The Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance has outgrown itself — or has at least outgrown its name.
The alliance has achieved its goals in outreach and support to farmers interested in conservation efforts so well that the scale of the organization merited a more encompassing name: Farmers for Sustainable Food.
When the group formed as the Dairy Strong Sustainability Alliance in 2016, it “was organized around the goal of helping dairy farmers make tangible improvements to the environment and other aspects of their farms,” Lauren Brey, director of strategic partnerships and sustainability for the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said during a May 11 press conference announcing the alliance’s transformation.
In the five years since, the group has expanded beyond the dairy industry and is starting to grow beyond Wisconsin as well, Brey said. Individual farms, farmer-led watershed groups, food processors and companies, and other corporations have joined as additional partners. And a more inclusive effort meant a more inclusive name was needed, Brey said.
Steve Richter, agricultural strategies director at The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, said that Farmers for Sustainable Food still needs “significant new partnerships” and that food and beverage companies around the globe are among those positioned to join the effort.
“Farmers for Sustainable Food will really be that driver or that guiding force to bring this diverse set of partners together to make change,” Richter said.
The group “is the only collaborative nonprofit organization that provides resources, advocacy, support and empowerment for farmers who are innovating and demonstrating sustainable farming practices,” Brey said.
Farmers for Sustainable Food aims to be a “boots on the ground support system” for farmers, Brey said.
It works to collect and bring the myriad of available sustainability resources directly to farmer-led watershed groups, so that the farmers who make up those groups can implement the right practices for them.
Paul Cornette, a Luxemburg dairy farmer and Farmers for Sustainable Food board member, came to the group through Peninsula Pride Farms, a farmer-led watershed group in eastern Wisconsin that has partnered with and benefited from the alliance.
“Since joining Farmers for Sustainable Food, I’ve been nothing but impressed with the work our staff does to support progressive farmers who are trying to take ownership of environmental challenges,” Cornette said.
Cornette said that the support given by Farmers for Sustainable Food allows farmers to focus on making “meaningful change.”
Over the last five years, farmer-led watershed groups have already been able to document expanded conservation practices, Richter said. “Outcomes are happening. Successes are being tracked.”
As Farmer for Sustainable Food continues, Brey said, the group aims to help farmers not only implement practices through the farmer-led watershed groups, but document those practices in a way that makes sense for the individual farmer. In the end, the valuable information farmers get will also be able to be translated into information that is valuable to food buyers, food companies and ultimately the customer, she said.
Cornette said, “As we continue to find new ways to measure and increase our positive impact, farmers will be empowered to strengthen the food supply chain, support our communities and protect the environment for all to achieve genuine sustainability and prosperity. It really is an exciting time.”