Family Farm Defenders Records, 1985, 1990-2013


Among the issues that led to the formation of the organization that would become Family Farm Defenders two were prominent: the introduction of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to stimulate milk production in dairy cattle, and the dairy checkoff program, in which a percentage of the milk price paid to dairy farmers is used to fund promotion of dairy products on both state and federal levels.

In 1990 a group of dairy farmers (including John Kinsman and other Wisconsin farmers) from across the country filed a lawsuit (Civil Action No. 90-2929-NHJ) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia concerning the improper use of National Dairy Board funds to influence the FDA approval process for bovine growth hormone.

The group held meetings across Wisconsin in 1991, and discussed forming a marketing agency for dairy farmers. In the course of these informal meetings, the topic of milk pricing and the role of the National Dairy Board became a focus of attention. Discussion of subsequent research by attorney Ruth Simpson, assistant director of the Wisconsin Action Coalition, resulted in a petition drive to “Dump the National Dairy Board,” which was also the name of the organization that formed around that effort. At the opening day of the World Dairy Expo in Madison in October 1991, the group held a press conference with Senator Russ Feingold, and gathered more than one thousand signatures for the petition effort. The grassroots organization Minnesota Coalition of Citizens Acting Together (COACT) became involved, as did similar groups in other dairy producing states. The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) passed a resolution endorsing the campaign at its conference in December 1991, and offered its support. Petition cards included in a trade journal resulted in additional petition signatures. More copies of the petition were distributed at meetings of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board in 1992.

The petition, written by Wisconsin dairy farmers Francis Goodman, John Kinsman, and Mike O'Connell, called for a referendum on whether or not to continue the checkoff program that was established in 1983: $0.15 of every hundred weight of milk was assessed from producers to fund the promotional efforts of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB), with the NDB receiving $0.05 and state and regional groups receiving the remaining $0.10. Organizers of the petition effort, initially part of Project Self Help and Awareness, an exchange program between white farmers in Wisconsin and black farmers in Mississippi, were also opposed to what they saw as financial mismanagement, falling milk prices, and efforts by the NDB to promote the use of bovine growth hormone (BGH) in dairy cattle to increase milk production. After the required signatures (14,500 or 10% of U.S. dairy farmers, lowered to 145,000 from an initial USDA estimate of nearly 200,000 farmers) were collected, a referendum was scheduled for August 1993. A lawsuit (Civil Action No. 93 C 0407 S) filed by a group of dairy farmers in U.S. District Court for Western Wisconsin challenged the constitutionality of the modified bloc voting system, whereby individual farmers could cast individual ballots if they did not agree with the way their dairy cooperative was planning to cast its votes on behalf of its members.

The referendum passed with 71% of the vote (including cooperatives who bloc voted) in favor of continued support of the NDB, but 76% of farmers who cast individual ballots were against continuation of the NDB. In January 1994 the Dump the National Dairy Board Campaign officially reorganized as a permanent, non-profit organization known as Family Farm Defenders (FFD) and retained attorney Alexander J. Pires to challenge the bloc voting process (NDPRB No. 93-1).

FFD requested a new vote in a three-day hearing before administrative law judge Edwin Bernstein in July 1994, with producer members speaking against the bloc voting system, whereby dairy cooperatives were able to cast votes on behalf of their producer members. Bernstein's decision, issued on August 10, 1994, ruled that the referendum was conducted in compliance with established rules.

Meanwhile, a temporary steering committee of Family Farm Defenders met in Sacramento, California, in March 1994 to discuss by-laws and the establishment of a Board of Directors and an Executive Committee. The organization, with a stated aim of creating a “farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented dairy industry,” was incorporated in the state of Wisconsin in September 1994, and was approved as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1995. John Kinsman, who served as head of the Steering Committee, went on to serve as President of FFD until his death in 2014.

At the 1996 FFD annual meeting, two projects were launched: 1) a marketing agency in common (MAIC) that would become the American Raw Milk Producers Pricing Association (ARMPPA); 2) Family Farmer Cheese, a project to sell fair trade cheese made from milk from family farms as a means of funding some of FFD's activities.

Also included are a few records of a predecessor organization, the Wisconsin Family Farm Defense Fund, established in 1985.

For further information on the organization and its current projects, see the Family Farm Defenders website.