Rural folks will not give up fight any time soon
Pete Letheby, email@example.com
Nebraska's physical rural landscape remains dotted with corn fields, center pivots and feedlots. But the grass-roots perspective is slowly, and very surely, changing.
Last week's gathering in Greeley was a modest concourse on some of the environmental problems -- particularly those associated with industrial hog farms -- plaguing rural residents in Boone, Nance and Greeley counties. There were fewer than two dozen farmers in attendance, as well as four members of the media, a regional representative for the Sierra Club and Kate Allen, legislative aide for Omaha Sen. Don Preister, Nebraska's most environmentally-conscious state senator.
But it was a significant gathering. It showed the fight in some of Nebraska's rural citizens.
Now and well into the future, Nebraska's greatest selling point will probably be its quality of life, its rural aesthetics and its abundant natural resources.
Thus far, however, a majority of Nebraskans and their elected officials have been mostly indifferent and unresponsive to the environmental and quality-of-life problems emerging statewide. There is a strong, ingrained attitude that the state must continue on the same path, a "stay the course" mentality that is reluctant to change.
For those who hang onto that line of thinking, consider this: According to a 2002 study by the Nebraska Center for Rural Affairs, "at current trends, it is estimated that the farm and ranch share of the food system profit will reach zero."
That's zero, as in nothing, no dollars, zilch. By 2020, all the food system dollars will go to agribusiness, food processing, distribution and marketing.
That prospect, added to the likelihood of continued depopulation in rural Nebraska and a past penchant for overusing natural resources, means it's time to do things differently. It's time for some thinking outside the box. It's time to elect and appoint some visionary leaders who aren't tied to the traditional agricultural mindset that wrongly proclaims "bigger is better."
For example, gubernatorial candidate Dave Nabity has been criss-crossing the state telling Nebraskans that they need more mega-livestock operations.
Corporate-sized farms are often masked as "economic development." But the truth is that large-scale livestock operations don't create jobs because you have to subtract the number of nearby, smaller farmers forced out of business because of them. More importantly, industrial livestock and poultry farms often dynamite the quality of life for nearby rural residents.
As quality of life deteriorates, more and more rural Nebraskans are discovering that many in government aren't paying attention. (So what's new?)
At last Thursday's meeting, irate farmers focused their attention on the inaction of Nebraska's Department of Environmental Quality. But other elected officials and governmental agencies can share in the blame.
For example, Nebraska's 17-member Environmental Quality Council, appointed by the governor, includes representatives of the livestock industry, ag processing, crop production (also a Farm Bureau official), power generation, the chemical industry, the automotive/petroleum industry, heavy industry, food products manufacturing, labor, engineering and municipal and county government.
So tell me, where are the environmentalists on the Environmental Quality Council?
"It's stacked against us," said Jim Knopik, Nance County farmer.
That's why longtime, devoted Nebraska farmers such as Stanley Czarnik and Earl Stephens showed up at last week's meeting in Greeley. Stephens has received a letter from the Nebraska DEQ informing him that it won't pursue odor violations against the four hog farms within a mile and a half of his home in rural St. Edward.
"If things don't get better out here and if they continue to let them build (mega-hog farms), we're gonna have to get out and just let them have it," Stephens said.
"What chance do I got? I'm just an old farmer."
Czarnik, 72, has seen his farm land victimized by manure runoff from large hog farms. He says he won't quit the good fight anytime soon.
"Everyone's passing the buck," he said. "I've been farming here for 35 years. I'm going to fight this."
Government officials and agencies, farm commodity groups and others can choose to ignore Stephens, Czarnik and others in Nebraska who proudly defend a rural, family-oriented lifestyle that prizes its quality of life and natural resources.
But something tells me these hardy rural folks, and the growing awareness of the problems surrounding them, aren't going away anytime soon.
Pete Letheby is associate editor for The Independent, Grand Island, Nebraska. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted, with permission, by John Crabtree, email@example.com
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