Family Farms Forever

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More than a dozen legislators joined farmers, friends and supporters at a family farm breakfast this morning, feasting on locally-raised food and listening to speakers talk about the legislative support needed to sustain Minnesota’s farms and food system for the future. The Land Stewardship Project, now in its 25th year, sponsored the breakfast to promote sustainable farming and advocate for family farmers and local control of food systems.

Family farmers, from beginners to veterans, brought their eggs and bacon, milk and oatmeal to the table, along with familiar messages of protecting clean water, soil conservation, minimizing or eliminating chemical inputs, and caring for the land.

Cheap food prices and overflowing store shelves are hiding the true environmental and social costs of our food and agriculture system—rapid erosion and degradation of soil, the chemical contamination and depletion of our water, the loss of genetic diversity, the poisoning of wildlife and destruction of habitat, the loss of family farmers and impoverishment of rural communities.

The good news is that we now have an alternative. A growing number of farmers are choosing to work with nature, and are adopting farming practices that build up the soil, reduce runoff, create habitat for wildlife, treat livestock humanely and best of all, produce safe, wholesome food. But the most environmentally sound farming practices in the world mean little if they don’t provide a good income for the farmer.

[If you want to learn more about buying food from local, sustainable farmers, click here.]

Alternative energy sources were today’s big news. “The next generations of ethanol plants are going to be cellulose-based,” according to Land Stewardship. “This provides real opportunity for more perennial cropping systems that benefit the environment while producing income from the marketplace.”

Increasing markets for ethanol helped push corn prices to four dollars a bushel during the past year, but corn is not the answer for sustainable energy, according to speakers at the breakfast. Switch grass is a better, more efficient energy source than corn, but mixed prairie grasses are even better. Besides, mixed prairie grasses are a perennial crop, less expensive to raise and easier on soil and water resources than corn.

Representative Al Juhnke talked about the “Minnesota model” of cooperative ownership of ethanol plants. Minnesota can continue to provide a national model for sustainable energy, if we support research and development of alternative ethanol sources (such as switch grass and mixed prairie grasses), wind power, and continuing cooperative ownership and local control.