Will the true experts in environmental sustainability please stand?
I share, with huge regret, that if you actually believe the “local food” movement is anything other than rhetoric, you are a pilgrim. Last fall I had Tony Ward from Lone Jack, Missouri, on my Rural Route Radio program. He walked through their innovations and the state of the art way they were converting local forages by working with local producers to supply beef to local consumers as Valley Oaks Steak Company. On Aug. 19, it was announced the company will shut down immediately.
I will start with a statement Valley Oaks posted in making its announcement:
“In our view, opponents engaged in fear-mongering for their own economic benefit, or simply pre-judged Valley Oaks based on inaccurate information. Instead of examining the science and visiting our facility to see the reality for themselves, we and our families were made the subject of relentless personal attacks. Valley Oaks is not a large faceless corporation with unknown and distant directors and shareholders, but is a group of local family members who sought to provide regionally and sustainably-produced beef to the public. Unfortunately, we have been stalked, threatened, and slandered. Our children have been targeted, bullied and threatened. Several of our cattle were shot dead in the field, no doubt as a warning to us.”
So here we are; another family operation bites the dust due to a few local squeaky wheels. I am sitting here saying I knew this fight was taking place and I did not do enough to engage in the battle so that the truth could prevail. But honestly, as much as I would like to have done more for them, I don’t know where to place my energy because since this announcement two days ago, I have gotten similar request for assistance in Emporia, Kansas, and Marshalltown, Iowa. It’s everywhere and it’s going to take all of us to battle, not just a few.
I would like to echo the words of Mike Deering, executive vice president of Missouri Cattlemen, as he too shared his frustration with another one down.
Deering says: “If the story of Valley Oaks Steak Company doesn’t make you concerned about the future of agriculture in our state, there is something wrong. We need to stand together. And I mean stand together. I don’t give a damn if it’s a cattle operation, pigs, the circus ... we have to stand together. This fight is about animal ownership in general.”
If you wonder why I drop everything and run to New York City when an ill-guided mayor says the horses in Central Park must go, now you know. It is because every single time a bear, or horse or a calf is prohibited from being owned by a human, it weakens our right to do so.
In this case, much of the blame must be shouldered by the families who turned to Valley Oaks to supply the nutrient dense beef for the benefit of their own families. As consumers, we must all stand up for what is right. There is no secret here that the Ward family was doing so many things right that it threatened other operations and consequently the hunting target was placed on their back.
Ironically, or most likely not, the very man I knew personally that had such a target placed on his back in a similar way was Martin Jorgensen from Ideal, South Dakota. One of the truest pioneers in beef production who was forced to spend time in prison because he was targeted in a similar manner. May Martin Jorgensen now rest in peace as he died this past week.
In closing, this must serve as a wake up call to all of us that we can not sit by and let someone else bite the dust while we simply shake our heads in disbelief and say, “That is awful.” The parting words from Valley Oaks Steak Company will serve as the perfect closing wisdom for your pontification:
“For the future of all Missourians, urban and rural, we hope that people will rely on the science of modern agricultural techniques and methods, and not be swayed by persons and organizations who sow seeds of fear and distrust for their own personal gain and profit.”
What do you believe? Who do you trust for factual information? How many people do you influence by sharing your knowledge? If the answer to that third question is not very big, it’s time you do your part not only to help others but ultimately to ensure that you will be allowed to stay in business.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.