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Does the Word ‘Factory’ Belong in Front of Farms?

Wanda Patsche (twitter.com/MinnFarmer) recently published an article Let’s take the ‘factory’ out of factory farms http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2014/06/let-s-take-factory-out-factory-farms. Lindsay and Andy share their reactions to this article.

Andy Kleinschmidt

Lindsay and I have been chatting about writing short reaction posts to current events or hot topics. When I read Wanda Patsche’s article a few days ago my immediate thought turned to getting Lindsay’s opinion on the article.

The phrase factory farm is a label and is intended to be used negatively. So I don’t use it, and like Ms. Patsche, I really don’t know what qualifies a farm to be a factory farm.  I’ve visited hundreds and hundreds of farms and what I notice most is each farm is unique.

When I look around I see farms.  I see farms that use amazing technology. I see farms where each farm is managed slightly different from the next.  I see farms with beautiful fields of corn or soybeans or wheat or canola or rice. I see the magnificent blossoms of Almond trees in the valley. I see the dairy farm that buys my hay.  I see a turkey farm, a hog farm, a cattle farm and on and on.  But what I really see is a family working together to make food that you and I will eat. 

It is easy to get caught up in the emotion from a scary piece of information that is linked to ‘factory farms’.  It happens to me. But if I dig just a bit deeper than the headline and ask questions,  I find misinformation or I realize that the facts are far less sensational than the headline. Does factory belong in front of farms? No, and I think we can advance the conversation about agriculture and food production further and faster if we checked emotionally charged labels at the door.

As always, I am thankful to Lindsay for the discussion as well as her collaboration on this project.  Also, I am thankful those who provided Lindsay quotes to use for this article. There is common ground out there, let’s keep the conversation going and let’s find our common ground.

Lindsay Hotmire

In all reality, I think most people involved in the factory farming argument share Ms. Patsche’s sentiment. Indeed, we ought to take the “factory” out of the farm.  And most certainly, we ought to cheer for a team steeped in values, care and ethic. It’s hard to argue with Ms. Patsche’s emotional pleas:

We share the same values as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We care for our animals daily. It matters and affects us if our animals are sick or injured. Today’s farmers work with a team to assist them in giving the best animal care. . . . The purpose of this team? Simple really–to raise healthy animals.

Unless, of course, you look at the numbers and statistics that have been outlined on posts throughout this blog.  But today, I think that the more compelling voice is the community that Ms. Patsche describes, those who live among the “neighbors, [her] friends, fellow church members, parents of [her] children’s friends and people in [her] community.”

     There’s not a lot I feel free to say because I have been sued. Apparently, defending your right to life, liberty, and happiness doesn’t really apply to everyone. You know, we were doing what we thought we were supposed to do. We were working within our constitutional rights, within the framework protected by our government, and we were seeking legislative change. This is what the Ohio Department of Agriculture told us to do. “Hey,” they said. “We follow the law. If you want something done, you have to change the legislature.” So that is what we did, but we were naïve. In today’s society, there are no rights when you live next to a farm. (Joan Knight, Choked Silent)

     My family has always had horses—good horses. We raised them for premier events, national races. And we raised winners. We took pride in that. By the time the farms came, we had scaled down tremendously, and I only had two horses in the stalls at my parents’ farm. One week, I cleaned the barn, and shortly after, I witnessed a scene straight out of a horror movie. I had gone over to feed my horse that wasn’t with the trainer. He was a beautiful brown horse with a star on his face. It had been five days since I had cleaned the barn, too short of a time for flies to hatch out of manure.  I found him, standing in his stall, black with flies. He was covered—I couldn’t even find the star on his face. The straw, the stall, everything was moving. I couldn’t see anything besides flies . . . .  I came undone at that point. (Jim C., Choked Silent)

     You see, that silent partner was. . .  the egg farmer that got banned from ever operating another farm in Iowa. Remember the salmonella outbreak? The one that sickened sixteen thousand people? That was [him].  He had been fined millions of dollars on charges ranging from farm mismanagement to rape to hiring illegals. And now, he was our new neighbor, the businessman parading as a family farmer and knowing well enough to stay hidden from public view. (Rosie B., Choked Silent)

     So many of us have lived here forever. So many of us farm the land in this community, and here came this egg farm, this big time farmer who was forbidden from ever owning another animal in Germany, and he told us what the Ohio Department of Agriculture would later echo: If you don’t like it, move. This was agricultural land. (Jim W., Choked Silent)

     I had hate mail, and I did report that. It said something like, “You should all die because I am feeding the world.” (Jane P., Choked Silent)

We can argue all day about efficiency and profit and environmental harm, but the truth, Ms. Patsche, is that these factory farms are destroying the social fabric of the rural communities where they exist. And I’ve never known neighbors or friends or small business-minded folk to do that to one another.

Excerpts taken from 2013 Master's thesis, Choked Silent: A Plea from Rural America for a New Place at the Table. Lindsay spent a year traveling throughout rural Ohio, collecting stories from the rural neighbors of CAFOs. Many stories like this exist throughout the United States. More on her thesis can be found at lindsayhotmire.com

 

 

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