Wisconsin’s rich agricultural heritage provides a bounty of signature products like cheese, cranberries, horseradish, ginseng, cherries and quality produce that’s renowned throughout our state and beyond. Wisconsin farmers are also excelling in another aspect—organic farming.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service collects data on farmers every five years. The 2019 Certified Organic Survey, the most recent data available, shows Wisconsin is second only behind California in the number of certified organic farms. There are 250,940 acres of organic farmland in Wisconsin. The total number of organic farms is 1,364. Organic product sales totaled $268,921,000 (nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Wisconsin/Publications/Miscellaneous/2020/WI-Certified-Organic-10-20.pdf).
By comparison, first-place California organic acreage totaled 965,257, and the number of organic operations was 3,012. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Washington, Vermont, Minnesota and Indiana round out the USDA’s list.
Commodity.com also compiled a list of U.S. states with the most organic farms, using analysis from the 2019 Survey of Organic Agriculture. Wisconsin ranked sixth among the top 15 states. To identify the states with the most organic farms, researchers at Commodity.com calculated the total certified organic acres operated as a percentage of total farmland in each state. In the event of a tie, the state with the greater number of organic farms as a percentage of total farms was ranked higher. Only states with available data from the USDA were included in their analysis. (link.edgepilot.com/s/bdba3883/q174NqfofEabstuvQj4eGQ?u=https://commodity.com/blog/most-organic-farms)
Commodity.com identifies organic farming as “agriculture that attempts to mimic nature and natural processes when raising crops and livestock.” While large-scale industrial agriculture often uses genetic modifications (GMOs), synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to achieve high yields in a short amount of time, organic farming practices strive to conserve the farmland’s biodiversity and natural resources. Organic farming techniques include crop diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and natural soil additives such as animal manure, compost and lime.
The USDA does a Census of Agriculture every five years. Data collected from urban and rural farms includes land ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures. The 2022 Census of Agriculture is underway; farmers that have not already received a National Agriculture Statistics Service survey can get more information and sign up through June 30 at nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.]
Organic Roots In Wisconsin
La Farge, Wis.-based Organic Valley, founded in 1988, is the nation’s largest farmer-owned organic cooperative. As one of the largest organic consumer brands, Organic Valley’s dairy products can be found at local co-ops to national retailers like Whole Foods. Undeterred by the “get big or get out” mantra pushed by USDA secretary Earl Butz during the ‘70s, farmers in Wisconsin’s Coulee region, led by George Siemon, banded together to reject industrial chemical farming, and Organic Valley was born.
Closer to Milwaukee, Wellspring was founded in 1982 by Mary Ann Ihm to protect and nurture natural resources. Their six-acre organic vegetable farm is home of the longest running community supported agriculture (CSA) program in Wisconsin. Last year, Caleb Trainor took over Wellspring’s farm enterprise and launched Winterspring, LLC. His innovative model incubator farm continues Wellspring’s mission of working with organic, sustainable and regenerative agriculture to provide the community with locally grown and harvested organic produce.
Wisconsin consumers seeking certified organic or sustainably raised produce, dairy and meat are fortunate to have myriad local choices. Many family farms in Wisconsin are not certified organic but still use chemical-free, regenerative or biodynamic farming methods but for one reason or another have chosen not to pursue organic certification. Ask questions, research and most importantly, get to know your farmer. For a guide to local farmers and farmers markets near you, visit farmfreshatlas.org.