Interviewing John Kinsman, the farmer activist from Lime Ridge, was easily one of my more enjoyable assignments. The guy is fascinating, uniquely American in his personal history and in committment to holding our country to its ideals. Here’s how the story in The Progressive magazine begins:
What could be more rare than cactus in a Wisconsin farmer’s wintry backyard? That would be the farmer himself if it’sJohn Kinsman. At age eighty-five, Kinsman has lived a singular life of activism.
This modest farmer from the Dairy State boondocks has traveled the world to stand with small farmers and indigenous people.
“You have to put your whole self into it,” he says of his approach. “You have to live what you’re saying.”
Kinsman has certainly done that. He’s locked arms with Native Americans like Winona LaDuke in their struggle. He founded the activist group Family Farm Defenders in 1994. He marched with his friend the French farm leader Jose Bové of anti-McDonald’s fame in “The Battle of Seattle” in 1999. He’s even sailed with Greenpeace.
How he managed all this while running a dairy farm in central Wisconsin, near tiny Lime Ridge, and raising ten children with his wife, Jean, may be the most improbable thing of all about Kinsman.
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. His own political awakening began in World War II, when on an Army train through Mississippi, he was upbraided for waving to the black people along the track.
To read more, please go here: http://www.progressive.org/family_farm_defender.html