About danielrosmann

I am a farmer from southwest Iowa. I raise organic cattle and hogs as well as various organic crops. I type with two fingers and average about 4 words per minute. I start many sentences with I. Also, I'm less funny in person probably.

Reflections on Papal Anniversary

This last Sunday was the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Iowa.  He spoke of the importance of feeding the hungry and the role those involved in agriculture have in completing this task.  To celebrate the anniversary, the Des Moines Diocese had a votive Mass and held a symposium to discuss the last thirty years in agriculture as well as to suggest the direction agriculture should be heading.  The theme of the symposium, “What God has given, and human hands have made”, was very fitting, though there were arguments as to the value of what human hands have made over the last thirty years.

In the last thirty years, agriculture has found itself whittled down to a few large agribusinesses controlling its direction.  The number of farmers has declined rapidly and the size of farms has largely increased.  Small and middle sized family farms have not been able to compete and have been forced out.  The emphasis in agriculture has been placed on a few commodities, mainly corn, with large government subsidies leading to overproduction of these commodities.  Instead of helping those in impoverished countries to create a self-sustaining system, our overproduction is dumped on them.  Their farmers cannot compete with this influx of cheap commodities.  Meanwhile the main benefactors are the large farms and agribusinesses.

Conventional agriculture has had a negative environmental impact as well, due to concentrating only on yield without considering sustainability.  Massive amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are poured onto fields, the production of which requires incredibly large amounts of energy.  Fields are then managed in ways that send nitrates into the water system and billions of pounds of topsoil to the Gulf of Mexico.

At the symposium, the keynote speaker,Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska, did nothing to encourage any improvements.  Instead of discussing the further work that needs to be done to end world hunger, he sat back and praised the current state of agriculture.  One of his main points was that modern conventional farming was the only way to feed the world.  It was very disconcerting to hear a U.S. senator make such a statement.  I don’t know whether to hope the statement was made out of ignorance or as a result of the intense lobbying from large agribusinesses. 

All of this sounds pretty grim, but there is actually much to be optimistic about.  Many of the other speakers at the symposium spoke out against our current global food system.  They offered the hope of providing third-world countries with the tools to sustain themselves.  Much is currently being done to buck the trends as well.  Local food systems and organic agriculture are being fostered around the world.  Environmental and social justice groups are also doing what they can to make positive changes in agriculture, but their work is hard and constantly countered by the interests of agribusiness. 

The anniversary of the Pope’s visit to Iowa is a good time for all to reflect on how agriculture affects all of our lives.  It is a time to consider the consequences of our own decisions, whether we are producers or consumers.  Our current global food system is not what Pope John Paul II had in mind when he spoke of feeding the hungry, and a continuation of it would be a continuation of turning away from the needs of the poorest in the world while also degrading the land.

 

On a personal note, the Mass and symposium were special to me in another way, because my mom was the lector for the papal Mass in Iowa thirty years ago!  She and twenty or so others were asked to try out, and she was selected.  Now that’s a pretty nice honor.

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February is Temporary

Today I had to shoot a pig that was ill and had no chance of recovering.  It was declining and suffering greatly, so putting it out of its misery was basically necessary. 

It seems typical that this should happen during February, the most dismal month of the year.  In February, winter continues its existance and often brings its strongest snowstorms.  When it does get above freezing, the result is a muddy mess that lingers for weeks.

I hope nobody else has to shoot a pig, or anything for that matter, under such a situation in their lifetime.  I actually felt almost nothing, however.  I wouldn’t say I’m desensitized though.  Living on a farm my entire life has helped me “be one with nature” for lack of a better description.  I believe I recognize many of the complexities of nature through a type of farming that is sustainable.  Our pigs are well cared for, and they are content.  The same is true with our cattle.  Our crops are grown in a way that builds up the soil instead of breaking it down.

February is short, and that is a relief.  The coming March brings a reminder that hopelessness does not exist.  We as a nation might be in the midst of an economic February at the moment.  But just as we know that spring will come, we can look throughout history and discover that the economic hard times will not last forever.

You have to trust in God when you’re a farmer.  Also, when you’re a banker.  Or a teacher.  Or a factory worker.  Not everything is going to turn out the way you want it to, and sometimes all you can do is pray that it will soon be better.  February never sticks around too long.

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fooddemocracynow.org

I am going to continue to advocate the importance of implementing new ag and food policy by asking you to sign a petition at fooddemocracynow.org.  The goal of this petition is to show the USDA that people are very interested in U.S. agriculture becoming more environmentally sustainable and more economically viable to a wider array of people. 

This affects everyone more than they probably realize.  Farm policy that reverses the trend of larger farms and fewer farmers is the best long term economic stimulus that could be provided to rural America, and the beneficial effects it would have on urban America would be far-reaching as well.

Abandon Your Desensitization

(Desensitization is a real word.  I looked it up.)

I would like to alert you to a New York Times article written by Frank Rich about how desensitized we as a nation have become towards the actions of a corrupt government during the Bush years.  Since we have come to expect corruption within our government, there is little outcry anymore when scandals are exposed.

