Supporting small farms, healthy food
The Farm Table Foundation advances the benefits of local foods
Creating an organization that seeks to educate people about soil health and about the benefits of locally grown food can be a challenge—especially if that organization is in Amery. This small community in northwest Wisconsin has a population of less than 3,000 people. Compounding the situation for the founders of the Farm Table Foundation was the difficulty of hiring and retaining staff, and then the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reaching and teaching
In 2010, Kari Wenger and Peter Henry envisioned an organization that would focus attention on soil quality and local farms. Four years later, they founded the Hungry Turtle Institute, a nonprofit organization designed to educate the public and offer programs on the benefits of soil health and locally grown food. Wenger and Henry also opened a for-profit restaurant, Farm Table, with the mission of preparing and serving food grown on nearby farms to the Amery community. Their message: Quality of life is directly impacted by the quality of the food we eat.
In 2017, the Internal Revenue Service granted nonprofit status to both the restaurant and the institute, and they merged into a single organization called the Farm Table Foundation. In addition to preparing and serving locally grown food, the Farm Table Foundation holds classes on cooking and preserving food, and it is conducting research on growing heritage breeds on small farms and on determining which types of ancient seeds grow best in the area. At the same time, the foundation is studying the economic impact of eating locally grown foods.
In order to retain staff, the Farm Table Foundation offered competitive wages along with health insurance, paid time off and a positive workplace culture. Fundraising efforts began, and as the pandemic hit, the community supported the organization by purchasing takeout meals and taking classes online via Zoom. Governed by a seven-member board of directors, the foundation has 24 employees as well as numerous volunteers, and counts on support from Amery public schools, local churches, YMCA programs, Amery Hospital & Clinic, and more than a dozen local farmers using sound ecological practices.
“If people begin to live and eat seasonally, each annual passage through life takes on a familiar ebb and flow. There is something deeply satisfying and comforting about having a framework within which to live and go about our business.”