United Nations rep meets with farmers in Brodhead

Area sustainable farmers met with a representative of the United Nations at the Riemer Family Farm in Brodhead, Monday, July 24, to discuss the difficulties faced by small farms and to voice concerns and make recommendations for improving policies to help those competing with larger agricultural businesses.

Because the United States farmer is a role model around the world, Jeongha Kim, a policy officer from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations headquartered in Rome, Italy, wanted to hear from small family farmers here to “assess the feasibility of replicating the family farm model” in developing countries. She said governments have a genuine concern about where their agriculture is going as they address poverty and hunger issues. Through her research she will be better able to grapple with whether the focus should be on increasing efficiency of intense sustainable farming over other methods focused on increasing production. Questions about social consequences and how much food is consumed are included in the equation.

Kim said that Wisconsin is known for its thriving CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). She met with Peg Sheaffer of Sandhill Family Farm, Brodhead, who sells organic fruits and vegetables, free range eggs, and pastured chicken, beef, pork, and sheep; Jacob Marty of Green Fire Farm, Monticello, who raises grass fed beef and pastured pork and sells eggs from pastured chickens; Kriss Marion of Circle M Farm, Blanchardville, who raises certified organic vegetables and sheep, goats, chickens, steers, and hogs; and Bryce and Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm, Brodhead, who offer high quality, natural beef, pork, chicken, and turkey. Kim found their discussion valuable since she is looking to replicate the system in other areas of the world, particularly countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. She will also be visiting farms in Canada and Europe and urban models in Cuba.

When Kim asked about difficulties, Marty mentioned that high overhead costs do not make farming in general highly lucrative. It is hard to start a new thing whether transitioning from one generation to the next or from one method to another, he said.

Finding land to start out is another difficulty since land is in high demand and those with existing farms already have more money to invest than those starting from scratch, said Isaac Welsh, an intern at the Riemer farm. “You’re risking everything to start.”

Jen Riemer agreed that access is difficult unless one is moving onto a family farm because there are so many monocrop farmers who are willing to pay high rents.

When Kim asked what was blocking lucrative profits, Marion said that people do not want to pay a lot for their food. Sheaffer said consumers have many opportunities for fresh food in the marketplace whether it be from supermarkets, online groups, or CSAs, but because larger companies have borrowed CSA phrases in their sales pitches, consumers may be fooled into thinking products are organic or “green” or “local” when there are deceptions in the advertising. Smaller farmers often cannot sell as low as larger farms and businesses.

Direct relationships with customers and shared values cannot be copied.

Marion said that policies encouraging local infrastructure and investing in local farms, giving smaller farms tax breaks, and holding larger industries accountable for environmental effects were ways of supporting small farms. Sheaffer said polluters need to be held more accountable.

All agreed more education was needed so that an enlightened public could lead government toward better policies. Through education people would be less manipulated by the few who have all the power and money. Breaking monopolies would give others a chance.

Picture ID from left to right:
Loren and Kathie Riemer, Bonsenng Koo, Peg Sheaffer, Jeongha Kim, Isaac Welsh, Jen Riemer, Kriss Marion, Bryce Riemer, and Jacob Marty

Originally published in the Brodhead Free Press, August 2, 2017, issue.

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