A collective outcry is missing from the Catholics as well.  Our faith is rooted in the love of God and calls for actions that proclaim that love.  Anything that challenges that love of God and the rules he sets forth (love thy neighbor) should be met with a strong uproar. 

I’m going to use the problem of poverty as an example.  I would say that feeding the rich while forgetting the poor is something all Catholics should be outraged about and thus take action.  It seems like a pretty simple idea to get behind doesn’t it?  And there’s not much controversy surrounding it.  All you do is act in ways that directly help the poor.  So why is a collective cold shoulder turned when actions and policies are made that benefit the haves and ignore the have nots?

Currently these situations seem to be met with cynical, defeated attitudes.  I’m sure most would say they find the plight of the less fortunate important, but sympathy alone means nothing.  Making all Catholics realize this is important.

I’m asking a lot for such a multitude to get behind crucial moral subjects, but I don’t think I’m at all out of place for making such a statement.  The potential strength of the Church is huge.  Our outcry could move mountains.  We just have to remember how we felt before we became so used to a system that through its corruption leaves behind millions of the less fortunate.

A Few Too Many

I’m a cynical person, so babies don’t always symbolize joyous new life to me.  Instead my reaction is often, “Great.  Another kid added to our already over-populated world.”  Yes, I realize this a terrible first reaction to have, but I think maybe I’m partly justified?  I mean, this world can barely sustain the population it has today, so what are we going to do in a few years when it has doubled?  Maybe mass starvation and disease will bring the population back down, but is that the way we really want to do it?

Scientists argue about what the population threshold will be for planet Earth, but a few billion here or there doesn’t matter much at the rate our population is rising.  A threshold that is met in one hundred years needs as much drastic action taken right now as one that will occur in ten years.

 Having numerous amounts of children is a Catholic stereotype of course but it really no longer has any merit.  Also, the days of having several kids in order to have enough farm labor are more than over.

The irresponsibility of young teenagers having sex and then sometimes getting pregnant is often pointed out by society, but what about the irresponsibility of those who have ten or more children?  Many would be angry I suppose that I called a couple’s decision to have ten kids irresponsible, but I believe the results of such a decision are contributing to a problem far worse than teenage pregnancy in itself or for that matter any disagreements over contraceptives.

But what about if I decide to have a kid you ask?  Well of course things will be different then.  My kid is going to cure cancer by the time he’s eighteen.  I’ve got it all planned out for him.

The Future

I am the only permanent member of my parish between the age of 20 and 30.  There are a couple others in that age group, but none have plans to remain in this area for too much longer.  The church is in a town of 150 people, and the parish includes that town and the surrounding rural area.  Our priest serves two other parishes nearby as well.  The parish is well off financially and just bucked a trend by putting up a nice new parish hall.

An average Mass attendance is somewhere around 60-70 I’d say.  Much of the work needed to run the church is done by a handful of volunteers.  The church has several traditions that are only made possible by these volunteers.  The gerneral mood of the parishioners in response to the current state of the parish is slightly apathetic, though when necessary the people band together to put together rather extraordinary events.  Mass participation is generally slightly lacking.  It is rare that neither myself or my parents are the lector, Eucharistic minister, etc. 

It would be feasible for the diocese to close the church and consolidate with the nearby town of 5,000 people.  There would be a strong effort from the parishioners to stop this from happening, however.  The church is on the national historic register and has had large amounts of money put into it for restoration purposes in the last 15 years. 

The church is the lifeblood of the community.  There is no other outlet in the town that brings people together, besides the bar which doesn’t exactly provide the same type of community-building opportunities as the church.  The church owns the bar anyway, so the success of the bar is loosely considered to be in connection with that of the church.

That is the information about my parish.  Given all that, what does the future hold?  Does this situation sound similar to yours?  I don’t have any quick and easy answers for reversing any negative trends.  I do have long answers involving revitalizing communities by bringing back more farmers and more jobs, but that’s a little complicated.  What are some other answers?  Your input is greatly appreciated.

If you can’t think of anything either, then check back with me in a few years when I’m running the town bar.

Self Suffiency

In tough economic times it is important for Catholic communities to be examples of the systems that sustain families through such times.  Just a few little changes within a parish could provide many positive effects.  For example, I think it would be a great idea if parishes would plant their own vineyards.  It wouldn’t take much to provide the wine for the parish from a small vineyard.  One little vine would probably be sufficient.  If the parish is unable to plant a vine or two, then they should at least try to buy their wine locally instead of ordering it from the Big Catholic Catalog. 

Along the same lines, it would also be beneficial if parishes baked their own communion hosts.  I’m not trying to put Communion Wafers Inc. out of business, but I think it’s a bit unsustainable to ship in something that can easily be provided by a few volunteers in the community.

Another great idea is for a parish to go beyond just a vineyard and plant a community garden.  These gardens would be tended by the parishioners with produce going to those in the parish that need it the most or to food banks or whatever. 

I know that some churches as well as some priest and nun factories already do these sorts of things, which is cool, and I highly recommend implementing them in your own parish if you aren’t involved with this already.