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Iowa policy must address destructive “food” production and counter the narrative “get big or get out” if we want to make progress on climate change.


As a grower, one of the best parts of the farmers market is having conversations with fellow farmers-since so often each of us are busy at our own farms. In one conversation a farmer lamented to me that so many people still get their food from the SUPERmarket. I agreed, but challenged that our production couldn’t support the whole of the area’s needs. I have been bothered as well as by the lack of ecological accountability even on small scale production and I began imagining how we as small farmers could work together to replace a corporate-fueled destructive food system. With that, the Mighty River Food Collective was born: a local group of like-minded growers founded in principles that support the social, economic and ecological health of our communities--principles that help customers move away from industrialized food.


Rather than relying on genetic engineering, synthetic inputs and toxic pesticides, farmers with the Collective focus on soil health, alternative strategies for pest and disease management, and use grazing practices which promote natural behavioral ecology of animals. These practices are cornerstones of the Mighty River Food Collective. We remain open to where people are at, however, so growers feel encouraged to join the Collective and eventually align with our practices. After all, the Collective believes in cooperation over competition in our pursuit to strengthen our community and food sources, and create an alternative to this predominant, destructive force of industrialized food production.

My partner Andie and I routinely reevaluate why we grow food and how we can contribute to the earth. Going into our fourth year, we’ve adapted our production quite a lot after  the heavy rains devastated many of our crops the first two years. We’ve moved to a location with better silt content for drainage. We’re adding compost and raising our beds as needed. We grow under quick hoops and we’re building caterpillar tunnels to keep the rain out. The latter depends on plastic consumption, which has its own catastrophic implications. To what extent does it make sense to adapt to expecting environmental calamities, to become better suited to our environment as it changes, even if these “adaptations” cause great harm as well?

Our work with the Collective and our work on our own farm is all situated within (and often against) agricultural policy. I feel very strongly that Iowa’s agricultural policies are destroying our people, these lands and waters for short-sighted global economic gains. It’s also evident that Iowa’s corn, soy, and livestock production is dependent on a false narrative of farms of the past, as it is only in the past few generations that farmers have become so limited in what they grow. This illusion is destroying any hope for a robust and helpful national energy policy. Iowa policy must address destructive “food” production and counter the narrative “get big or get out” if we want to make progress on climate change. 

The Mighty River Food Collective and other farmer-led groups are co-leaders in a greater global effort to change how we grow, what we grow, who may grow, and who may eat what we grow. In the Dubuque area we are expanding our current online distribution effort with goods beyond meat and produce, and creating a labeling/branding structure with the hopes of working with restaurants to bring our values to folks who don’t shop at farmers markets. Small farmers have a powerful platform to fight climate change. If we think as members of a community, we can work against the destructive nature of the industrialized food system.


Ashley Neises

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