It should be no secret that industrial agriculture and large-scale confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) perpetuate a cycle that damages our land, our local economies and, eventually, our bodies. Contaminated water runoff, excessive methane levels in bovine burps
, taxpayer-funded subsidies that favor industrial agriculture and less nutritious meat are just some of the nasty results.
Fortunately, there is a plethora of resources out there to educate, inform and alarm (check out documentaries like King Korn
and Food, Inc
. or the many works of Michael Pollan
). I won't try to synthesize all that research in one paragraph, but take my word for it: American agribusiness needs reform. It's a big project, and we need all hands on deck. And there are no more legitimate, organic sources of reform than grassroots coalitions of farmers.
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center
is one such group. It is a nonprofit, statewide membership organization that seeks to provide Missourians with an alternative to industrial agribusiness. To quote from their Web site, "The mission of MRCC is to preserve family farms, promote stewardship of the land and environmental integrity, and strive for economic and social justice by building unity and mutual understanding among diverse groups, both rural and urban." The MRCC's various projects include educational outreach and advocacy on behalf of family farmers, such as this letter to Secretary Vilsack
Among the Missouri Rural Crisis Center's endeavors is Patchwork Family Farms
, founded in 1994. Currently, 15 independent family hog farmers produce, process, and sell their pork products through Patchwork. Producers are paid upfront and receive above market price. Patchwork farmers are expected to responsibly care for the land, and may not use antibiotics in feed or water. Growth hormones, synthetic growth promoters, and animal confinement are also prohibited. Jobs in distribution and marketing have assisted low-income communities (the MRCC retail outlet is in one of Columbia's poorest neighborhoods).
Projects like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Patchwork Family Farms prove that the challenges of responsible animal husbandry, economic improvements, and environmental stewardship can be addressed simultaneously. Agricultural reform still has a long way to go, but productive models like MRCC and Patchwork point toward a better future.