Ms. Denise A. O'Brien

Farmer and Consultant
Rolling Acres Farm
Atlantic, Iowa
United States

Focus Areas

Food Systems
Food Systems
Social Justice
Gender Issues
Environment & Sustainable Development


Denise O’Brien has been an organic farmer and farm activist for over 30 years. She and her husband ran a dairy farm for 20 of those 30 years. During that time Denise became interested in agriculture policy that promotes the family farm. She helped start several progressive programs to fight corporate influence in farming. In the 1990's she launched the Women, Food and Agriculture Network -- an organization that supports women in farming. In 2006, Denise ran for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa for "safe and healthy families, safe and healthy farms and a safe and healthy Iowa" – her first foray into electoral politics. Running a real grassroots campaign with a strong environmental message, Denise found herself in a tough primary election on a limited budget against an opponent supported and favored to win by the established Democrats. She won with a fourteen point margin. In the general, Denise was pitted against an opponent from conventional agriculture who was a proud "status quo" guy. When polls showed Denise with a fourteen point lead two weeks out from the general election, a large agribusiness organization formed a 527, Iowans for Agriculture, and raised $300,000 to defeat her. In the end, Denise’s campaign was outspent two to one and she lost by just two percentage points. Previously, Denise was a delegate to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Committee on Agriculture in Rome, Italy; she was a nominated member of the North American/European team for the World Bank Assessment of Agriculture in London; and she has participated in delegations and conferences in many parts of the world including Netherlands, Soviet Union, France, Belgium, Costa Rica, Cuba, Spain, Mexico and China to represent US agriculture in discussions about economic development, sustainability, and leadership, and to learn from the experience of others in international settings. In 1997, Denise addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on behalf of farmers. Denise serves on the board of Community Food Security Coalition, and Agricultural Missions, Inc .She served as an appointed member of the Iowa Governor's Farm Crisis Policy Task Force in 2000; and currently serves on the Rebuild Iowa Agriculture and Environment Task Force, formed after the 2008 spring floods; she served on the Food Systems Task Force of the Iowa Dept of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Food Policy Council; she was appointed by the Governor to serve on the Farm to School Council in 2007. Denise served as President of the National Family Farm Coalition from 1993-1995. A lifelong Midwesterner, Denise was born in Omaha, Nebraska; her family moved to Atlantic when she was four. She and her husband Larry have three grown children and one granddaughter.