an open letter to an Iowa farmwife

Fascinating blog…. I like your ideas, and certainly agree that everyone should grow a garden, and be more knowledgeable about where their food comes from. But,I must politely disagree with your analysis of modern farms. When you use the term “factory farm,” you are slurring hard-working individuals who produce food for the world, namely my family, community, and neighbors in rural Iowa. My family uses modern technology to produce meat and grain, and we find it a very honest, and rewarding lifestyle. Have you ever visited a confinement farm personally? If not, please seek out a local farmer’s organization to see if you can’t find a farmer willing to show you a modern operation. It sounds like you have done a lot of homework on alternative production methods…. but not so much on modern methods… please, I invite you to read my blog and learn more about today’s farmers from a real farmer instead of profit-motivated movie producers.

It’s been a while since this comment appeared in my inbox. I didn’t know what to think. I still don’t. So, in the spirt of my favorite art professor, who always told me if I’m pushing someone’s buttons I must be doing something right, here goes . . .

First things first, let me be clear. I’m a card-carrying supporting-member of the Canadian National Farmer’s Union. I support farmers. All farmers. Even farmers who are making bad choices, or who have no choice left. I support families and small towns and the idea that everyone should be able to make a decent living wage doing honest work. The man I am about to marry comes from a small community, where he grew up farming. For many of his family that is still the only life they know. Our dream for our children is to know that life as well, as best we can in a part of the world where a spot of land big enough to even call a hobby farm will set you back a million bucks for starters.

Yes, I said it: I want to be a farmer when I grow up.

Now that that’s out of the way . . .

What you are doing is not farming. I refer to so-called modern farms as factory farms because that is what they are. They are factories producing living beings instead of widgets on the factory floor. Modern farmers in the industrial system have become serfs to the kings of agriculture; Cargill, Monsanto, ADM, Tyson. That’s not to say that your family and others like yours aren’t hard-working, honest people, doing the best you can. What it means, is that like the rest of the industry you are a part of, is that you have gotten really good at hitting the bulls-eye of the wrong target.

I thought it was ironic that you challenged my understanding of industrial agriculture when in your blog you describe holding the shit from your pigs for a year before you spread it on your fields as “organic” fertilizer. Manure from medicated animals that has sat for a year and become anarobic is NOT organic. Composting manure from organically raised, non-medicated pigs, or allowing it to fall as it may in the fields – THAT is organic fertilizer.

From my father, to families of my childhood friends, to my future in-laws, I have been surrounded my entire life by the industrial food production industry. A commercial dairy put food on our table and a roof over our head, and I put myself through my first two years of university by flipping burgers at McDonald’s (hence my subsequent 6 year abstinence from meat). So no, profit-motivated movie producers don’t have a monopoly on my knowledge and understanding of industrial food production. I get that most hog farmers aren’t killing their sows by hanging them from a chain around their neck strung up on a forklift. I watch and write about films like Death on a Factory Farm because sometimes it takes extreme measures for people to be motivated to make changes, myself included.

The fact that factory farming even exists makes me mad. It makes me mad that others have the right to pour poisons into the shared treasure that is our freshwater. I get furious that I have known not one, but three beautiful women, who lived healthful, organic lives and were still ravaged by breast cancer, two struck dead, partly, the doctors say, because no one can avoid the pesticides and herbicides in our air and water.

So ya, I get riled up. I take it a bit personally. I’m sorry if that offends you and your neighbours – but if you want a future for your family, if your son wants to grow up and be a farmer, you have to take responsibility for your role in this and make change before it is too late. One day IT WILL BE TOO LATE. How long will it be before the petrol for the tractors become too expensive? Before you can no longer afford the petrochemicals? The medication? What will happen when your “organic fertilizer” has polluted the ground water to such an extent that YOU can’t even drink it, never mind your hogs? What then?

As a farmer, as a community of farmers, you have the knowledge and the power to be the driving force of change that just might save our world. I don’t know what your situation is; how much you owe for your buildings, what your contract is to the meat companies, how big your mortgage is. I know enough to know that many farmers, most, are caught between a rock and a hard place and might have to chose between putting dinner on the table and making positive changes, and the decision would be an easy one for most. I know that the big companies like Monsanto are making it high-near impossible for farmers to actually FARM, chasing after seed-savers as though they were baby-killers. It’s disgusting and non-farmers need to join that fight if you have a hope in hell of beating them. I know that getting certified organic costs the earth, and takes years and mountains of paperwork.

