First Person

Why this Iowa farmer joined the fight for food aid reform

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Ellen Walsh-Rosmann on her farm. Photo: Valerie Vozza/Oxfam America

By Ellen Walsh-Rosmann, a farmer and Oxfam volunteer from Harlan, Iowa.

Small farmers across the world ask for little, except the opportunity to raise crops and livestock and receive a decent price in return. It’s no different for us here in Iowa. And an extra dollar in the pocket of a farmer goes a long way: The effect multiplies. A child goes to school. A new piece of equipment is purchased. A well is dug.

That’s why I’m glad that millions of farmers worldwide will benefit from the lifesaving food aid reforms in the recently passed US Farm Bill.

Food aid is a necessity in much of the world, and we should be providing the types of aid that not only feed the hungry, but also help to better their situation. Before, many small farmers were being undercut by the cheap food aid entering their region. When farmers are unable to compete, the economic impact they could have on the community is not realized, and, ironically, they can find themselves trapped in a cycle where they need even more aid to survive.

Now, more international food aid is going to be sourced locally and regionally. This is a common-sense solution, and one that my husband Daniel and I, along with thousands of other supporters, worked with Oxfam to help bring about. Daniel participated in a farmer fly-in to lobby representatives of Congress on the issue, and I volunteered my time as a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. Lobbying Congress was interesting, provided optimism, and was frustrating all at the same time. We had to play the game, but there was some satisfaction in knowing that we were on the side of small-holder farmers and rural people, especially women.

Daniel and I are farmers too. Together with his parents, we raise corn, soybeans, oats and other small grains, and hay. We also raise cattle and hogs for beef and pork. All of our crops and livestock are certified organic. We grow a variety of vegetables and just recently started an egg operation that is certified organic as well. Our vegetables and eggs, and much of the meat, are marketed locally.

Our community in Iowa also relies on agriculture as the base of our economic stability. As farms around here are getting bigger, that base is eroding, and rural communities are beginning to decline. In poorer parts of the world, the trend for smaller farmers to be pushed out of the way by the larger agribusiness system is multiplied when these farmers are forced to compete with our cheap food aid.

I feel a kindred spirit with farmers all across the world. We all deal with the same basic problems: bad weather, insects, weeds, erratic markets. We learn from each other how to handle these problems. We all grow food for our families. We all feed our communities and support our local economy. And given the chance, we can work together to right the wrongs and grow a more just and well-fed world.

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