Bleeding Heartland is a community blog about Iowa politics: campaigns and elections, state government, social and environmental issues. Bleeding Heartland also weighs in on presidential policies and campaigns, federal legislation and what the Iowans in Congress are up to. Join our community, post your thoughts as comments or diaries, help keep our leaders honest and hold them accountable.
(The author is an organic farmer with a Phd in soil science. He was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)
We have been hearing a lot of hype from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey about how the voluntary approach to changing agricultural practices to improve water quality -- as proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) -- will be effective. However, my experience in over 25 years of work on water quality tells me that this is very naive thinking at best, and deceptive to the public at worst. Below are the comments on the NRS that I submitted a few days ago.
Competing rallies about lean finely textured beef took place on the Iowa State University campus yesterday. Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representative Steve King were among the speakers at a rally supporting continued use of the additive used in some ground beef. Before that event, some family farmers joined activists at a rally to "to protest the collusion between industrial meat production and our political system."
It's time for a new Bleeding Heartland thread about lean finely textured beef, known to detractors as "pink slime." A dozen links to news and commentary about this controversy are after the jump.
Expanding nuclear power is again a hot topic at the Iowa statehouse. It's not clear whether Iowa Senate Commerce Committee Chair Matt McCoy can find the votes he needs to advance House File 561. McCoy announced last week that new language in the bill would protect consumers and satisfy a majority of his committee members. However, opponents say the changes address only one of many problems in a bill that would primarily benefit MidAmerican Energy at the expense of its ratepayers. McCoy was forced to delay consideration of House File 561 on March 8, but he is expected to bring up the bill before his committee sometime this week--if he has the votes.
Follow me after the jump for analysis on the prospects for passing House File 561 and the merits of the bill.
Iowa may soon have as many milking coaches as lactation consultants. After a lapse of about four decades, human breastfeeding has secured its place once again in our culture as the premiere way to nourish an infant. In a parallel narrative, fresh wholesome milk from cows, sheep, and goats is regaining its reputation as a premiere health food. To boost that growing reputation, milking coaches are pulling up another milking stool to help people learn more about the realities of milk fresh from the udder.
"We've only used manmade milk (formula and pasteurized milk) for around 60 to 70 years but we've used breast milk and raw milk for 6000 years. If it wasn't for breast milk and raw milk, we wouldn't be here!" says Brad Hopp, a milking coach near Lawton in northwestern Iowa . "Learning more about milking helps people understand it better, and I'm all for that."
Although mothers' milk retains some of its mystery in the face of scientific inquiry, mothers these days know how precious it is to their babies' health and growth. A little mystery in the food supply passes when it's balanced by strong instincts and a solid record of success. But mystery can feel uncomfortable when it strays too far from knowledge and experience.
"The idea of raw milk feels exotic and mysterious to many people in Iowa ," says Christy Ann Welty, homeschooling mother of two who helps milking coaches and new milkers find each other. "More understanding and less fear will help everyone as they make decisions about the best ways to feed their families."
More understanding and less mystery: that's the meaning of "Milkers get it."
A second meaning of the phrase relates to Iowa state law.
Drinking wholesome, fresh milk -- fresh from a healthy, grass-fed cow, sheep, or goat without processing through a pasteurization vat -- has been illegal since 1968 for most people living in Iowa . The privilege of choosing whether to drink milk fresh or pasteurized is reserved to the few who control livestock, land, and have mastered the skill of milking; everyone else is restricted to only Grade A pasteurized milk, except for those who are willing to operate in the gray areas of the law. "Giving away milk is not covered by our rules," says Dustin VandeHoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), "but all sales are illegal."
Passages from Chapter 192 of the Iowa Code (state law) say, "Only grade 'A' pasteurized milk and milk products shall be sold to the final consumer, or to restaurants, soda fountains, grocery stores, or similar establishments;" and later, "No person shall within the state produce, provide, sell, offer, or expose for sale, or have in possession with intent to sell, any milk or milk product which is adulterated or misbranded;"
VandeHoef says, "We interpret the words 'adulterated' and 'misbranded' to include raw milk, and this is also the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] interpretation which is adopted into the Code."
