Bryan Wolfe was tragically killed in a machinery accident Aug. 7, 2012, on his farm in Rome, Ohio. Bryan one of the last of the small dairy farmers, who knew his cows so well that they weren’t even tagged.
Bryan’s passion for his cows forced him into equally passionate political activism. He believed that producing food was a noble profession, and that small and medium sized family farms were the best way to do it.
The takeover of agriculture by large corporations whose focus is profit and not the production of quality food really made him angry. Consolidation in agriculture, from production to processing, directly threatened the way of life he prized so dearly.
He became involved in Ohio Farmers Union almost 20 years ago so that he could advocate for change. He eventually became president of the Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake counties chapter of OFU, and also the vice president of OFU.
Bryan also kept a close working relationship with a loose network of dairy activists in the eastern United States, always focused on practical ways to get changes in dairy policy. Bryan was a political activist, but not as a dogmatic partisan. He didn’t have much use for most politicians, Democrat or Republican, because he didn’t see that they did enough to save the family farm.
He was amazing in how he kept track of dairy policy and which legislators were doing something about it. Bryan called them on the phone on a regular basis to give them his opinion. He knew what they were doing and they always knew what he thought.
Bryan had an especially close working relationship with our Congressional Representative, Steven LaTourette. Bryan’s most recent project was writing a white paper (June, 2012) on dairy policy for Rep. LaTourette. The paper analyzed the problems in the dairy industry, pointing out that the current dairy pricing system doesn’t meet the criteria of the 1937 Agricultural Marketing Act, which allows dairy farmers to recover their cost of production.
Bryan’s work was not just at the federal policy level. He was so angered by raw milk price manipulation that he joined with other eastern U.S. dairy farmers in a lawsuit against those he held most responsible. The lawsuit by Gerald Carlin, John Rahm, Paul Rozwadowski, and Bryan Wolfe was filed against Dairy America, Inc., and California Dairies, Inc. on March 6, 2009.
The lawsuit alleged that Dairy America, Inc, and California Dairies, Inc, misreported contract pricing data from Jan 1, 2002, through April 30, 2007. The case was dismissed and the farmers appealed.
The day that Bryan was killed there was a phone message from his lawyers saying that the appeals court upheld the farmers’ appeal and that the case would move forward. Bryan never heard the message.
Along with his family, I grieve deeply for Bryan’s loss. And I will miss Bryan’s persistent voice, always pushing so hard for policy changes that would benefit small and medium farmers.
(The author is also the current president of the Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake Counties Farmers Union.)