Meet the Corporate Head of our Factory Farm

Yesterday, I heard a lot of talk about the #OccupyOurFoodSupply movement. I read a lot of articles on the downfall of our modern agriculture practices, the need to “get back to the basics,” and the need to reconnect to our food supply.

So I thought that instead of blaming some unknown enemy for placing my farm in a bad light, or blaming consumers for not taking the initiative to actually visit where their food comes from, I would show you, just as I have for the last year and a half.

Meet the corporate head:

Ooh, he's using technology, too!

His name is Mark…and we’ve been married just about 11 years. He eats, sleeps and breathes this farm and this land. There is not a thing that he would ever do that would jeopardize it for the future. Not for his satisfaction, though. No, he has a contract with a group that has his number…and he doesn’t like the consequences of messing that up. Here, meet them:

Our boys...and the future of this farm.

A pretty rough looking bunch, eh?

But the real nasty one to work with is the one in charge of our seed selection, the one that forces what we plant, when, where and how…the one that determines whether or not we can farm next year. I’d like for you to meet:

Mother Nature

That’s right, Mother Nature.

You see, there isn’t a corporation, a seed company, a conglomerate of some epic proportions that determines how we farm. That decision lies solely with us. But, unfortunately, we’re not alone in the game. No matter what we decide, Mother Nature can always turn the tables, and we’ll need to react.

You could ask Mark today what his plans are for this spring, what he intends to plant where, and when he plans to start…and his answer will be, “I’m not sure.” You see, spring is not here yet, winter is not over, and Mother Nature can change a lot between now and then.

Do we have seed ordered? You bet. If you don’t order ahead, you risk not having what you need available, when you need it. Does any company tell us what to plant? No. That decision lies solely with this farm, but we do ask and receive recommendations from several different sources. Including our crop consultant, who tests our soil, tells Mark exactly what is needed, and what his recommendations are for each field.

Our farm is exactly that…it’s our farm. And I’m trying to let the public know that we raise their food on our farm. But we also are raising our farm’s future. And we would never jeopardize either for the sake of the other.

So, go ahead and #occupyourfoodsupply, but please don’t mind if it’s a full room…our farmers are already there.

*Added: Want to learn more about what others are saying? Check out these links:

27 thoughts on “Meet the Corporate Head of our Factory Farm

  1. Good Job, Val! The environment is so different for every farm or ranch. Doesn’t matter if you are 5 miles down the road or 500. I grew up around South Central Nebraska and ranch life there is a lot different than ranching in North West South Dakota.

    I love the fact you and your “corporate head” make decisions based on the future of your rough looking bunch of “bosses”. J and I don’t have kids, but have a long ranching career ahead of us. We love the land as much as the generations that cared for it before us.

  2. Pingback: Animal Agriculture Creates “Flywheel Effect” | The Field Position

    • Well, his name is Dave, and he’s a college friend of Mark’s. He’s an independent contractor and owns his own business…and he knows his stuff. He’s a friend of the family, and we are blessed to have someone so talented living nearby.

  3. I am a little confused here. Are you bashing the Occupy Our Food Supply movement for wanting to take on larger conglomerates for corrupting the food they eat? I mean, I get it if you simply want to show how you handle your farm relative to others, but being condescending toward a whole group of people who simple want more transparency in the food they eat in order to prove a point about your farm isn’t exactly the message some would appreciate. I realize there is a lot of info flying around and a lot of blame going around but to denigrate this movement in the process of showing the pleasing side of your farms capabilities and “down home nature” shows a lack of knowledge and prowess on the PR side of things. You don’t handle a complicated message like this with condescension.

    • Actually, my point is exactly that. I’m not bashing anyone. I welcome those that question where their food comes from, and I welcome people asking questions. I just prefer they get their answers from someone who has an active role in participating in the food process, not just from someone who benefits from publicity. There is nothing more transparent than a farm that puts their operation online and invites people to ask questions, in my opinion. I value your thoughts, but would like to know where you got the “bashing” idea from? And I have to say, I probably do lack a little bit of PR prowess, but I hope to make up for it in passion. This isn’t just a job, it’s our life and our children’s future. I’m definitely not blaming anyone, but I do have to say that I become discouraged when people assume that agriculture is controlled by one or two companies and that farmers don’t have a say in what happens on their farm. That’s just not true. And that’s the message I’m trying to make.

      • Aw, I c. I was hesitant to use the word, “bashing.” the language in the post made it a little difficult for me to understand what stance you were taking. I completely agree with your point. I wish more people would look into where their food comes from and what is mixed with it. Just because it may say “natural” doesn’t always mean it’s natural. Sometimes I wish we would simple break up the larger companies and move bak to a vista the farm kinda mentality where you don’t visit the grocery for all your goods. You actually visit the farm. One of my friends is part of a sort of co-op that delivers their farm produced products to his door. He places the order ahead of time and no matter what they decide to grow he gets it and they make due with it.

