No Easy Answers

Tonight's screening at Estherville High School was a reminder of just how hard transitioning into our next agriculture will be.

The screening was booked about a week ago, so there wasn't much time to get the word out. As a result we had a small turnout, about seven or eight young FFA members and about the same number of farmers, including Chuck Wirtz, one of the main characters in the documentary. 

We stopped and talked after each part of the film finished. First we talked about the disappearance of farmers from rural America, and from the surrounding community of Estherville, there was a lot of agreement as to why this has happened.

More and more land and money is getting into the hands of less and less people. Denny Whittemore, a charismatic farmer with much experience, said that the best thing we could do to help get more local businesses- like meat lockers- back in business- is to begin enforcing the anti-trust laws. Basically, we've seen a monopoly or an oligopoly develop, where a tiny few hold all of the cards. It's choking the life out of rural America, and as the young farmers said there tonight- they can't even come close to getting the land they need to start farming. Seeing the frustration, and the helplessness in the expression of the young farmers when they talk about the cost of land is heartwrenching. What are we going to do? HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET LAND INTO THE HANDS OF YOUNG FARMERS? We don't really have an option here, the future of our nation's food supply depends upon it. Perhaps some of the AgLaw students we talked to last night at Drake will be the ones to come up with a modern day homesteading provision that will transfer land from those who don't live in rural America, to those who want to live in and thrive in rural America. Is there a way to end absentee ownership of farmland!? 

After the second and third parts of the film, which highlight the advantages of grass-based meat production, and talk about some of the innovative distribution models on the rise- like buying clubs and CSAs- we once again talked among the group. The young people said they were excited by Joel's methods of raising broilers, because they would be able to get started raising chickens for only a couple hundred dollars, whereas, it would take a loan of about a couple hundred thousand dollars to get a chicken barn. I was particularly moved when a farmer named Wilbur Gregg- who raises animals conventionally- said that he wants to keep an open mind, and that he wants to help out young farmers, even though he doesn't necessarily agree with the methods. But it's more important to Wilbur to help a young farmer get started- then anything else. We're going to need a lot of this kind of selfless attitude to help get knowledge and land in the hands of young farmers. Shortly thereafter, we all had a good laugh when talking about cutting the bottom off of parking cones and flipping them upside down to slaughter chickens on the farm- something the group might be able to do for an SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) for FFA. 

There was a good conversation, and a lot of wisdom and positive intention were shared. Denny talked powerfully about the importance of trying something new, and of not being afraid to fail. I saw a glimmer in the eye of the young people- although I must say they did get out of that auditorium the very moment they were able to, while we older folks stayed around and talked about what needs to happen to shift things in favor of our young farmers. 

The tough news is that there is no easy answer. Land is too expensive for most young people to start farming. We need to find a solution to this problem if we want to continue to grow our own food in America. 

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:08:33 -0400