Last Tuesday, dairy farmers in Iowa held a rally at the state capital building in Des Moines. One of the dairymen involved, Jerry Harvey, had called the Farm Aid hotline back in February, and since then he and I have been in regular contact by phone. Jerry had never before been politically active, but as the milk price dropped almost 50% over the last year and the survival of his 70-cow operation in Wayne County became a serious issue, Jerry refused to remain quiet and simply accept the worsening circumstances.
Instead, he got active. He, along with two other Iowa dairy farmers, started contacting media outlets and writing letters to county, state, and national officials, including one to Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, which Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Petersen delivered to Vilsack in Washington. The letter read, in part, "Our urgent cry for assistance must be heard by people like you who are in a position to empower change in our country. We believe that we deserve a fair price for our milk, a price that would remain steady to allow us to continue with our dairy farm business." Vilsack called Jerry the very next day.
Farm Aid contributed a letter of support from Willie Nelson that was read out at Tuesday's rally in Des Moines. Though organized quickly and not heavily attended, the rally did attract a lot of media attention, and Jerry has been hearing from dairy farmers all over the country, some who now want to stage rallies in their own states. The basic message of the rally, which was neither an angry protest nor a milk-dumping demonstration, was to call attention to the crisis facing family dairy farmers and to push for federal action to establish of a fair price for milk.
For me, Jerry's example has been an inspiration, and he is ready to carry on the fight. "This is about small farmers sticking together," he said. "We'll go where we need to go." Amen, brother. And as Willie said in his letter in support of the rally, "Right now is the time to change policy to create a fair and just agriculture and food system that benefits our family farmers, our communities, and the good health of everyone who eats. This is what we're working for. And we're going to stick with it til the cows come home!"
Photo courtesy of Dave Murphy.