The IDALS interprets "sales" to mean "exchanges of value." During a phone call to his office, VanderHoef was reluctant to specify which circumstances would be considered prosecutable and which would be outside IDALS's rules.
A broad interpretation of the meaning of "sales" puts giving away raw milk, and even drinking raw milk from one's own animal, into the gray area between legal and illegal: renting a stall in a farmer's barn to shelter your cow if you do not have a barn; bringing a sandwich to the person milking your goat for you; bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party where the hostess serves raw milk. Membership in a private kitchen club could be interpreted as a "sale" if one of the members gives away samples of raw milk.
To steer clear of potential gray market entanglement, all milking lessons from "milkers get it" coaches are free, and no donations are accepted. "We're not trying to get around the law," says Welty. "Our purpose is to pass along a valuable skill to people who want to be self-sufficient or live a sustainable lifestyle or simply exercise choice about the food they eat."
In order to exercise the simple choice of "Fresh or Pasteurized" without engaging black markets or gray markets, a person has to learn how to milk and has to control livestock plus enough land to support it. One mission of "Milkers get it" is to help people overcome barriers that state law and bureaucracy have erected. Another mission is to assist efforts to change the state law.
Challenging the statute with a court case is lengthy and expensive. One current lawsuit disputes one circumstance in the gray area of the law: Freitag v Secretary of Agriculture was filed in January 2010 and litigation continues in Linn County 's district court. Representing two milkers who boarded their cow with a Linn County farmer, the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund "is acting in the capacity of a public interest law firm to protect the fundamental rights of the public at large ...."
Changing the statute directly with new legislation is another option. Small-scale dairy farmers, health food customers, legislators, and many others worked together during Iowa 's 2011 legislative session to lift restrictions against consumers buying raw milk directly from farmers. "We made progress," says Francis Thicke, organic dairy operator and former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, "but not enough to pass it this year. We'll try again next year."
Meanwhile, you can pull up a three-legged stool and try a free milking lesson for yourself, and encourage your state legislators to get some hands-on experience, too. Accurate information and authentic experience are often the best tools for changing engrained habits of mind and for updating rules and procedures. Milking coaches are ready to introduce all comers to the wholesome experience of squirting fresh milk from the udder of a healthy animal into a warm, foamy pail of milk. When you feel the rush from a satisfying squeeze, you'll understand. Milkers get it.
(Disappointing but not surprising. - promoted by desmoinesdem)
Yesterday the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, Republican Bill Northey, got an endorsement from a Democrat in his effort to get rehired by Iowans. Jerry Crawford is not just any Democrat. He is a close friend of Hillary Clinton, and Tom Vilsack, and has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns. So what is he doing on WHO TV talking about Bill Northey, instead of the Democratic candidate, Francis Thicke?
If blood is thicker than water, money in politics is thicker than that. When it comes to agricultural issues in Iowa, politics is a blood sport, played for keeps. If you think this is inside Iowa baseball, you should know that Iowa agriculture is the engine that brings GMO foods to your table, that is killing the Gulf of Mexico, and that can send contaminated eggs across the country and as far away as Guam.
The "newspaper Iowa depends upon" won't endorse a candidate in this year's races for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture or state auditor, Des Moines Register editorial page editor Linda Fandel confirmed to me this week. Fandel told me the newspaper has been inconsistent about endorsing candidates for those offices in the past. She said limited staff time and resources lay behind the decision not to endorse this year. The Register did endorse candidates in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and all five U.S. House seats, as well as the Iowa Supreme Court retention vote, which the editors called the most important election in the state this year.
I understand limits on resources. Compared to previous election cycles, the Register's newsroom staff is smaller, and its editorial pages contain less content. However, a newspaper that claims to have a statewide profile shouldn't punt on elections offering such significant contrasts to voters. More thoughts on these campaigns are after the jump.
