The Broader Picture: Remembering John Kinsman

John-Kinsman-donkey-cart-MaliJohn Kinsman joining farmers and activists in Mali; via WhyHunger

By Savannah Barrett

At the suggestion of our partners at the Wormfarm Institute, today we remember the life and legacy of John Kinsman. As Rebecca Wilce reported, in the early 1970s, the Lime Ridge, Wisconsin native helped to establish Project Self-Help and Awareness (PSA):  a cultural exchange between black children from Mississippi and white children from Wisconsin. His interaction with black Southern farmers led to the landmark Pigford v. Glickman trial and settlement – which he credited as helping him to understand the big picture in American farming. “That helped me to see how broad the picture is,” he would reflect, “of how agriculture and urban life and factory workers and everyone fit together.”

He was an early organizer of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), and founded the Family Farm Defenders (FFD) in 1994. The Family Farm Defenders mission is “to create a farmer-controlled and consumer-oriented food and fiber system, based upon democratically controlled institutions that empower farmers to speak for and respect themselves in their quest for social and economic justice.” For the past twenty years, they’ve lent their support to sustainable agriculture, farm worker rights, animal welfare, consumer safety, fair trade, and food sovereignty. Siena Chrisman tells this story with eloquence in a recent remembrance in WhyHunger’s Connect blog.

Family Farm Defenders was created with an understanding of the rural-urban continuum, and as Kinsman explained, was designed “to include at least forty percent urban people, because we were finding that our urban friends cared more about family farmers” than some farmers did, “and understood the reasons for caring about them.”

video via Food Rights Network and the Center for Media and Democracy

In a cultural moment when one percent of the population labor on the farm for the sustenance of all Americans, the passing of Mr. Kinsman should prompt us to consider how, regardless of where we might live, we can contribute to this conversation and make change within our communities.

John Kinsman passed away in the afternoon of Jan. 20th at his family’s farm. Folks can support the work and legacy of John Kinsman by joining as a member in the Family Farm Defenders.

Year small

This blog post was created in conjunction with the Year of the Rural Arts, a collaborative effort coordinated by Art of Rural that seeks to visualize the network and expand the narrative surrounding rural arts and humanities in America.


Savannah Barrett is Program Director of Art of the Rural.