Forwarded for the benefit of all of those interested in seeing the return of competitive and transparent livestock markets in the US. If we had more like Mike championing the story of the American farmer and the need for a level playing field perhaps there wouldn't be so many of us sustainable farmers who have given up on commodity marketing. I know there are beef, milk, and pork production systems that blow the industrial production systems cost of production out of the water. Unfortunately for sustainable agriculture, its these very systems that are being discriminated against most in the commodity markets. I know of milk farmers that have had whole bulk tanks dumped because "it smelled too much like grass" not to mention the simple fact that they pay the huge dairies up to $3/cwt premium for scale alone. I know beef producers that couldn't get a fair bid on finished (grass-fed) cattle regardless of how they would grade. I know of sustainable, family scale beef and hog producers that have been been price discriminated against in every manner conceivable to man--in fact some that I could have never dreamed possible! I am glad to say that our direct marketing is at a level that I can publicly tell of the tragedies happening in the livestock industry in this country. Unfortunately, most can not take the risk of loss of their farm and not feeding their family by speaking out. I will be the first to acknowledge that there are serious reprocussions from publicly stating there is not a competitive livestock industry in this country. The worst that ever happened to my family was I sent 101 pigs to a packer in my state and recieved a check for 93. I counted them. The guy I got to help me load the semi counted them as well as the trucker counted them. They got to the trucker quick cause "he didn't count them". Needless to say there is no arguing with them once the pigs are hacked, packed, and those boxes sent to who knows where. Ironic as it may seem, this event happened at the same time I was quoted in the papers around the state saying we didn't have a competitive livestock industry while I was serving on the small farm commission. It is really sad how far we have allowed the consolidation and industrialisation of our livestock industry to get in this country. It is truly a shame that most of us have given up on the very democratic and capitalistic system that made this nation great before it went so fundamentally astray.
That is enough rambling from me for one day. I'm just trying to articulate the fact that the sustainable agriculture movement should not simply give in the industrialised food supply and assume we have to pursue niche markets. We should demand our place in the market if we chose to compete with them on cost of production even though we don't feel like externalising our costs.
Date: Monday, February 28, 2000 7:30 PM
Subject: Fw: What Happened Grandpa? - Address to Social Ministry Gathering
Sent: Monday, February 28, 2000 9:39 AM
Subject: What Happened Grandpa? - Address to Social Ministry Gathering
Address to Social Ministry Gathering, "Faithful Citizenship" - Washington DC, February 26, 2000
What Happened Grandpa?
By Mike Callicrate
Standing before the rickety abandoned farmstead the young man asked, "What happened Grandpa?" Well son, the same thing happened to me and Grandma that happened to my grandparents in Ireland. We were driven from our land and home by low prices.
Like others on the land, we worked hard to produce the food to feed the nation, trusting that our works would have its reward and that we could live out our hopes and dreams. We know now that the markets didnít work for us, they only worked for those who bought our grain and livestock. The big grain and meat packing companies were making record profits while we were going bankrupt.
Son, I remember when we were losing this farm. Grandma and I felt like we had failed. We felt so alone. We thought it was something we had done wrong.
Grandma had two jobs in town and I had one. No matter how hard we worked, it just wasnít enough. We were convinced we had failed not only as farmers, but we worried we had also failed our ancestors and our children, including your father and even you.
The government, our universities, and our own producer organizations kept telling us we had to become more efficient and that we had to continue to lower our costs. They told us, if we were struggling, it was our fault, not theirs. They told us we were just bad managers. They said low prices were a cycle and things would get better. Despite what we were told, we knew then and we know now that we really were efficient and low cost producers.
Son, as I look back on it, I canít blame Grandma for what she did. I was suffering, too. I only wish she was still with me today. Looking back, maybe I was better able to fight the depression big corporate and government economics put on us. I worked outside, closer to Godís daily miracles. But you know, son, there is something about working on the land, caring for livestock, the feel and smell of the soil, the caring for Godís blessings and creations that brings you closer to the understanding of what is really important in America. People like us will farm for very little income. We will fight the droughts and the blizzards. We love our country and what we do so much.
You see son, when itís money and power that you think you need, you can never get enough. People are what really matter. Respecting the wonderful human spirit in all of us is what is most important. Doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, and investing today in our childrenís futures by caring for Godís gift to us, the land, is what Grandma and I believed.
Most of us, so fortunate as to grow up on our farms and ranches, know this. We know that the land provides for everyone. We know how to help create the wealth that drives our nationís economy. For these reasons, I worry about our nation on the long road towards losing its farmers and ranchers, and with that, our connection to the land.
Still, there are people fighting for farmers and ranchers. I know it is too late for many of us, but it is still probably the most important fight there is. After all, itís about economic freedom allowing people all around the world to feed themselves and to care for the land, so the land can continue to provide wealth for all people, not just a few big corporations. Itís about people everywhere sharing in the prosperity, not just creating prosperity for a few.
A few years ago Grandma and I attended a meeting at the livestock auction. A man told us it was the market power of big corporations that was the cause of our low prices, not oversupply like everyone else was saying. He said, "You are making too little because those who buy your farm commodities are taking too much of the consumer dollar." He instilled hope in that crowd that night. He was so determined to do something about the problem. We thought maybe there was a chance for us to survive.
I was so proud of Grandma when she fought her way through the crowd to tell him to keep up the good work. But then I was so embarrassed when she told him that he should tell everyone that he spoke to, to not be too proud to accept welfare. She said, "We wouldnít be here tonight if we hadnít taken food stamps."
Grandma seemed to do better for awhile after that meeting, but then the taxes were due, and we missed another mortgage payment. We lost too many calves in the spring blizzard. When we couldnít pay our doctor bills she seemed to just give up. I pray that she is with God. I believe she is, I feel her spirit helping me through each day.
Son, all things considered, I think there is still hope. I believe people are beginning to understand the importance of what our family and others have done so well for generations. Thankfully, today we are beginning to hear Godís message crying out from the pulpit, answering prayers to help his people of the land. I believe we are making progress. Maybe with Godís help, farmers and ranchers will be given the opportunity to do what we love for ourselves and our country.
Grandpa, "Iíve heard all you have said. Iíve thought about it. Iíve thought about it long and hard, and, if you donít mind, I think I would like to farm."
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