Despite the salmonella outbreak and egg recall that made national news two months ago, Iowa's secretary of agriculture race has been overshadowed this fall by campaigns for other offices and the unprecedented drive to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices. In fact, Democrat Francis Thicke's campaign has attracted more interest from nationally-known sustainable food advocates than from many Iowa news organizations. Peter Rothberg wrote in The Nation, "there may not be a more important contest this year for farmers and food activists nationwide."
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been running television commercials for several weeks, but Thicke starts running his own campaign ad in the Des Moines market today. His campaign has an opportunity to increase the ad buy, and due to an unusual situation I'll cover below, any additional air time Thicke reserves will reduce Northey's television exposure during the final days of the campaign.
Commercials for Northey and Thicke are after the jump.
Jim Hightower is an outspoken advocate for the Powers That Ought To Be, not The Powers That Be. He is a populist progressive, and a funny, irreverent thorn in the side of the powerful. He says that the real political spectrum isn't right to left; it's top to bottom. A former Agriculture Commissioner who served two terms in Texas, he knows how important this job is for safe food, clean air and water, and a future in which farmers can afford to farm.
“In Iowa’s election for Secretary of Agriculture, the choice couldn’t be clearer. On one hand you’ve got Francis Thicke, who has worked as a dairy farmer for 27 years, selling his products locally and actually building the economy. On the other hand, you’ve got Bill Northey who has led a team that invested nearly $1 million in Brazil’s ethanol production. In a world where money talks, maybe Bill Northey should be running for Secretary of Agriculture in Brazil.”
That assessment of Francis Thicke’s incredible grassroots campaign for Iowa Agriculture Secretary came from food writer Michael Pollan via Twitter. Another assessment, via a pollster, is that it’s winnable, but more about that below.
For people who care about what they eat and how much they pay for it, Pollan’s tweet is not hyperbole. It is a tribute to an organic dairy farmer with no prior political experience who has put together a professional statewide campaign, and is now within three percentage points of a well-financed Republican. Francis Thicke (pronounced Tickee) does have experience in government. He worked for the USDA after getting his PhD in Agronomy, and he has been advocating policies like reducing the concentration of market power in agriculture for years. But with this campaign, he is trying to get his hands on the government machinery and change what it does. (con't)
Francis Thicke, the Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture, announced a "comprehensive energy policy for agriculture" that would increase the use of renewable energy in the agriculture sector, with a focus on systems that "put profits in farmers' pockets." Corporate agriculture interests have often demonized environmentally friendly energy policies as bad for farmers, but Thicke points out that farmers are currently vulnerable to volatile energy costs. I've posted his full statement on the energy policy after the jump, but I want to highlight a few parts:
As a state, we currently have no plans for how to power agriculture beyond fossil fuels, leaving us vulnerable to the effects of escalating and widely fluctuating energy prices. In 2008, oil prices rose to $147 per barrel, but within seven months fell to less than $34. This wild fluctuation whipsawed agriculture. Fertilizer and fuel prices tripled; corn prices spiked and fell sharply; ethanol plants went bankrupt.
Oil economists tell us that repeated cycles of price spikes followed by precipitous price falls are the future for energy costs as long as we are dependent on fossil fuels.ii Even the U.S. military warns that oil prices will rise greatly, and we should expect oil shortages in the near future.iii
Our current biofuel production is not targeted to secure the energy future for agriculture. We use about a third of our corn crop to produce ethanol, but use it for cars driving on highways, not to power agriculture. Iowa farmers are selling corn as an energy crop at cheap commodity prices while paying high retail prices for the fuel needed to power their farms. Biofuels today make only a dent in total U.S. fuel needs,iv but could go a long way toward making agriculture energy self-sufficient.
Thicke also advocates stronger policies to encourage wind energy production, not only looking at the total megawatts generated, but at wind energy systems that would create wealth for farmers and rural communities:
Today, 20 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind power. That is good. However, the next generation of distributed wind systems holds promise to put more of the wealth created into the pockets of farmers and increase the amount of wind energy that can be distributed through the existing electrical grid.
When farmers lease out land to put corporate-owned wind turbines on their farms, they still pay retail rates for the electricity they use to power their farms. In other words - like with biofuels - farmers sell cheap and buy high.
