Standing Up Even When Great Forces Align against What’s Right

In 1996, I paid $10.00 to join a new Iowa organization focusing on the environmental nightmares and loss of family farm hog production that accompany concentrated, industrial livestock production. Since the Center for Rural Affairs was managing their mailing list I started receiving the Center’s newsletter too.

I have often said it was the best $10.00 I ever spent because later that year I received a job announcement from the Center. Eventually I became an organizer working on corporate farming issues and livestock market reforms. I still write Corporate Farming Notes for the newsletter.

Having grown up on an Iowa family farm, I witnessed the stern challenges our rural communities face. It is crucial to me to work for an organization that has the courage and imagination to create unique approaches to revitalizing our rural communities.

From the Small Farm Energy project in the late 1970’s to the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, created in the 1990’s, which has served as a model for rural small business development to the nation, the Center has shown the kind of vision and courage that makes me proud to work here.

For nearly 15 years the Center worked to prohibit meatpackers from discriminating against smaller producers simply because they sell fewer livestock. At the 11th hour, Congress hamstrung a strong rule, written by USDA, which would have helped level the playing field for family farmers and ranchers.

When someone wrote to ask how devastated I was by that loss, I responded, “It is better to spend a lifetime in rightful struggle, and lose, than to spend one day in the hell of unprincipled compromise.”

That’s the kind of organization I want to work for, one that stands up for what’s right, not just when it is popular, not just when it is easy, but more importantly, when great forces align against it. The Center embodies that spirit. But, we don’t always lose, and it is precisely our response to those 11th hour tests of courage that make me proud to work for the Center for Rural Affairs.