Corporate agriculture. Land profiteers. Factory farms. CAFOs.  Uncaring. Pundits of “big agriculture” espouse the downfall of our food system while pointing to greedy corporations.  After all, they’re looking to only get rich from subsidies, have no pride in the craft of agriculture, abuse animals in horrific conditions and pour chemicals on the land in an effort to make more money. Right?

WRONG! The people of modern agriculture are the same types of folks you see in Charlotte’s Web – their barns just look different and a PDA has replaced that pitchfork. Modern day farmers share the same hopes and dreams of running a successful family business. They are entrepreneurs, scientists – and yes, businesspeople.  Their children are raised on the same land, developing the same work ethic, as other family farms.  And, these food producers are working to grow food, feed, fuel and fiber in a safe manner- usually with far more regulations than anyone in Charlotte’s Web could ever imagine.

Meet two of these “factory farmers” and judge with your own eyes and ears – I suspect you’ll see they care deeply about doing the right thing.

Mike Ver Steeg, Family Farmer  

Cannon Michael, Family Farmer

Farmers of today are survivors. Speaking of survivors, I want to share a glimpse from the heart from a young, beautiful woman that many would define as a “factory farmer.” She loves cows, moved from a small farm in the Netherlands to help manage a large dairy in the U.S. and is excited about “pulling her wedding dress out of the closet and dusting it off” in May. You see, she’s a survivor not only as a farmer – but also for beating skin cancer before she hit 30.

What cancer does to somebody like ME

One year, eleven months and somewhat days ago I got confronted with this awful disease. I can tell you, it wasn’t and is not funny…

After several surgeries, lots of pain and fear I had four weeks of chemo treatment for four hours in a row every day. After that we did 48 weeks of chemo shots, 3 times a week, with one of the most terrible chemical substances that people have invented. Things lasted a bit longer because we had to quit a couple of times (weeks) because my body or mind couldn’t handle it too well…

Cancer does a lot to people… So does the treatment of cancer…

It makes you angry.
Angry against the world, because every time you go to the hospital, the people that you meet are in their fifties. Where are all the young people??? Am I the only one?
Angry towards the people surrounding you. I doesn’t matter how hard they try, they can’t feel, understand or know what you feel! Even if they are by your side 24/7 in the hospital and at home, keep your hair up when you are puking your guts out in the toilet or when you do NOT want to say ANYTHING because you are to tired to the bone or when they hold you until the shaking has stopped…
Angry towards your friends, you thought they were there, but they are not
Angry towards you family, they do not deserve it, but to admit that to yourself only makes things worse
But most of all angry towards yourself
Because you just can’t understand why this had to happen
And if you could have changed it or prevented it!
And of course I am MAD because I thought I could change or adapt to anything-I could do everything and I didn’t NEED anybody…

Meet Leontien, another “factory farmer.” You can walk in her shoes by reading the complete note she wrote about her journey with cancer (grab a kleenex).   My life’s work focuses on sharing the stories of people like Leontien, Mike and Cannon so that our society understands the connection between the farm gate and consumer plate. I detest “factory farm” and believe it’s an insult that’s equivalent to racially insensitive terms of previous decades.

By the way, I prefer the small farms of yesteryear. I was raised on one myself and wear the scars of  farm family struggles. Yet  reality is that we in agriculture are called to feed a population expected to double by 2050. Margins in production agriculture have driven farms to grow larger or become niched. I’m not going to judge or label a farm just because they farm 3000 acres or milk 3000 cows – just as I’m not going to judge the family who has found success in a niche market.  Can you hold yourself to the same standard? There’s enough bashing happening with agriculture that we don’t need to do it internally.  There is a need for all types of farms, as long as they are good operators.

My hope is that featuring these types of people will foster an understanding of the people behind our food plates – and maybe – just maybe – inspire more in agriculture to tell their story.

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