RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Support Farmers, Not Agribusiness

Our neighborhood organization, Friends of Responsible Agriculture, has just passed the one-year mark. This has been a year that put us all on a high-learning curve about the status of industrial agriculture in our nation, and the policies that drive it. Even though many of us have worked on ag issues at the capitol, as responsible citizens, lobbying lawmakers for good policy, in the last year we have lived with the results of the pro-corporate laws they passed.

The back story: In May 2014, three neighbors received notice from Missouri Department of Natural Resources that an Iowa pork producer has applied for a permit to move 10,000 sows (mother hogs) into our neighborhood. The operation would confine the female animals to small pens or crates where they would spend their lives being impregnated, standing while the babies grow inside them, being moved to a birthing crate, giving birth, allowing the babies to nurse for a bit, being separated from them and impregnated again.

For details, read The Chain by Ted Genoways. This book uses interviews from former industry workers to describe a system that treats animals and humans like cogs in a money machine. But, taxpayer, guess what!? WE are financing this machine. The government programs that fuel this system are almost as appalling as the system itself. Giveaways and guaranteed loans for producers are just the beginning. There are also government programs for exporters, tax-free gasoline for truckers and tax-paid clean-up committees when there’s an overflow. One neighborhood after another has succumbed to this bad policy—just ask communities in Iowa, where a new EPA study has shown the number of polluted creeks grows every year.

OK. Back to my neighborhood. The producer that applied for a permit is related with one of the world’s biggest industrial ag organizations. Since May 2014, we’ve learned how the system works and how big ag has rolled over and destroyed small communities like ours.

First you need to know that we have a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation in our neighborhood already, and we are familiar with the air pollution that they put out. In fact, we proceeded with a nuisance suit that forced the CAFO owner to put in an advanced lagoon system 15 years ago. But lawmakers responded. They made it extremely difficult to file a nuisance suit. They passed a law to prevent neighbors from filing more than one nuisance suit. The polluter can be sued, pay a fine, and never be sued again. They can just keep polluting!

There is no roadmap for protesting and nobody from the government will help. We perused the DNR website. We ran Google searches. Nothing came up. So we asked for a hearing, not really knowing if there was such a thing.

The answer was yes. But, DNR added, no one had asked for a hearing, going back in the records to 2007. We called a press conference at Missouri Rural Crisis Center to introduce our key players—an engineer from Oklahoma, organizers from the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and some of our Missouri heroes. The press conference was shown on cable TV in major Missouri cities.

For the hearing, we obtained the school gymnasium and hundreds of people, including lots of media, showed up! Unfortunately, the school principal had locked the P.A. system in a closet and taken off for the evening, so the hearing put a strain on the vocal cords of our leadership, but everyone was a good sport and we were able to make our statements and be recorded. There was time for the CAFO owners and backers to speak out, but they didn’t take the opportunity. Later, they said they were intimidated by the turnout.

Learning more about the system, my neighbors learned that air quality is very poorly regulated. So, we needed to move forward on water quality issues. To be honest, we knew very little about the water issues but it turns out that water is the only regulated criteria we can use to object to this new application. So we started learning. We’ve been to hearings on the new EPA rules for Waters of the United States and hearings on “nutrient” regulations in Missouri. “Nutrient” is what they call hog you-know-what. We took classes to learn how to monitor our local creeks and we’ve found that some of them have 4 or 5 times the safe levels of nitrates.

In the meantime, we have realized that there are ways we can cut ourselves off from the system by buying foods from our local producers. Lucky us! We live where family farmers are re-discovering how to raise animals on pasture.

And that will be the final, winning strategy: putting industrial agribusiness out of business by raising the alternatives. This week, do something radical: shop at your local farmers’ market!

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2015

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