Thomas and Pamela Saunders Papers, 1974-1993 (bulk 1979-1989)


Thomas “Tom” F. Saunders was born on January 30, 1947, in Fargo, North Dakota, and was raised in Bird Island, Minnesota. In 1969, he graduated from Macalester College with a B.S. in biology. Saunders taught for a year, and attended graduate school in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Saunders married Pamela Hendrickson in 1970; the couple had four children. In 1975 the Saunders family moved to Prairie Farm, Wisconsin. Tom Saunders made and sold hand-thrown pottery, and after the family established a dairy farm, performed much of the farm work using draft horses (the children's book entitled Farming Today Yesterday's Way by Cheryl Walsh Bellville (Carolrhoda Books, 1984) tells the story of the Saunders family and is illustrated with photographs of their farm). In response to the farm crisis of the early 1980s, Saunders became involved in various actions to draw attention to the plight of small family farms, including demonstrations protesting farm foreclosure proceedings, helping to organize Farm Aid concerts, and in 1982 founding, with other farmers, Wisconsin Farm Unity Alliance (WFUA). The next year WFUA became a member of North American Farm Alliance (NAFA), a coalition of twenty-eight farm organizations which formed in response to the farm crisis of the 1980s, and sought to address the issues of farm credit and farmers' legal rights. Viewing the plight of farmers in a broader context, it also worked to forge alliances on common issues with farmers worldwide.

In 1985 he was a founding member of the National Save the Family Farm Coalition, and in 1987 he was a founder and then president of the Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy, which acted to preserve farmland in trust for future generations.

In addition to his work with numerous farm organizations, Saunders occasionally wrote on environmental and agricultural topics using three pseudonyms (including Peter Underhill and W.M. Child) as well as his given name.

Tom Saunders died on June 22, 1989 in a logging accident near Dallas, Wisconsin. Pamela Saunders continued her work with sustainable agriculture organizations such as the Wisconsin Farmland Conservancy (currently known as the West Wisconsin Land Trust), and worked with the meat producers team at Coulee Region Organic Producers Pool (CROPP Cooperative, commonly known under its brand name, Organic Valley), and as part of Organic Prairie (the brand name of the meat products line at Organic Valley) from 1997 to 2017. She also serves as Board Chair of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).