by Julie Mettenburg
This month, I celebrate my first year as Executive Director of the Kansas Rural Center. It doesn’t seem possible that a whole year has passed! We have been busy laying the foundation for a future that’s worthy of all the hard work that has come before.
You will read about many of the year’s accomplishments in this issue. We have achieved an unprecedented amount of quality programming for Kansas farmers and ranchers, from new publications to conferences to farm tours and work days. We helped galvanize the formation of new food and farming coalitions in communities around the state. And we engaged the public health community and others concerned about our agricultural system’s impact on our health -- a gratifying fulfillment of one of my first goals as Executive Director.
Organizationally, the board and staff have renovated the budget process at KRC and developed a new funding model to help build grassroots support. And we examined, clarified and re-dedicated to KRC’s mission to promote a food and farming system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just.
Thus, KRC is poised to move forward to continue to provide a needed vision and voice for a sustainable Kansas agriculture and food system. And we are serious about strengthening that voice, in the face of well-funded opposition as well as the eternal funding challenges that all nonprofits face.
KRC- A Strong Voice and Vision.
Although I personally believe we may be reaching a tipping point in the larger food and farm movement, many days it is hard to see much progress.
•In the latest issue of Farm Journal, more than 25 percent of the advertising pages promoted powerful chemicals and “systems” to help farmers combat tougher weeds. But you and I both know why those weeds are tougher these days!
•At our “Healthy Farms, Healthy People” Agriculture & Health summit, we learned about the risk that non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animal production poses to our citizens’ health. Eliminating this practice for the good of our environment and our people will prove a tall order, considering the size and importance of the animal agriculture industry to our state, and its reliance on confinement feeding systems.
•This year’s presidential race virtually ignored climate change, while we Kansas farmers are experiencing the effects of extreme weather every day.
•In California, despite early and overwhelming support by the public, the measure to implement GMO labeling -- Proposition 37 -- was defeated in the wake of a deluge of negative messaging financed by Big Food.
•Meanwhile, here in Kansas, Big Oil is developing the controversial practice of horizontal drilling, with its accompanying environmental concerns, such as its competition for our water resources, and what to do with the wells’ salt-laden sludge.
•Early this year, our legislature relaxed rules on swine CAFO’s, making it more difficult for citizens to protest large corporate swine facility permits, despite our vocal opposition.
•And all of this occurs in the midst of implementation of our state’s new tax structure, expected to bring about a budgetary squeeze that is all but certain to further decimate the watchdog agencies.Building a Bridge to the Future
And yet there is good news. More people are gaining interest in these issues, as grassroots energies swell in communities across the state. Citizens are joining with farmers to work on solutions: organizing healthy food coalitions, farmers markets, environmental action groups, and new businesses to replace our dying rural groceries. Producers have reported that they are overwhelmed by the demand for their local and organic foods.
These farmers, citizens and grassroots groups are asking for our help -- but we need YOUR help to provide it.
KRC offers alternatives, whether helping established farms transition to organic, helping grow new vegetable producers, helping farms access new markets, or helping graziers or crop farmers implement more drought-resilient options. And farmers are interested: at our all-day organic forum at Salina in November, more than 70 farmers turned out -- double the number we expected. Other workshops to raise hoophouses or learn new grazing management strategies were also full of farmers and ranchers keen to learn about new opportunities and strategies.
In addition to the practical information, our Weekly E-Updates in our Policy Watch Project provide a unique, and much needed perspective on state legislative decisions, including the budget’s impact on education and rural schools, and on our most vulnerable citizens. In addition, the Updates keep readers up to date on the Farm Bill action or inaction.
As always, KRC is looking toward the future, and asking a critical question: Where are we most needed?
Given the pressures of extended drought, extreme heat, those “tough weeds” and increasing fossil fuel-based input costs, the challenges that farmers and ranchers face are immense. Some will focus only on the short-term view that sees seductive record corn prices along with a growing land price “bubble.” But others are seeking alternatives, a path that cultivates resilience in the face of changed environment.
The next few years will be critical investment years for KRC—and for your farms and ranches and our future as Kansans. Your financial and volunteer support will help KRC build a bridge to a better future for our state.
Just as the board, staff and volunteers of the Kansas Rural Center have re-dedicated ourselves to the mission of an ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just agriculture in Kansas, we hope you will, too.
Best Wishes for the New Year from all of us at KRC!