In the mid-1990s, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recognized the importance of preserving both Wisconsin’s natural resources and food production systems for future generations by entering into a precedent-setting alliance designed to promote sustainable farming methods. The growers worked jointly with University of Wisconsin scientists to adopt ecologically-based approaches to fresh potato production that would reduce pesticide risk, promote biodiversity and enhance natural resources. The result—the “Healthy Grown” label— was launched in 2002 and endorsed by the WWF. It was the nation’s first sustainable label for fresh produce and has gained widespread recognition from national and local environmental organizations.
The Healthy Grown program has enrolled 10-15% of Wisconsin’s fresh potato crop annually since its launch; growers must meet tough standards in all aspects of production to earn certification. The results have been impressive with growers achieving a 52% increase in adoption of sustainable farming practices and a 30% reduction in pesticide risk over the first 10 years.
Russell Wysocki, a grower in Bancroft, Wisconsin and owner of RPE, Inc., believes his farm and the Healthy Grown program have the same goal of actively conserving the landscape. Russell says “We are stewards of the land; this is an opportunity to do good things for the land and good things for the industry.” These accomplishments were recognized nationally in 2003 with the USDA’s prestigious Secretaries Honors Award for Maintaining and Enhancing the Nations Natural Resources and the Environment.
Rather than resting on its laurels, in 2004 the WPVGA, in partnership with the International Crane Foundation, embarked on an ambitious new project to protect and restore remnants of natural communities in the agricultural landscape to improve habitat quality for natural species and enhance biodiversity.
Most recently, Wisconsin’s potato and vegetable growers are once again demonstrating their pioneering spirit by expanding the scope of Healthy Grown beyond potatoes to encompass Whole Farm Sustainability which represents the core principles on which emerging sustainability initiatives across the US will be built.