Despite of all those obstacles, others are doing it. They are blazing new trails and saying enough is enough. And there is a groundswell of people like myself who are ready to stand up and support them. We will support you. I have told anyone who will listen about Big Bear Ranch where I get my pastured organic meat. I am becoming one of those crazy, evangelical word-of-mouth-advertising consumers that the marketing people die for; people just won’t do that for Tyson or ADM.

At the end of the day it comes down to this:

You have to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.

We desperately need more farmers. I saw the pictures of your beautiful children and I hope to heaven that they will grow up and farm. We all depend on them.

2 thoughts on “an open letter to an Iowa farmwife

  1. iafarmwife

    Ugh…. how frustrating… I had a huge reply all typed out and then my laptop decides to somehow delete it… goes again….


    I am honored that you have taken the time to reply to my comment. Although I think there are probably some issues that we will never see eye to eye on when it comes to food production, there is some common ground here.

    First off, I am not a serf for Monsanto or ADM. Although I choose to market my produce through ADM and use Monsanto products, I do so with the full knowledge of what I am getting into. I am also fully aware and capable of ending my relationship with these companies and changing my farming operation. I do not do so because I feel that the way I am producing food is a responsible method for feeding my family and consumers.

    It seems that you are suggesting that farmers need to go back to farming the way we did in the 1920’s. The thing is, that is never going to happen, even if Monsanto and ADM were shut down tomorrow. Farming has become more efficient because farmers got tired of the dangerous, back-breaking work it takes to produce food without the help of highly-regulated technology. They sought to improve the quality of life for their families and their stock, so they began investing in confinement and gmo technologies.

    There are trade-offs in every system of production. Range-fed livestock takes longer to finish which means more methane per pound of meat produced. Organic crops depend on tillage methods that cause soil erosion and use fossil fuels. This is not to say that these methods of production are “bad.” Just simply pointing out that there are downfalls to every form of farming. Farmers who use alternative production methods are filling a niche. While I have respect for alternative farmers, and feel that they fill an important market, I firmly believe that if we all farmed that way you would see food shortages and sky high prices. We would have to turn to less-regulated countries to provide our food. There is no realistic perfect answer.

    I am simply meeting the consumer’s demand for cheap, safe food. And I am doing so in a responsible way. There are piles of regulations we must follow to ensure that we are having a minimal impact on the environment. Regulations that are designed to err on the side of caution. The limits on farm chemicals are 100’s of times lower than what the EPA or FDA has designated as acceptable. I don’t meet regulations just because I have to either, I do it because it is the right thing to do…. I do it because it ensures that my farm will be around for generations to come.

    Does all this mean I think our food production system is perfect? Nope. There are a lot of changes I’d like to see. First off, I am positive that modern ag is perfectly capable of standing on its own without government subsidies. The system is too rigid, and must be changed to allow farmers to adapt more easily to consumer demands. Also, farmers such as myself have sat back for too long and allowed misinformation to be repeated so much that people take it for fact.

    I also think it is disgusting that there is so much processed food out there containing unnecessary amounts of sugar, salt, carbs, and fat. All of this is not the fault of “big ag,” but the fault of the lazy consumer for not demanding better. And that is where our common ground lies. We as a society must realize that we have all the power as individual consumers, and we must literally put our money where our mouth is. Business adapts to consumer demand….not the other way around.

    My family drinks the same well water that is given to the cattle that are raised right outside our back door literally 50 feet away. We eat our antibiotic-fed beef, and we breathe the fresh country air every day. I am not overly concerned about cancer. My family has been participating in a study since 1993 of thousands of farm families. This study was supposed to prove that farm families have a higher rate of cancer, and has in fact, proved just the opposite. Farmers have a lower mortality rate and cancer rate than the general population. Here is the link:

    I admire your passion, and it takes people like you to inspire people like me to get out there and tell my story. I do hope you continue in your endeavor to educate people about back yard gardening. Thank you again for taking the time to respond to me.


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