Can an Agriculture Conference not include Small Farmer Concerns?

small farm missouriWith all of the recent attention given to the environmental and social impacts of large-scale agriculture, and the benefits of organic and natural foods (yep… a link to sustainablog store), you might expect to see a strong focus on small-scale, more sustainable agricultural methods at farming conferences…right? According to small farm activists here in Missouri, you’d be quite surprised by the draft agenda of the upcoming Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture: issues related to sustainable agriculture and small farming don’t appear anywhere. The activists have taken to the state Department of Agriculture’s blog to register their discontent… and are asking others to do the same.

Governor’s Conference on Agriculture… or Governor’s Conference on Agribusiness?

First, let’s give credit where it’s due: I’ve been doing some research lately on state government blogs, and have found there just aren’t a lot of them… at least that deal with specific issues like agriculture. So, the Missouri Department of Agriculture deserves credit for having a space where this debate can take place. And Dr. Jon Hagler, Director of the Department of Agriculture, did respond to the first comment (and even left his phone number)… though he and other department representatives have been quiet since then…

The crux of the debate here involves both the topics planned for discussion at the conference… or, more accurately, the issues not on the agenda. Dan Kelly of Canton’s Blue Heron Orchard was the first to chime in, and noted a range of topics not addressed, including

  • developing local food systems
  • diet
  • child obesity
  • healthy eating
  • land use concerns
  • sustainability

Molly Rockamann, founder of EarthDance FARMS (for which I’ve done some volunteer work), added to the list with

  • rural revitalization efforts
  • farmland preservation
  • training the next generation of farmers
  • agritourism (which is on the agenda)
  • direct selling via farmers markets and CSAs
  • engaging youth
  • innovative crop rotations and pest management strategies that eliminate the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers

Sustainable Farms… and Sustaining Agriculture

I have no doubt that some will see the comments on the conference announcement as a few radicals pushing for specific farming methods in line with their environmental values… While I don’t think “radical” accurately characterizes these folks, they definitely are proponents of more ecologically sound agricultural methods (and I’m right with them on that). Clearly, there’s much more going on in this discussion, though: you only need browse through the lists I’ve provided above to see that these activists aren’t just pushing an agenda for environmental sustainability… they’re also very concerned about the broader sustainability of agriculture in the state, and don’t think that the participants in the conference represent the diversity needed to maintain a healthy farming sector.

If you watched recent films like Food, Inc., you’re aware of the damage created by large-scale, monocultural farming practices. If you’ve read Lester Brown’s most recent post here, you’ve seen that a demand for local food has created economic opportunity for farmers and business people. And Sustainable Table recently noted that small farms have tremendous local economic impact.

Shouldn’t these issues be a part of the discussion?

Time for Missouri small farmers to take action?

It’s good to see some small Missouri farmers bringing these issues up at the Department of Agriculture blog… hopefully, these are just the first steps. I wouldn’t be surprised if some suggest a demonstration outside the conference… that’s not a bad idea. Or, how about a shadow conference where these issues, and the overall health of Missouri’s agricultural sector, receive the attention they deserve?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments…

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briannaorg/ / CC BY 2.0

  1. Janet

    It’s great to see small sustainable farmers speaking up to have their issues addressed at the Missouri Conference. I believe that as more small farmers ask for presentations and discussions on topics that concern them, they will be included; but they will have to be vigilant and activist to make it happen.

    As you can see from the program, Novus Int’l, Monsanto, Bioscience Development, Bayer Animal Health are all giving presentations. These companies are easy for the conference organizers to deal with. They are professional organizations that give hundreds of these kinds of presentations every year. They support the event by buying booth space at the conference. They have reams of information available on their products and services as well as general information of interest.

    When there is an agricultural conference anywhere, hosted by anyone, these companies are right up front offering their support and participation. It’s often more difficult for conference organizers to line up speakers about topics of interest to smaller producers. The organizers are basically taking the course of least resistance.

    I’m confident that as more people express interest in seminars and presentations concerning organic, sustainable, bio-dynamic small-scale farming more will be made available to them. If presentations of interest to small farmers are well attended, more will be made available at future conferences.

  2. Lane McConnell

    As a former MDA employee I have to agree that the Governor’s Conference on Ag doesn’t reflect the full scope of Missouri agriculture- and isn’t that the point to a Conference on Ag? Maybe some folks have been blind to the fact that Missouri ag has changed immensely over the past 10 years. We are a state rich of ag resources- everything from livestock to commodities- to specialty crops and Agritourism. A true conference on ag should reflect ALL of ag.
    I was fortunate enough to be able to work with many of our state’s local food producers and small farmers in my previous role at the MDA. I understand the need for producer education on topics surrounding local foods and sustainability, plus take a look at the latest Census of Ag- the numbers tell us that the number of small farmers is growing in our state. It’s these producers that are entering direct marketing businesses (like farmers’ market and such) and they need assistance from the state.
    And for a department that “touts” it’s support for small farmers, local food systems, specialty crops, sustainability and so on…I ask why the MDA hasn’t put their money and resources where their mouth is? There is no focus on this conference on these issues- why not?
    Oh and the conferences that Dr. Hagler mentions that the MDA put on- I was part of. But after these conferences and meetings were held – no progress was made by the MDA- and that was not due to the employees that worked on these conferences not trying to get things accomplished.
    One reader mentioned on the MDA blog about the “former “ A Look at Missouri Farmers’ Market blog- which I began when I first started at the MDA and which is now no longer available to producers. Now the MDA only offers one blog- Thinking Outside the Barn. I’ve started a new blog- A Taste of Missouri (http://tastemissouri.blogspot.com/) and hope it will offer many producers valuable information and resources. Or follow Taste of Missouri on Twitter or find me on Facebook.
    We have many things to be proud for when it comes to Missouri Ag- and all facets of agriculture should be supported and reflected in a MDA Conference on Ag- that’s why we pay taxes isn’t it?
    If the MDA needs assistance in planning a conference that better reflects all of what Missouri Ag has to offer maybe they need to “Think Outside the Barn” and broaden their interests groups in which they refer to for planning conferences in the future.

  3. Stan Hildebrand

    i have been viewing the guvner’s conf on agric for many years – and DISMISSED it as totally irrelevant to real agricultural issues – becuz they focus only on AGRIBIZ – not the real issues facing us farmers that are actually producing food for people.

    good luck, activists!


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