      • Yes, that is exactly what I’m talking about! 🙂 See how easily things get misconstrued? And yet, we still need the availability of cheap, safe food, so that we can feed the whole of our country, not just a few people here and there…and that’s the weight that hangs on a farmer’s mind. It’s a fine balance of it all, and we truly need it all to provide for everyone. I don’t mind at all people that question how I farm and why we do things the way that we do them…and we can answer those questions as well. Yet, I cannot force a consumer to care about their food. I can only make sure the information is out there, be willing to have those conversations, and be thankful for where they take our farm. Thank you for responding, I don’t like leaving a conversation with misunderstandings! 🙂

  4. I bet those critical stakeholders can get ugly when they give you the stinkyeye! Love the way you told the story… and I really do think Mark’s looking quite executive like…. maybe that’s caues I can’t see the manure on his boots though! LOL

  5. I have to admit that I was a little confused by this post at first. I support the Occupy Our Food Supply movement, but in exactly the way that you propose.

    Get to know your farmers. Support them however possible. Let them make the executive decisions and push for more farms to do the same, without letting a huge corporation take over. Work hard so that you can support those that grow and raise our food, who give of themselves every single day to make sure that they can provide the best food at sustainable cost and with sustainable land use practices.

    Unfortunately not all of the farmers are there. It is up to all of us to find the ones that are.

    • Brenna – thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I checked out your blog and read through some of your posts, and I think I understand pretty well where you’re coming from. As a mother of four boys, I know the worry and time it takes to make sure that we’re raising our children in safe, secure environments, that won’t physically harm them in any way. But I would have a few questions for you…such as: Have you ever been on a farm? One that raises crops, or cattle? What is your definition of sustainable? And what is a sustainable cost? Again, I’m not arguing or pointing fingers or placing blame, I’m simply trying to have a conversation.

      I do have to disagree that most farmers aren’t “there” when it comes to caring for the land and the environment. I have met farmers from all over our country…and I truly mean ALL over, and I have yet to meet one who didn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the need to be protective of our environment. But I can’t speak for them, I can only speak for our farm. And I prefer others don’t speak for them as well, unless they’ve actually stepped foot on the farm, spoken with the producer and has had a conversation.

      My husband and I raise corn, wheat, soybeans and alfalfa hay, along with approximately 180 beef cows (which happen to be in the middle of calving right now). We have four children (all boys) who are the light of our lives, our youngest has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that has given me a new view on life, and where priorities should lie. We farm to provide food for the world, while still being able to provide for our children and guaranteeing that our land and our legacy is able to be passed on to future generations.

      There isn’t a corporation in the world that would mean to me what my family does, and businesses come and go, much like trends in the food industry. But without the research and advancements that some of these corporations have made, we would not stand a chance to feed the growing population of our country…and that thought scares me. When I first met my husband, I didn’t understand how our farm worked. I only knew what I had read about the trends that were occurring in agriculture, and I was convinced that we needed to turn the clock back and simplify…and then I watched him. Day in and day out, working hard, researching, consulting with experts and other farmers, taking soil tests, testing our hay, walking through the cows, doing everything in his power to make sure that he was providing the best, safest food possible, all while providing for our family and making sure that our needs were met. And I can guarantee that those are the same things happening on almost every farm.

      Research and advancements are necessary in every industry. Without them, our youngest child would not be here today. And I shudder to think of those possibilities. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need organic farmers, small farmers, hobby farmers, holistic farmers, whatever size and type you want to talk about. The fact is, we need them all.

      If you are looking for farmers that are environmentally conscientious, I would guess that it wouldn’t take much. But I’m guessing that our definitions are slightly differing. But I’d love to discuss this more…so I can learn more about how we, as an industry, can make improvements.

      • I think a dialogue like this is the perfect way to bridge the gap from those that are on the farm every day and those that want to support the environment in other ways.

        I have been on a farm, several in fact, but this is not a Big Ag area. I support one local farm as best I can (they don’t offer fruit or many grains yet) and don’t eat meat. This farm does raise cattle and other animals.

        Sustainable to me means that the land can be used over and over year after year without damage to the soil, the water, or the air. Sustainable cost means that farmers can survive based on what they can sell their crops for and people can survive paying for them.

        The problem I have with companies like Cargill and Monsanto is there is no dialogue, there is no, or little, testing for safety for some things that are going to irreversibly change things. There is little regard for those farmers not choosing GMOs or for consumers that would at least like a choice and to know which is which.

