Bring back small family farms

posted March 27, 2017 9:43 a.m. (CDT)
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To the editor:

I have a few comments about the March 1 story regarding visits from ICE agents (“Dairy farms employing immigrants to see more ICE agent visits,” Page 1A).

If dairies followed Ms. Fortier’s advice, the agent would trip over all the red flags. Restricting access might be legal and asking for ID might be, too, but it would be obvious that somebody is trying to hide something. Actually, I don't have any problem with attorneys offering advice, that's what they do. My issues lie with immigrants and Big Dairy.

There are many articles on the Internet that talk about the relationship of concentrated animal feeding operations and immigrant labor. They all say one cannot survive without the other. Big Dairy has co-opted Wisconsin government into justifying rampant pollution in the name of jobs. The nature of those jobs is suspect. Wisconsin has looked the other way regarding illegal immigrant labor and its relationship to large dairies.

Let's look a little closer. We've already established that CAFOs depend on immigrant labor. I'm guessing some might be illegal. The relationship between immigrant labor and the dairy biz is not a healthy one. An employer has an unreasonably large hammer to wield. Illegal or not, the immigrant is in a compromised position. Do you think immigrants might put in a few extra hours for free to maintain this relationship? Might an employer threaten an employee in a heated moment?

Here's my major beef: Seems like the CAFOs came around just about the time the immigrants showed up. Wisconsin had the best food production model going, the family farm. In the name of progress, we pushed them aside as an antiquated business model. I suggest that the unsustainable business model is the CAFO. I hope ICE swoops down on Wisconsin as soon as possible. Let's remember a couple things. One, illegal immigrants are ... illegal. Hiring them does not make it right. Two, taking advantage of those on the lower end of the wage scale, illegal or not, is nothing more than modern-day slavery. Illegal or not, if your business model depends on an employee who is easy to manipulate, control and otherwise take advantage of, it is immoral, unethical and unsustainable.

I think it is interesting that CAFOs are hell-bent on expansion. They have already produced themselves into the lowest prices in years. What's the result? They have to expand or die. They cry to the legislator for immigration reform. What they really want is time. Time to buy more influence, time to push more family farms out of business and time to pollute without consequence.

Our current federal administration is adamant about fixing the trend of exporting jobs to other countries. We have sold our own workers down the river for a cheap shirt. It's been the same at the farm. We allow Big Dairy to operate with a flawed business model that provided them with an unfair competitive advantage ... cheap labor and lax environmental enforcement. Enough. I, for one, will pay more for cheese and shirts. It has been policy forever to provide the best food on Earth for the absolute lowest prices. What kind of business model is that? Current data shows consumers are willing to pay more for great food. Honda and Toyota didn't come to this country with a low-price business model. They came in with a superior product and high prices. Today's family farm has those products. I advocate a huge step backward. The Country Today has had many articles about those who would like to enter farming. The barriers are well-known. I say break those barriers down to create more family farms. Today, they are unit for unit more profitable than CAFOs. In addition, they provide worthwhile family fabric to the areas they inhabit. Their existence demands land stewardship. Hiring immigrants, why not?

I would love to see a thriving rural economy re-emerge in Wisconsin. I would love to see more young families at church. I believe this is not an unimaginable dream. Instead of spending money on the biodigester boondoggle, let's use those funds for seed money for a young farmers program. If our government would work for the citizens and the greater good, it could happen. Maybe that is the great unimaginable.

Jack Peterson


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