Don’t lump family farmers in with industrial ag

Published 11:31 am Thursday, July 26, 2012

By Mike Merten

Guest columnist

After reading last week’s Farmers Market column by Heidi Harrabi about fresh tomatoes arriving at the market, I felt I had to respond. It’s great that the tomatoes and other fresh vegetables have finally ripened and are available, but I fail to see why, after she made the announcement in the first paragraph, she felt the need to bash the rest of our area’s food system.

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My concern is that I as a family farmer, and all the rest of the local “Family Farmers” will be eventually stereotyped into the category of her mention, “the Industrial Agriculture Operations” that pollute communities with chemical pesticides, noxious fumes and excess manure. There is a huge gap between her idea of the huge factory farms and the small family farmers that raise their products organically and deliver them to the local market by pick-up truck and sell them one-by-one or bag by bag. Most of the other farmers in Mower County and the surrounding area fall into this gap.

The large majority of farmers in our area are family farmers (by definition, were raised on a farm and continue to farm with family members) and part of our larger food production system that produces the safest, most abundant and reliable food supply in the world. We do it more efficiently, and produce more on less land than ever before. Just because we produce grain and oilseeds that are processed into animal feed, fuel and fiber instead of whole foods sold at a local market, it doesn’t mean we don’t care about our environment. We do have a vested interest in our land and our communities. If you’ve ever attended one of our many small town summer celebrations, you would be witness to our local commitment. We do live on or near the land we farm and are stewards of the land. With all the hungry people in the world, we would not be able to feed them with local farmers markets.

It is great to produce food locally and sell it locally. I think it’s great to have the farmers market in the area and for local producers to sell their produce. There is good demand for these products and that makes the system work. I do take offense when I and my farming friends and families are chastised for helping produce food, fuel, and fiber for the rest of our country and the world. And by the way, most of us do it with GMO seeds which we’ve used for many years and contrary to other recent claims in Heidi’s column, there are no known or documented ill effects on humans, animals, or the environment. The plants from these seeds produce a naturally occurring bacteria (they are not injected with animal DNA) already found in our environment that are toxic only to the target pests. In fact by using GMO seeds we are able to increase production with better and safer weed and pest control and avoid the use of large amounts of dangerous insecticides that are very toxic to humans and animals.

I would challenge Heidi to visit with a few local “larger family farmers” and learn how we are doing what we do, instead of reading and believing all the negative information found in the media and on the internet and using the Farmers Market column to spread misconceptions and half truths.