By Alicia Razvi, President of the Wood-Portage-Waupaca County Chapter of Wisconsin Farmers Union
In September of 2014, I walked into my first Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) meeting. The chapter was forming a youth program, and I was curious about local food. Little did I know, walking into that coffee house meeting would lead me on a most unexpected and liberating path. That turn of phrase feels dramatic, but it is both true and an understatement.
I was not yet a farmer, but the group of farmers I met didn’t seem to mind one bit. I was warmly welcomed into the Farmers Union family and encouraged to participate in the group.
My yearning to grow food gripped me a year earlier, in the spring of 2013. My husband had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and I threw myself into caring for him and our three small children, age three months, two years, and six years. Treating his leukemia was intense but luckily brief. Within seven months, we’d been through three lengthy hospital stays, a move to Chicago, a stem cell transplant, and a move back to Wisconsin. The chemo and radiation killed my husband’s blood counts. The stress and weight of it all killed my own ability to simply float through life. I had faced my own crucible and was left with intense feelings of gratitude and anxiety. Life was more beautiful but more painful, and I was acutely aware of our fleeting lifespans.
The first year after the transplant was very rough. Nights were particularly bad. One night when I couldn’t sleep, I was laying in the dark, just miserable and feeling out of control. I reasoned that if I could just control this tiny piece of life, I would feel more peace in our circumstance. That is when I had a moment of enlightenment: if I took a seed and nurtured it, I could bring it to life. I could grow that seed into a seedling and then literally hold the life of the plant in my hand and control its care and living conditions. If I did everything right, I could turn that seed into a tomato bush or a kohlrabi. A wave of peace washed over me, and I slept soundly, dreaming of seeds and dirt and sunshine. After that night, feeding my family real food took on tremendous new importance.
When the dream of farming bubbled to the surface in 2014, I decided to follow it. In 2016, with experience in gardening for pleasure and raising chickens for eggs and comic relief, my now-healthy husband and I decided to dedicate the growing season to more than just our family. I began a micro-CSA for several families, and I became a farmer, although I would not feel like a real farmer until I had successfully completed a growing season. Now in our second year, we have expanded to 20 CSA shares, selling halal chicken and providing an egg route. We are small but growing, and I am happy with my pace and progress.
Along the way, I have been an active member of our local Farmers Union chapter. I served two years as secretary/treasurer. Then, in November, 2016, just one week after the American people named a new president of the United States, I was named the newest president of my local WFU chapter, becoming the first female Muslim chapter president in National Farmers Union history. It has been quite an honor.
In this new role, I have challenged myself not only to advocate for family farmers, but also to become more of an advocate for the community. Advocating for my community means speaking up – as a farmer, as a Muslim, as a woman, as a mother, as a wife of a cancer survivor, as a believer in public education, and as a person who can nurture both the land and future generations.
Farmers Union has provided many opportunities to learn and grow along the way. Because of their education and support, I have attended two state conventions as a delegate and my first Farm and Rural Lobby day. I have also accepted an invitation to sit on the governance board of an area middle school and provide several lectures in the community each year on various topics regarding my faith.
Farmers Union saw in me something I did not see myself, and encouraged it to grow. I found myself at a school board meeting last month, wondering what it might be like to run for school board. I scrutinized my township newsletter last week to see that the whole town board is made of men. “There should be a woman on this board – perhaps I should run,” I felt myself think.
We all have a voice. We all have a story. Farmers Union has many ways – trainings, conference sessions, lobby day briefings, and chapter meetings – of developing those abilities in us, in shifting our views of ourselves, and reminding us that we can, indeed, make a difference.
Alicia Razvi is the President of the Wood-Portage-Waupaca County Chapter of Wisconsin Farmers Union. She is also the owner and operator of Wooly Thyme Micro Farm in Stevens Point, which includes a CSA, Halal meat, and pasture-raised chicken and eggs.