the local food system is looking for local brands at the store. There is a new Facebook page called Farm Direct Wisconsin that has an interactive listing of farmers from all over the state making it easier for consumers to connect directly with local farmers who have products for sale.

“The great thing about Lake Mills and our community, you don’t have to look far to see local farmers because we have vegetables, we have honey, we have people who are direct marketing meat and dairy farmers,” she said.

She says it’s also important to support restaurants that source local foods.

“I think when you buy from your local farmers you’re helping build communities. Communities have suffered because of the economic downfall that farmers have felt in the last few years. When one farmer exits their enterprise part of that community goes with it. The feed mills, the co-ops, the suppliers, those kinds of things all start to fall and that affects our community.”

The FFA Alumni is selling the signs for $10 each. Proceeds go back to the Lake Mills FFA chapter to support students in agriculture education. Those interested in purchasing a sign should contact Tracy Brandel at mtbrandel@gmail.com.

“The more we as the alumni can do to support students the stronger our local communities will be in agriculture. The FFA Alumni takes pride in supporting FFA, it’s not just about growing animals, grain or whatever it is.”

FFA is a premier leadership organization for students focused on personal growth and career development through agriculture education with opportunities like speaking and judging contests and leadership conferences.

“We are shaping the people who are going to be active and offering resources to the community in the future,” Brandel said.

So far the FFA Alumni has sold over 150 signs.

“The people here care, it’s a very giving community and it’s a great place for these kids who are involved in FFA. They are going to go on and do great things.”

“Farmers have asked for help, and this direct aid is meant to aid the farmers who are the foundation of our food system. Farmers also serve as the backbone of many of Wisconsin’s local rural economies, and these direct payments will help revitalize local economies and jump-start Wisconsin’s food supply chain, which has been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. Evers said last week.

“Supporting your local farmers builds such a sense of community. You are building that relationship with people who are direct marketing their products,” Brandel commented. “They are providing for their own family so not only are you receiving a fresh product, but you are providing income for that farmer’s family.”

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