The next generation of wind power should be mid-sized wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, so the wind that blows over the farm will power the farm, and the wealth created will be retained on the farm. This kind of distributed wind power has several advantages:
1. The wealth created by the wind turbines is retained by the landowner and stays in the local community,
2. The electricity generated is used locally, avoiding the need to build new transmission lines, and
3. Distributed wind turbines will more fully utilize wind fronts as they move across the state, compared to when most wind farms are located in a few places in the state.
Policies the Legislature could enact to hasten the development of mid-sized wind turbines on farm across Iowa include mandatory net metering for all Iowa electrical utilities and feed-in tariff (FIT) policies. FIT policies have been used successfully in Europe to encourage the rapid expansion of solar-powered systems.
I urge the Iowa Legislature to adopt a FIT policy targeted to small and mid-sized wind turbines that are owned by Iowa farmers and landowners. The FIT policy would require electrical companies to pay a high rate of return per kWh for the initial years of the lifetime of targeted wind systems. That will allow farmers and landowners to pay for the wind systems during those initial years. After the specified initial time period, the rate of pay will drop to wholesale rates. That will allow the power company to buy cheap, green energy for the remainder of the lifetime of the turbine, and allow the farm wind turbine to continue to generate electricity to power the farm and to serve as a profit center for the farm.
Feed-in tariffs have been successful in many other places, and there's no reason not to use them in Iowa. Getting the policy through the Iowa legislature would be an uphill climb no matter which party was in control, however.
Thicke rolled out his energy policy this morning in Des Moines. He has public events scheduled later today in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, September 23 in Dubuque, Davenport and Iowa City, and September 24 in Council Bluffs and Sioux City. I hope the media will cover his ideas, because they have potential to make farming more profitable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's too bad that neither the current Secretary of Agriculture, Republican Bill Northey, nor his predecessor, Democrat Patty Judge, took the initiative on reducing our agriculture sector's reliance on fossil fuels.
Democratic candidate for Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is calling for regulations "modeled after a program that has been used successfully in Maine for more than 22 years to return integrity to Iowa-produced eggs." Thicke introduced the proposal during his September 11 debate with Republican incumbent Bill Northey. Excerpt from his opening statement:
The State of Maine's egg safety program complements the new [Food and Drug Administration] egg rule and shores up weaknesses in the federal rule. Specifically, the Maine program has three features that go beyond the requirements of the new FDA egg rule: 1) An effective program for vaccination of laying hens; 2) Monthly inspection of laying facilities for sanitation, and testing for Salmonella within the building; and 3) Egg testing when Salmonella is found in the building.
Thicke reiterated the secretary of agriculture should inspect feed mills, noting the [Jack] DeCoster feed mill filled 12,500 semi loads annually.
"First of all, there is a distinct word in there," Northey fired back. "... Commercial feed mills that sell feed. The reason that we do that is to actually protect the consumer of those that are buying feed from others. Our regulations are actually not for food safety, but are for protection of consumers... We have been told ... this mill does not sell feed -- that birds at the other facility are owned by DeCoster as well... Just as we don't go to a farmer mixing his own feed, we do not go to those mills that are producing feed for private facilities or on their own facilities."
"The secretary of agriculture has the authority to make rules to cover loopholes and this is a DeCoster loophole playing a shell game and we should not play that game with him," Thicke said.
The incumbent had pointed words for his rival.
"Unless you know something we need to know more about the situation ..., it would be important to ... wait for the information and be able to find out whether they were actually in violation of that or not," Northey said. "... We don't just make decisions on large facilities different than others because our rule says we are to inspect commercial facilities selling feed to others, not facilities of a certain size."
Thicke has said Iowa Department of Agriculture rule-making could have closed the loopholes that allowed DeCoster's feed mill to avoid state inspections.
Although both candidates were clear that there is enough room in Iowa for all types of sizes of agriculture, and that they would support all aspects of the industry, a major difference between them was exposed while answering a question regarding local control of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) placement.
