How I Lead: Patty Edelburg Elected Vice President of National Farmers Union

Photo courtesy of National Farmers Union.

by Ash Bruxvoort

In a short conversation with Patty Edelburg it is easy to tell that she is a dynamic leader with a long-term vision. She’s a leader in food and agriculture and has served in a variety of roles in Wisconsin Farmers Union and USDA FSA. Now, she will bring her range of skills and knowledge to the National Farmers Union as Vice President. She was elected this March at the National Farmers Union Convention in Kansas City.

Patty first became involved with the Farmers Union in 1998, when she became Membership Services Coordinator for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. She served 12 years on the Wisconsin Farmers Union board and stepped down in 2016 to serve as the FSA Wisconsin State Executive Director. She says while her time at FSA was short due to administration changes, she was able to gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of administering farm policy. She served on Wisconsin’s state FSA committee for six years before she was appointed to lead the agency by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

A New Voice and Perspective

Patty is a fifth generation farmer, but that doesn’t mean her journey to her own farm was simple. She saw her parents lose their farm during the mid-90’s. In 2008, Patty and her husband bought their own farm after 10 years of searching, being turned down by bankers and told they would never make it. They now milk 120 registered Holsteins on 450 acres of land growing corn and alfalfa mainly for feed. She says this is a pretty average size dairy farm in Wisconsin.

Patty is not the first woman serving as Vice President. Claudia Svarsted served in the role for many years. Patty says she brings a unique voice because she is a woman and working farmer.

“I fell in love with Farmers Union because they portrayed hope for so many family farmers that are trying to follow their dreams. I want to continue the conversation on how we can stop the bleeding in rural America,” she said during her nomination speech at the National Farmers Union Convention in March. “We are in debt up to our ears with no end in sight. Up until recently, I didn’t understand my dad, I was angry actually when he said ‘no child of mine will ever run this farm’ and sold it. But I realize now my parents had no choice but to sell. Like so many of the family farms that are forced to sell because the markets can’t support their operation any longer.”

Building a Strong Farmers Union

Patty encourages more women to stand up, share their stories, and lend their voice to shaping the future of agriculture. As a young leader in agriculture, she says she thinks it is important for children and younger generations to see diverse leadership in the industry.

Farmers Union members are able to help shape the Farm Bill and give input on farm policy. In order for that policy to truly benefit farmers, greater diversity in the Farmers Union and in leadership is necessary. Patty is one of three women on the Farmers Union board now. Until recently, Heidi Secord of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union served as the only woman on the National Farmers Union board. In addition to Patty, this year Charlotte Smith from Northwest Farmers Union was elected to the board. While three women on the twenty-five member board is a significant shift in diversity of the organization, Patty points out that she is the only woman who can vote. This is because Pennsylvania Farmers Union and Northwest Farmers Union are charter chapters, or don’t meet the state membership requirements necessary to earn a vote. These women are able to bring their voice and opinion to the table, but are still not equal to many men on the board with strong state Farmers Union membership.

“We need to continue to create programs to help grow our membership, especially in states where they rely solely on membership to survive,” said Patty in her nomination speech. “We need to continue to grow our established insurance programs and continue to find ways to expand them. We need to continue to grow and expand programs that will bring in younger members.”

Advancing Women’s Leadership

WFAN loves partnering with National Farmers Union and was happy to bring Plate to Politics and Vote Run Lead training to more than 90 women at the National Farmers Union Women’s Conference in January.  Many of these women are already incredible leaders in Farmers Union. There are women leading at all levels of the Farmers Union.

We believe that the strength and future of the National Farmers Union is in the voices of those women. After the Plate to Politics break-out discussions, we heard from so many women excited about ramping up their leadership and taking on leadership positions within Farmers Union and their communities.

We are happy to work with National Farmers Union to help advance the role of women in the organization. We have partnered with Farmers Union chapters across the country to bring women to Plate to Politics workshops and we will continue to work together to diversify the leadership of the organization.

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Read more stories about women’s leadership and the Plate to Politics program.

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