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‘Barnes for Barns’ makes stop
Wis. Lt. Gov stopped by Wegmueller Farms to discuss agri-tourism
Wisconsin Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes took part in an “Barnes for Barns” tour stop at Wegmueller Farm in rural Monroe April 14. Barnes is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Ron Johnson. - photo by Gary Mays

MONROE — Wisconsin Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes heard plenty about the perils facing family farmers in Wisconsin during a visit Thursday to a dairy farm here that has transitioned partly to “agri-tourism” to help it survive.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to promote family farms in Wisconsin,” said Barnes, who also is running for U.S. Senate as a Democrat.

The stop at the Wegmueller Family Farm in Green County was part of the “Barnes for Barns” statewide tour designed to emphasize the candidate’s commitment to agriculture ahead of an August primary to determine who will take on incumbent, GOP U.S. Sen Ron Johnson, in the general election.

Others running in the Democratic primary include state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks executive-on-leave Alex Lasry and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

A number of farmers and farm advocates gathered around a large wooden table to share with Barnes stories of what it takes to make it these days on a family farm in Wisconsin. They talked about rising and falling milk prices, soaring input costs; and the difficulty getting credit extended to smaller farm operations.

Jeremy Mayer was born and raised farming with family in Green County. 

“It’s important for me to give my kids the opportunity to farm,” he told Barnes.

Paula Vestin also has spent time around agriculture and now works as a psychological counselor, is well-aware of the challenges but also the rewards of rural life in an era when kids are raised on screens and computers instead of chores and fences.

“It’s so hard to make it work,” she said. “But it is rewarding being in this space and most of the world is missing out on it.”

The Wegmueller Family Farm is owned and operated by Becky, Ashley and Dan Wegmueller. The family has a long connection to the farm, dating from the 1930s, when Dan Wegmueller’s great-grandfather purchased the property at a sheriff’s auction. 

Over the generations, the farm grew from its original 130 acres and evolved from raising pigs, horses, sheep, chickens, beef and dairy, to an enterprise focused entirely on grass-based dairy and crops. These days, though, the family has been supplementing their income in part by being hosts to families and children primarily from the city who want to experience country life, horses and what its like on a working dairy farm. 

“We just can’t compete against the bigger farms,” Wegmueller said of the decision to diversify the farm operation. “The future of this farm might well (probably) be charging admission for people to see what cows look like.”

Barnes said such innovative approaches might be able to save more Wisconsin Dairy farms, which must survive for the sake of the state’s economy.

“This is an important piece of our campaign because it’s an important piece of Wisconsin going forward,” he said. “Wisconsin deserves a Senator who is looking out for family farmers in Washington, not big corporations and special interests. I look forward to hearing directly from farmers who want Washington to start working for them.”

Republicans have criticized the tour as being without substance and have blasted Barnes’ for supporting the Green New Deal and other environmental policy issues that heavily impact agriculture.