Profile PicBy Casey Renn, Development Manager
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin

June is Dairy Month and my social media is filled with family back home excited for local Calumet County activities, like Sundae on the Farm. We are America’s Dairyland – filled with rich soil, fruitful crops and abundant milk.

Having grown up on a family-owned dairy farm and as the fifth of six children, I learned how to have a good work ethic and to take pride in my work at a young age. We never took family vacations and didn’t get to play until our chores were done. But we did find time for some afternoon trips to Bay Beach. Ten cents a ride!

Food insecurity is often thought of as an urban issue in Wisconsin. With all the crops a farmer produces, how could farm families ever encounter this issue? In 2001, just 8% of the Hilbert School District participated in free or reduced meals. Today, that number is at nearly 27%. In 2001, I was one of the 8%.

On Monday at school, we had the opportunity to buy lunch tickets in our cafeteria. We all waited in line with our friends and talked about the weekend. As a student using the free/reduced lunch program, I had to state my name to the lunch lady while she checked her list to verify my eligibility. I was then handed a different colored meal ticket. In school, nobody likes to be different.

Every week, I was embarrassed and would wait until there wasn’t a line to get my lunch tickets. Sometimes, I’d miss my window of opportunity and would have to go to the office to buy them, and I’d get a warning. I was shy and sometimes I’d pay for lunch with my own money. If you’re reading this, Mom… I’m sorry.

As a family, my parents had to make tough choices in order to make ends meet. Oftentimes today, parents take their kids to the doctor so quickly and easily. Even though we were often on BadgerCare, we mostly only went to the hospital for stitches. I can still picture the maroon hard cover medical book that my Mom would read when we weren’t feeling well. Dr. Terry to the rescue before WebMD!

We worked hard – way more than the standard 8 hours and it was 7 days a week. I raised rabbits, sold steers at the fair and grew pumpkins for spending money and my college savings. Thankfully, my brother has taken over the farm, and he too works hard to make ends meet.

I’ve been working at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin as the Development Manager for more than a year. I have strong empathy for the people and families we serve, rural or urban. I proudly tell people back home that we serve The Salvation Army of Chilton, in addition to more than 600 other members in our 36-county service area.

My story is not that unique among farming families. So, this Dairy Month, don’t forget about your farming neighbors and toast to them a glass of nutritious milk!