Photographed by Hillary Schave
Fighting uphill political and corporate battles is just another day at the office for Kara O’Connor. The Wisconsin Farmers Union Government Relations Director has been grappling with the shifting dynamics affecting modern agriculture throughout her eight-year tenure. “Retaining conservation objectives in the Farm Bill, responsible land use and securing adequate healthcare for farmers are just a handful of our members’ concerns that I am committed to going to bat for since they connect to basic humanitarian issues I also passionately believe in,” O’Connor says.
And due to the recent influx of millennial and novice farmers joining the union, O’Connor says a big priority this year is solidifying support structures for educational opportunities and potential financial pitfalls. “Student loan debt is at record highs, and many young people interested in farming start out with significant debt, so Wisconsin Farmers Union is pushing for a a Beginning Farmer Student Loan Forgiveness bill to be reintroduced into the 2018 legislative process,” she states. “For similar reasons, keeping farmland affordable is also critical since our state has laws that are intended to prevent foreign governments and investment funds from monopolizing acreage, which are poorly enforced and riddled with loopholes.”
Author and Rural Women’s Project program coordinator Lisa Kivirist says O’Connor is a tenacious lobbyist. “Kara O’Connor advocates for us small-scale, local farms that otherwise would not have as collaborative a voice at the Capitol in Madison. From writing opinion pieces to organizing sessions for farmers to connect with Wisconsin representatives, her energy and enduring belief in the democratic process is a special seed of hope in today’s world. A true champion of women farmers and food entrepreneurs, Kara understands the potential impact female business owners can contribute to a healthy community, particularly in rural small towns like where I live.”
Though thriving as a torchbearer, O’Connor admits to taking the most pride in equipping others with knowledge and a strong platform into leadership. She says, “My best days are when we are able to give our members the tools to be their own advocates.”