John Kinsman Remembered
John Kinsman, Wisconsin farmer and social justice advocate, died yesterday (Jan. 20, 2014), at the age of 87. In my life in journalism, he ranks with Jim Graaskamp, the great UW-Madison professor, as the person I’ve admired the most. John was a classic Wisconsin progressive. He battled for the rights of the weak and the dispossessed all his life, sometimes traveling to the far ends of the world. Somehow he also managed to raise ten kids with his wife Jean, and run a small farm near Lime Ridge in central Wisconsin.
Here’s what I wrote about John in a 2012 story in The Progressive Magazine:
On a winter afternoon, Kinsman is just another Wisconsin farmer as he walks his 150 acres. He and Jean bought the worn-out, rock-strewn farm in the early 1950s not far from where his parents farmed. An early run-in with chemical pesticides put Kinsman in the hospital and converted him to organic farming. He points to the results.
Here are the pastures on which he rotationally grazes his milking herd of thirty-six Holsteins, the forested hills where he’s planted, literally, tens of thousands of trees, and the stand of fruit trees and bushes he’s grown around his house. And that patch of cacti—the prickly pear—was no exotic transplant but a stubborn native remnant from a warmer geological age in Wisconsin. Sort of like Kinsman himself.
Kinsman is a fourth-generation Wisconsin family farmer. His grandmother Samantha, who died at the age of ninety-seven in 1944, saw General Ulysses S. Grant when he visited Sandusky, Wisconsin. His dad was a “dyed-in-the-wool Republican who would vote for a dog if he were a Republican,” he says with a laugh.
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