a fourth-generation family farmer in Montana for almost 40 years,
I speak from a background of personal experience when I say that
chemically based agricultural production methods today are unsustainable,
and therefore ecologically disastrous. My experiences range from
working in a large organic dairy to raising registered beef cattle
to owning a large factory feedlot. I have farmed thousands of
acres of grain and reproduced a herd of over one thousand commercial
beef cows. In addition to raising cows, I have raised chickens,
pigs, and turkeys. I have also grown crops such as wheat, barley,
oats, corn, alfalfa, and grass.
was involved in agriculture at a time when the call dictated getting
bigger and better or getting out. I was educated in modern
agriculture, and I can tell you from firsthand experience -- it
is not sustainable. I followed all the modern advice and turned
a small organic family farm into a large corporate chemical farm
with a thousand range cows, five thousand head of cattle in a
factory feedlot, thousands of acres of crops, and as many as thirty
employees. I saw the organic soil go from a living, productive
base to a sterile, chemical-saturated, mono-cultural ground produced
by my so-called modern methods.
1979, a tumor on my spinal cord caused me to be paralyzed
from the waist down. That changed my life forever. I promised
myself that, whatever the outcome of the surgery, I would dedicate
the rest of my life to doing what I believed to be right -- no
matter what changes that necessitated.
period before and after the surgery gave me much time to think
about the changes resulting form my methods of farming. Convinced
that we were going the wrong way, I decided to become a voice
for the family farmer and the land. In 1983, I sold most of my
farm and started working for farmers in financial trouble. This
led to my working for the Montana
Farmers Union and from there to Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist
for the National Farmers Union.
five years I worked on Capitol Hill for America's family farmers.
In that time we had some small successes, such as passing the
National Organic Standards Act. But even after the act became
a law, it took the administration several years to allow funds
for its implementation. I became convinced that the changes needed
had to come from the producer and the consumers at the grassroots
level. Until that alliance is put into play, the big money interest
will continue to control public policy in the Congress of the
question we must ask ourselves as a culture is whether we want
to embrace the change that must come, or resist it. Are we so
attached to the dietary fallacies with which we were raised,
so afraid to counter the arbitrary laws of eating taught to
us in childhood by our misinformed parents, that we cannot alter
the course they set us on, even if it leads to our own ruin?
Does the prospect of standing apart or encounttering ridicule
scare us even from saving ourselves?
prospect intimidated me once, and I can only wonder now what
I was frightened of. It's hard to imagine, now that I'm a hundred
thirty pounds lighter, infinitely healthier, more full of life
and energy, much happier. Now that I have vegetarian friends
wherever I go, and feel part of a movement that is not so much
political as it is a march of the human heart. Now that I understand
how much is at stake. Now that I've come to relish shaking people
would love to see the meat industry and the pesticide industry
shaken up, too. I would love to see feedlots close and factory
farming end. I would love to see more families return to the
land, grow crops for our own species, and raise them organically.
I would love to see farm communities revive. I would love to
know that I've wandered into my nation's heartland by the sweet
smell of grain and not the forbidding smell of excrement.
you can't take it with you, all that really matters is what
you leave behind."*
F. Lyman, LL.D
President & Founder, Voice
for a Viable Future
(from "The Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth
from the Cattle Rancher that Won't Eat Meat", by Howard
Lyman (with Glen Merzer, ©1998))