Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What Would Rural America Look Like...?

What Would It Look Like If Rural America Mattered...?

by John Crabtree,

--- editor's note - we have asked this question before, but our recent discussion on community development and related issues spurred me to ask it again... so, what would rural America look like if rural people and rural places mattered (in Congress, the White House, state capitols, etc.)... or mattered as much as we deserve, no more, no less...

A few months ago I was invited by the nice folks at Chipotle Mexican Grill and Niman Ranch natural meats to visit Ron Mardesen’s farm near Elliott, Iowa. I had missed all the good food at the main event where Chipotle chefs prepared special pork dishes with Niman Ranch pork for media and others interested in their natural pork business.

Ron raises hogs, farrowing in huts in his fields as part of a five-year rotation. He finishes hogs in hoop buildings and markets them at a premium through Niman Ranch. His weaning rate is as good as or better than a lot of the “state of the art” total confinement systems, despite the fact, as Ron pointed out to me, that extension, USDA, and the land grants have not been tripping over themselves to help producers like him address their challenges in engineering, husbandry, and genetics.

I first met Bill Niman, the founder of Niman Ranch, in 1998 when he came to Walthill to visit the Center for Rural Affairs and share his vision for expanding their natural pork business. The Center has put considerable effort into helping farmers reach high value markets over the years. We have helped Niman Ranch and others connect with producers. And we have helped farmers and ranchers form their own cooperatives to reach into high value markets.

I remember when Bill came to Walthill. We had lunch at Cowabunga Korner, and I listened to him talk about his vision of building a more sustainable, humane, and economically rewarding system of raising, slaughtering, and marketing hogs and cattle. And while listening I thought, for the first, but not the last time, what would rural America look like if we were able to put all these visions together? What would rural America look like if we succeeded in making rural issues, rural people, and rural places truly matter?

Ron Mardesen is a true success story. He and his family have built a profitable, diversified farming operation. They raise some of the best tasting pork anywhere. They have made a beautiful home for themselves and their family. And as we stood among the sows and farrowing huts on Ron’s farm that day, I realized that Ron provided me with part of the answer to my question. What would rural America look like? Well, for one, there would be a lot more farms like Ron Mardesen’s.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i always get sniped at when i say it, but if farmers and rural communities would focus on food instead of commodities, it would make an enormous difference

  • At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    that's because the issues are more complex than that

  • At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i don't agree, without creating markets that treat food as food, be they local or not, farmers will always be competing to see who can raise commodities the cheapest


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home