In “Dispatches From the Fields,” Ariane Lotti and Stephanie Ogburn, who are working on small farms in Iowa and Colorado this season, share their thoughts on producing real food in the midst of America’s agro-industrial landscape. In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of events here in southwestern Colorado sponsored by the state and federal governmental agriculture agencies. Taxpayer-funded ag technicians showed off impressive new methods of irrigation and water management. They also demonstrated their commitment to the standard ag paradigm: maximizing yield of industrial inputs — e.g., crops that produce seeds that can be crushed into vegetable oil — above all other considerations.
At the same time, however, I came away encouraged. For while these public servants clearly focus on supporting industrial-scale farming, they also showed a refreshing openness to working with small-scale farmers who produce food for their neighbors to eat.
The first was a oilseed crop field day at the Colorado State University Extension experimental station, and the second was an open house sponsored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service branch of the United States Department of Agriculture.
At the field day, I rode around in a wagon pulled by a large John Deere tractor as extension agents showed off field trials of oilseed crops — primarily sunflowers, safflowers, and canola. See, we’ve got a brand-new oilseed processing facility, San Juan Bioenergy, going online in the nearby town of Dove Creek, Colo., this November, and for the past four years the experimental station has been supporting area farmers in their efforts to transition to these unfamiliar crops. (Previously, these farmers had primarily grown dry beans and wheat.)