We left Le Mars and headed North to Sioux Center, once again in the nation's most prolific meat producing county. Gary De Vries- a legendary AgEd instructor in Iowa- is now a professor at Dordt College- which is in Sioux Center. By the way- there are a LOT of cities in Iowa and South Dakota that start with Sioux- Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Sioux River, etc. It is pretty confusing to keep track of them all at first.

Gary introduced us to other faculty in the Ag Dept.- Chris (not Ely) and Duane, and following we made our way to the class where we met the 30 or so students, almost all of whom currently work on farms, and will one day operate their own. There was a diversity of production, from an Wisconsin organic dairy woman to a number of proud west Iowan commodity hog producers. We broke up into four groups and began discussions with the students. There was a really good back and forth, as we discussed the problems of the cost of land, the likelihood of integrators to pull out of contracts, and the barriers- both real and perceived- in rural areas to direct marketing. I learned a number of new things- as I have each day out here- there are grants for young farmers from the USDA- First time farmer loans- that are very competitive but allow an interest rate below 2%. As the grass-based systems entered the conversation, many said the likelihood of converting land from corn/soy to pasture seemed minor- at least as long as corn was selling at over $10 a bushel.

We hopped East and North to Emmetsburg, where a group of 12 students in Kristin's swine production class were kind enough to host us. Again breaking into groups, Chris and Andy both agreed that these two schools yielded some of the most engaged conversations of the screening series. Most of the students are entering into commodity production, but had the open-mindedness to listen to other ideas, and some even came up with really exciting ways to leverage rural communities to grow food and distribute food locally. The school- Iowa Lakes Community College- is lucky to have a teaching farm that they actually own. They get the chance to raise hogs, cattle and chickens- I think. And after today's conversations- they are considering raising broilers on pasture. Of course, it's always hard to imagine a complete shift in the way things are done- and yet- complete shifts happen every generation. The pendulum swings.

As the cost of energy seems headed for continual increase- everyone agreed that local distribution will make far more economic sense- and will often lead to fresher more flavorful meat and vegetables. And everyone agrees that an increase in niche production- from 1% of the market to 20% of the market- would be good for everyone. Given that more labor is needed for niche, it allows for more jobs- which means more people in rural communities in America....

The conversations with these young farmers were really what this is all about. You could see the wheels turning, weighing the points made, agreeing with some, challenging others, reaching new ground.

The next leg of the day took us East and South to Cedar Falls, where we were hosted by the incredibly kind Kamyar Enshayan of the University of Northern Iowa. We had about 20 people, which meant the auditorium was a bit empty. But the audience was engaged, and we had a good conversation following.

We're currently heading further East, back to Dyersville, of Field of Dreams fame, where tomorrow morning at dawn we'll be filming with Chris Ely and Jude Becker.  

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published this page in Ruminations 2012-07-18 11:30:25 -0400