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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 17, 2017

JFAN holds annual meeting Thursday

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Oct 20, 2017
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photos Mike Cantafio plays Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as a musical interlude during Thursday’s annual meeting of Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors held its annual meeting Thursday in the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

The title of this year’s meeting was “Breaking the Grip of Corporate Agriculture on Rural Iowa.” The guest speakers were agricultural journalist Alan Guebert and Johnson County supervisor Mike Carberry. They were joined by local speakers such as Fairfield attorney David Sykes, agricultural economist John Ikerd, JFAN executive director Diane Rosenberg and Dean Draznin, president of Dean Draznin Communications.

Some of the common themes the speakers touched on were distinguishing traditional family farms from what they called “industrial agriculture,” and small-scale livestock raising from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

 

John Ikerd

Ikerd criticized Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers for “trying to convince us that CAFOs are just like family farms,” which he argued they were not. He was particularly critical of the role of corporations in agriculture and livestock-raising.

“We can’t allow the rights of corporations to override the rights of Iowans to clean air and water,” he said.

Ikerd portrayed the battle against CAFOs as one between the democratic rights of people versus the economic rights of corporations.

“The only power greater than corporate power is the power of the people,” he said.

Ikerd also said humans have the ability to produce enough pork and poultry “without ruining traditional family farming.”

 

Diane Rosenberg

Rosenberg followed Ikerd, beginning with some recent developments she found disappointing, but concluding with others she saw as encouraging. For example, she was disappointed at the Iowa Legislature’s inaction on water quality issues during its last session, and was upset with the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors for not adopting the CAFO moratorium JFAN asked for.

The positive news, Rosenberg said, was that 17 counties in Iowa have signed a petition requesting either a moratorium on CAFOs or making the Master Matrix that regulates them stricter. She said some counties, like Howard County in northeast Iowa, have stopped approving CAFO applications altogether. Other attempts to build CAFOs in Iowa and Kansas have been stopped through public opposition.

“The same can be done in Jefferson County, too,” she said.

 

Dean Draznin

Draznin showed a PowerPoint slide indicating Jefferson County has very few hogs compared to surrounding counties. The slide read that Jefferson County has 150,000 hogs, while Washington and Keokuk counties combined have 1.3 million. He said CAFOs are “sweeping across the state,” but “not here, not yet.”

“You can smell the stench [from a CAFO] even 1 mile away,” he said. “That is the fragrance of the future.”

Draznin also said, “If we can’t stem the advance of CAFOs, there is no chance of enjoying a productive life in Fairfield.”

Draznin assured the crowd that JFAN will not back down from the fight, and led the audience in shouting “We won’t back down,” which led into a musical interlude during which Mike Cantafio played the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down” on guitar.

 

David Sykes

Sykes gave an update on pending litigation involving CAFOs. He and two other attorneys, Charlie Speer and Richard Middleton, were involved in litigation against a CAFO operation outside Batavia. In February 2016, they lost their suit, which Sykes described as “devastating.”

As a result, Speer and Middleton withdrew participation in other pending lawsuits involving CAFOs in Iowa. Sykes, initially unsure how to continue, met Des Moines attorney Steve Wandro, who agreed to help Sykes litigate the seven remaining cases.

Sykes said he and Wandro are fighting Iowa’s “Right to Farm” law, which made it harder to sue CAFO operators. He said the Iowa Supreme Court is reviewing the case now, and he hopes the court will rule the law unconstitutional.

 

Alan Guebert

Like the speakers before him, the featured speaker of the evening Guebert was highly critical of what he called “Big Ag.” He disagreed with the notion that “Big Ag” brings many jobs to the state or that it “feeds the world.” He said only 3 percent of America’s food exports go to the 100 most malnourished countries.

“If ‘Big Ag’ fed the world, there’d be no hunger in America, right?” he said. “There will always be hunger in America as long as there’s poverty.”

Guebert said the alternative to “Big Ag” was small-scale farming like the kind seen at farmers’ markets, which he said now number 10,000 across the United States.

 

Mike Carberry

Carberry said he has seen firsthand that elected officials don’t have much backbone because they’re worried about upsetting special interests. He said it was important to elect competent officials, and then once in office, “hold their feet to the fire.”

He talked about growing up on a farm and swimming in local ponds, and how that was not possible anymore because of the poor quality of the water. He implored the crowd to take action on water quality measures, joking that he wants “to go skinny dipping again.”

 

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