Rebecca and Jim Goodman: NCR-SARE Heroes

Coordinated by the NCR-SARE Alumni Organization, the term “NCR-SARE Hero” recognizes the leadership, vision, contributions, and impact that certain people have made in the field of sustainable agriculture in the region. 

Jim and Rebecca Goodman were brought up in the region’s farming community. Jim grew up on a third-generation family farm, which has been in his family since the 1840s when they relocated from Ireland to Wisconsin during the Potato Famine. Rebecca grew up on a small grain farm in southwest Minnesota. Although Jim took farming breaks briefly to pursue a B.S. in Animal Science from Wisconsin-Platteville and an M.S. in Reproductive Physiology from South Dakota State University, Jim and Rebecca still live on the farm where Jim was born and raised. 

In 1979, the couple took over Goodman’s family farm in southwest Wisconsin with Jim’s brother, Francis. Over the next 20 years, they raised two children and ran their farm conventionally. But in the mid-1990s, they felt compelled to change the trajectory of their farm for financial reasons, environmental concerns, and a desire to improve the quality of their lives as well as those around them. They became certified organic in 1999, and from then on, they ran a 45-cow organic dairy and direct market beef farm. They sold their milk to Cedar Grove Dairy and marketed their beef at the Dane County farmers market in Madison, Wisconsin, which is known for being the largest producer-only farmers market in the country. Jim and Rebecca retired from farming in 2019, but they didn’t stop working for farmers.

As farmer advocates and activists, both Jim and Rebecca have served for organizations including Midwest Environmental Advocates, Center for Food Safety, Organic Consumers Association, and Family Farm Defenders. They are both members of the National Family Farm Coalition, where Jim currently serves as president. Rebecca served on the Dane County Farmers Market Board of Directors and served as board president. Jim is a writer and a past Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Food and Society Fellow. Since retiring from farming, the Goodmans continue to share their story and present educational workshops on organic farming and direct marketing.

Active with SARE for more than 20 years, Jim Goodman served two terms on the NCR-SARE Administrative Council from 1999-2002 and 2010-2014. He was a member of NCR-SARE’s Farmer Rancher Grant review committee from 2010-2015 and chaired the Administrative Council in 2015. The Goodmans also received a SARE grant in 1996 titled, “Northwood Farm Sustainably Raised Beef.” Jim added, “Had it not been for Rebecca doing chores for me I probably would have missed a few of those SARE adventures.”

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as the Goodmans were nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • “I would consider Jim and Rebecca to both be 'pioneers' of the sustainable agriculture movement here in the Midwest. They began as conventional dairy farmers, but with the approval of rBGH and seeing the broader dangers of an increasingly industrialized agrochemical biotech farming model, they soon converted to organic and grass-based. For decades they have hosted field trips to their farm and done much community outreach through the Dane County Farmers Market, as well as participating in countless panels and workshops at conferences such as the Organic Farming Conference. They are both longtime board members of Family Farm Defenders, and Jim was recently elected to be president of the National Family Farm Coalition. Given their success and expertise, they have served as mentors for many other farmers interested in getting into organic dairying and grass-based livestock. They are excellent ambassadors - not only for sustainable agriculture but also for food sovereignty. Jim is an excellent writer, as well, and his opinion articles on a wide range of topics can be found across the media spectrum - from mainstream publications like the Washington Post to Common Dreams and In These Times.” – John Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders
  • “Rebecca and Jim are energetic, engaged, fierce, and FUN.  It is thrilling to learn that they have been recognized as NCR-SARE Heroes.  I can’t remember how and when we met – you know those delightful people you feel you’ve always known? That’s Rebecca and Jim. They were a fixture at the Minnesota Organic Conference for many years, and spending time at their breakout sessions and over beers in the evening was what I looked forward to most.” – Meg Moynihan, producer and Senior Advisor on Strategy & Innovation, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  • "Jim and Rebecca are a formidable duo. Their kindness to one another, and to the web of life around them, helped them to build a thriving dairy in which they knew each of their cows by name, and to build a thriving practice of resistance off the farm. Supported and abetted by Rebecca's work on the farm, Jim's travels with La Via Campesina have taken the call for sustainable agriculture from Wisconsin to the world and back. Perhaps most famously, Jim's was a voice for sustainable midwestern agriculture on the front lines of the Occupy protest in New York in 2011. And I'm almost certain that when he returned to Wonewoc, he brought Rebecca a bottle of New York rye to share." - Raj Patel, author, film-maker, and Research Professor in the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin
  • "Jim and Rebecca Goodman have been inspiring role models since I first met them. Not only were they dedicated to raising cows sustainably for organic milk and beef for 40 years, but they also sought someone equally ardent about these practices to acquire their land and livestock before retiring. Time and again they’ve traveled last-minute to represent NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition), join or take on tasks for one board or another, or host guests from around the world at their beautiful farm. Lastly, I’ve never seen them flinch from the opportunity to stand up or speak out on behalf of peasants – small, family-scale farmers and fisherfolk – who believe that something as essential as seeds should be accessible to all, not genetically engineered and patented by multinational agribusinesses. I’m honored to consider them friends as well as comrades working toward a truly just, equitable, and sustainable farm and food system, and a better world for all." - Lisa Griffith, Outreach and Communications Coordinator, National Family Farm Coalition