      • First, thank you for responding. I appreciate having this opportunity, and I’m learning a lot from our conversation. Things that I never spent a lot of time thinking about before, which is the whole reason why I do this.

        Your definition of sustainable is spot on…and it’s also exactly how we raise our crops. We utilize the technology that we feel comfortable with, conserving every natural resource we can. We eliminate as many trips across the field that we can, to cut down on fuel inputs, soil disturbance and for time management. We have our soils tested, so we know which crops should be planted where, and how we need to amend the soil to improve its ability to provide crops, while at the same time make sure we’re not over-applying and wasting precious resources. We use the manure from our own cattle to fertilize, and only supplement when we have to. In the end, a farm is a business, and we try to be as efficient and as smart about the choices that we make as we can be…it’s the only way to stay in business. But we’re also farming for the future. If our sons choose to become farmers, we can’t make choices today that will negatively affect their chance of a future here on the farm. That would be irresponsible, and completely self-defeating.

        Today, words like soil erosion, wind erosion and water erosion don’t mean as much as they used to. Why is that? Because we’re farming using better techniques and ways to conserve these resources. Remember reading about the Dirty ’30s? It was dry, windy and dust blew like crazy. I remember seeing my grandmothers photos of all the damage that was done. Would that happen today? I suppose, if it were to get dry enough, but not likely. We use cover crops and conservation tillage (if not no-till), to guarantee that our soil coverage is always there. We use buffer strips and fences to manage our waterways and at-risk areas. We treat our soil as if it’s the most precious of commodities…because it is.

        Companies like Cargill and Monsanto have some public image issues, I won’t deny that. But I do believe they are trying to reach out and start a dialogue, so that improvements can be made. And I can only speak for our farm, but we have never been pressured, bullied or forced into any decision with ANY company. As far as testing goes, that I would have to disagree with a little bit. I’ve been in the research labs, and I’ve seen the work that is being done. If any agricultural-based company were to put into practice something that would jeopardize farming as a whole, they’d be cutting their legs out from under them. It wouldn’t make sense, from a business point of view. I can also name a ton of good things they do, ways they reach out to the consumer, ways they assist communities in need and ways that they work on empowering the next generation of farmers. But those stories aren’t flashy enough for mainstream media to pick up.

        Farmers do have choices in what they plant. There are tons of seed salesmen all across the country. I believe we have more than a dozen of them in our area…and we’re pretty rural and would be considered sparsely populated. And sitting on our kitchen table right now is a publication titled, “The Non-GMO Seed Source.” That’s right, a publication that lists every seed source available for non-GMO crops. On our farm, we utilize both…but those decisions are based on several factors, none of which involved the company selling the seed.

        I will completely agree with you that many consumers feel it’s unfair that there is limited labeling for GM and non-GM products in the market place. What I don’t think they realize is that you can purchase organic, non-GM certified food, which has been tested and is guaranteed to have no GM products in it. As a consumer, it’s not a concern that I have, and I, personally, don’t feel the price is worth it. But that’s a decision that I make, and the same decision can be made in every household.

        My concern is for the consumer in an area where there is no or limited accessibility to a farm, someone who’s working long, tiring hours and must pick up their groceries from wherever is convenient and near-by. We need to have food available for everyone. And that’s why we need every farmer, every rancher, every type of agriculturalist working together. Conventional, organic, holistic…we need them all. We’re needing to grow more crops on less land every year. That’s a fact that isn’t changing. And every year we need to feed more and more people.

        Do we need to be looking to the future? Definitely. Do we need to be aware of our resources? As always. Do we need to work on certain areas? What industry doesn’t? But we need to make sure that we’re supporting those that feed our nation.

  6. wonderful post – we really are a “factory” farm – because of our size – but we are 4th generation – our 3 sons and have 10 other families that help us. We all need to promote and show the truth about what we do – we have the privilege to feed the world – a daunting task and honor. Keep up the good work.

  7. Your reply to Breanna was EXCELLENT. I could say it would apply to our dairy farm in Northeast Michigan as well. You deserve a “Pulitizer Peace Prize” ( I think I have the correct prize). Every occupation has a bad participate but as a whole all are good…there are bad doctors, lawyers, teachers, executives, moms, dads, the list goes on …
    Keep doing what you do , truly a honest spokesperson for the industry. Facts, facts, facts and a personal story. Great!

  8. Thank you for this post and the follow up comments! I’m from a cattle ranching background, it is good to learn straight from the words of a row crop farmer what goes on with that side of things. That’s what I love about the world of social media. There are so many diverse farmers out there sharing their stories and answering questions. Thank you!

  9. Pingback: How Good People Can Make a Difference Through Social Media | A Colorful Adventure

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