Family farms are not centers of holiday rejoicing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Christmas is the season of giving.

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Christmas is the season of giving. Especially in these times of "prosperity" and record low unemployment.

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Christmas is a time to sing, "Joy to the World."

Unfortunately, joy is not always the feeling we take into the season.

For a growing number this is not a good time. I’m talking about the desperation of family farms.

Mark Peters, a former parish minister, and now director of the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy, spoke at a recent St. Olaf Church forum. His topic: "Tough social issues."

After introducing himself, he began with a story. In this story people who were falling into a river one at a time. A person walking alongside the river bank witnessed this. He began to pull one out after another until the person was exhausted and quit.

Another person came along and begin to do the same. This person at least stopped long enough to see where these people were falling from – from a high hill upstream a bit. The dilemma – how to bring an end to this.

Here, we the listeners, were invited to develop a solution.

In effect, there was work to be done "down tream" as well as "upstream" – with this his presentation on advocacy began – calling this "upstream work."

The coalition came into being during the 1980s farm crisis when "the church couldn’t remain faithful and not respond." He pointed out that again there is a crisis facing farming, especially family farms.

He noted that in the past decade Minnesota lost an average of about 1,000 farmers a year. In 1999, that number is expected to swell to 6,467.

The liveliest discussion in both presentations was about farming where one area farmer said, "Equity doesn’t pay bills."

Probably less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s population live on farms. These 2 percent feel powerless politically attempting to stand up to the gold watch, leather briefcase lobbyist of big business.

"The corporations own the politicians and the public is complacent." That was the comment in a piece writher by David Kruse. He tells how the USDA made it official this summer – "The hog industry, as reflected in a devastating hogs and pigs report ,is becoming integrated and corporate like poultry."

Further along he writes, "The industrialization of agriculture isn’t coming about because they are more efficient farmers," using a description of a corporate management operation where at the "end of one month employees killed a sow near furrowing and stripped her of her pigs to boost the live birth average so their statistics looked better to the boss."

"Corporations have the deeper pockets," he tells, "and are willing to absorb enough losses to force independents out of business; efficiency doesn’t matter."

Mark Peters told the audience how farms in Europe are subsidized as they see economic security in small diversified farms.

Another person from the audience shared that cattle are being subsidized in a small European country so tourists could view them grazing in the fields as they passed by – much better than the sow story.

"It’s not ‘ethnic cleansing,’" writes Kruse, "it’s ‘corporate cleansing’ of rural America destroying the fabric of community in rural Minnesota."

The subjugation of the different ag industries – poultry, pork and dairy – reminds Kruse of the parable of the man who didn’t speak out when the Nazis first came for the Jews, then the gypsies, and so on until there was no left to speak out when they came for him.

As mentioned, farmers feel powerless with only 2 percent of the population. "Here’s where the consumers can help," Mark said, "if you eat you should care."

As consumers get involved support will grow. This is where the local church community comes in.

He also mentioned JRLC’s Day on the Hill -  Feb. 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Mount Zion Temple and the Minnesota State Capitol.

Here, there will be issue briefings on affordable housing; health care; children’s care and development; safety net issues and sustaining rural communities with workshops on "how to lobby effectively" and "organizing for justice" including opportunity to meet with your legislators.

Last year offered 20 minutes with the Governor.

To register call toll-free at (888)870 1402. Lunch and registration is $15.

See you there.

Bob Vilt’s column appears Tuesdays