The River's Edge is an aptly named community center looking out over the mighty Mississipi river in St. Cloud, MN.

Sunset from the River's Edge (S. Yao)


We arrived a little after 6:30 and set up to sell tickets, as the daylight began fading. A steady stream of people paid for tickets, and filled into the seats. Most people were part of farm families, and everyone there has some deep connection to agriculture. The mood was different than the night before in Minneapolis. There were families of all ages there- and many small kids, some as young as 3, who were excited about raising animals on their family farm.


We got started- again a little after 7- the room we rented being mostly full.

Again, the crowd was engaged, many people directly impacted by the issues of agriculture.


Following- we were joined by three farmers- by Jane Jewett of Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) who also raises pasture-based meat, Tom Barthel of Snake River Farms and Mike Stine of Stonebridge Farms.

Jane Jewett, farmer and advocate at MISA talks about the difficulty of making it as a farmer (S. Yao)

 We started out talking about the future of agriculture, and about the barriers to getting started. Jane pointed out that the film romanticizes farming a bit, and that the reality, if there's a misfortune with health or weather, can often kill a farm dream. Mike mentioned that he didn't have time to think about what's going on with conventional agriculture and Tom said that he had to work another job- like many many other farmers do- in order to pay the bills.


Tom talks about having to have another career in order to pay bills as a farmer (S. Yao)

From there, the conversation turned to subsidies and the farm bill. There was strong emotion about subsidies, and it seemed that most people believed that the subsidies should stop being paid out. Of course, many of the farmers in the audience and around the country still cash the check when it's made out to them although they may fundamentally disagree that government should be involved in financially supporting different types of agriculture.

Mike brings up elephant in the room- the farm bill. (S. Yao) 

Mike introduced a young Minnesotan female farmer, who had just taken a course to learn to farm. Her enthusiasm for learning was contagious, and she talked for minutes about her experience in the educational program, and about the need for older farmers to take in young farmers as interns. A win, win.

Kelsey stands up during discussion to implore farmers in the room for a chance to intern on their farms. (S. Yao) 

Again, fear of government intervention in agriculture was discussed, with the idea being shared that often the policymakers have no actual farm experience and write legislation that undermines the family farm. For example, a law that almost passed that would have barred farms from employing workers under the age of 18. Which if passed would have made kids working on farms illegal, and which would essentially destroy the family farm. This was reversed, and crisis averted, but the idea that it could even be proposed demonstrates the disconnect between the everyday wisdom of family farming in Minnesota and the suburban government policymakers that were hoping to minimize the use of child labor in agriculture by framing the legislation as a workers' right issue.

We ended by talking about the possibility of a sea-change in agriculture. It may seem improbable at first, and yet, as the cost of energy rises, and the demand for locally sourced food grows daily, it may well be that the food systems we see in the next decade will be unrecognizable from today's centralized models.

The conversations continued long after the panel ended, with high emotion and good will shared throughout the night.

As we left, the last tinges of orange were in the sky.


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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 15:55:04 -0400