As we break into peak spring, it’s a good time to remember that we all have to create our own solutions to challenges. Our May Member Spotlight is Linda Halley, General Manager at Gwenyn Hill Farm and she’s been doing just that as an organic farmer for 30 years. Linda is preparing for retirement this summer, but also gearing up for the next chapter in her organic story—being a voice for farmers by influencing organic policy.

Linda grew up on a conventional farm that started as a dairy in the 50s, added crops in the 60s, and transitioned into corn, soy, and pastured beef in the 70s. But Linda didn’t identify with that path, and decided there might not be a place for her on the family farm. Instead, Linda studied to be a teacher. But after some years she decided she wanted to return home. Linda’s father had always inspired her to do anything, including taking risks. That belief, combined with Linda’s prediction that organic would be the new forefront of farming, convinced Linda to take the leap. With the support of her family, she took on a little piece of the family farm and started managing it organically.

But Linda soon discovered farming alone was hard and isolating. So Linda created her own solution. She started working with a farmer who would mentor her in organic vegetable growing. She found community and eventually jumped onto the first wave of the CSA movement in Madison, Wisconsin. She convinced her mentor farmer to start growing for a CSA–one of the first serving the Madison community in 1993—and she stayed to work on the farm.

They worked that farm for 15 years, and it’s still a successful CSA farm under new owners today. In that transition, Linda decided not to buy another farm, but rather she took all her experience and built a career managing other organic farms. That’s where Linda got the opportunity to provide mentorship to the next generation. Where she didn’t have educational opportunities to learn organic skills, and had to teach herself and find her own mentor, she now could provide all that to students and help the organic movement grow in a positive way. 

The farm Linda manages today partners with the state’s department of workforce development and a local community college to manage an apprenticeship program. Some of these students have even graduated and returned to the farm to become employees. While the reward of supporting these new farmers is immense, the work of mentoring isn’t easy for farmers. The apprentices ask tough questions and push those around them to be better farmers. At the same time, it’s hard to tell these young farmers to embrace the organic label and certification process in its current form knowing how challenging it can be when you’re first getting started. The fees, paperwork, and burden of building a local customer base are all topics apprentices weigh during their journey—all questions without easy solutions that weigh heavy on mentors’ minds. 

This is one reason why Linda wants to continue being an advocate for organic agriculture during retirement. Certification processes could be more approachable for all organic farmers, and getting to that point requires farmer action. Policy work isn’t something the average organic farmer has time for, but Linda feels she has the experience to help others and will soon have more time to do just that. 

Linda kicked off this part of her organic journey by submitting comments to the NOSB for the first time in her career in Milwaukee this spring, and she’s looking forward to the next opportunity to take action. By keeping the big picture in mind and moving the needle on organic policy, Linda is creating the next solution to the next challenge on her list—which we bet she’ll surely conquer as well. 

Would you like to nominate someone for the Member Spotlight? Please email your recommendation to madison[@]