"Absolutely," said Thicke, who argued that allowing local government to decide the site of CAFOs would not add additional regulations for owners, who already must follow county building policies, but would allow local residents control over their environment.
Northey disagreed and stated that agribusinesses "need one set of rules," otherwise there would be "a real challenge" in getting any new developments approved.
Thicke, who formerly served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, sympathized with country residents who had to live near "toxic fumes," while Northey sympathized with producers "who have been demonized."
After initially rising from poverty in Maine with a small chicken operation, DeCoster's run-ins with New England legal authorities led him to flee to Iowa, where he ventured into building hog confinements and factory farm egg facilities just in time to coincide with that state's loosening of the environmental regulations in 1995, with the passing of House File 519, which stripped all local authority from regulating factory farms.
The passage of this piece of legislation single-handedly pushed more independent hog farmers out of farming in Iowa, the nation's number one hog and egg producer, than any other law in the state's history. Since 1994, the year prior to the passage of H.F. 519, Iowa has lost nearly 72% of the state's hog farmers, as the number has dropped from 29,000 to 8,300 today. As part of the industry trend, hogs moved off pasture into massive warehouse-style confinements, hundreds of which Jack DeCoster built across much of central Iowa, laying the foundation for a "protein" producing empire that included pork, eggs and a steady stream of state and federal violations.
That would be a great issue to use against Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad, in an alternate world where the Culver-Judge administration and the Democratic-controlled Iowa legislature had done something to advance local control during the past four years.
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will debate his Democratic challenger Francis Thicke on September 11, the Thicke campaign announced today. The Spencer Daily Reporter is sponsoring the debate, which will take place from 11 am to 12:30 pm at the Clay County Fairgrounds, during this weekend's county fair. The Thicke campaign's press release states that the Spencer public access cable channel will broadcast the debate, but I hope Iowa Public Television and other media organizations will bring the exchange to a wider audience. Thicke argues,
Iowa voters deserve a full discussion of the issues that are important in this campaign - protecting water and air quality; local food production; local control over - and reducing the impacts of - concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); more diversity on the landscape, including more use of cover and perennial crops; and truly sustainable, renewable, farmer-owned energy systems for agriculture.
Northey has won the endorsement of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, while Thicke has the Iowa Farmers Union's endorsement. Last month Thicke published the questionnaire he completed for the Farm Bureau Federation and called on Northey to do the same, so that "so that Iowa voters can determine for themselves where each candidate stands on critical farm issues."
In related news, today the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club sent an open letter to Attorney General Tom Miller requesting a "thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the egg recall for shell eggs produced by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms Inc for violations of state law. This investigation should also include Quality Egg LLC Feed Mill, the supplier of the feed to both egg producers." I've posted the full text of the letter after the jump. It includes a detailed list of facts supporting the Sierra Club's view that the egg producers showed "reckless disregard for the health and well-being of the public." To prevent similar violations in the future, the Sierra Club is also asking the Attorney General's Office to consider possible "internal policy changes, legislative needs, and administrative rule changes."
Following up on yesterday's post, the recall of half a billion Iowa-produced eggs continues to reverberate in Iowa politics.
Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey still denies that he could have done more to ensure food safety regulations were followed at the DeCoster facilities. Northey's opponent, Francis Thicke, has said feed mill inspections "could have identified a strain of Salmonella Enteritidis before 1,470 Americans were sickened and a half billion eggs were recalled."
Meanwhile, the non-profit Food Democracy Now announced that two major supermarket chains have agreed to stop selling eggs produced by Jack DeCoster's operations.
Democratic Secretary of Agriculture candidate Francis Thicke spoke this morning about the recall of half a billion eggs originating from two Iowa companies. I've been wondering why our current Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, has kept quiet about the salmonella outbreak that prompted the largest food recall in history. Thicke pointed out that Northey had the authority to license and inspect feed mills like the one that served "habitual violator" Jack DeCoster's operations, but instead Northey did nothing.
More details on the perspectives of Northey and Thicke are after the jump, along with many other links on the egg recall story.
If you think Northey's failure to prevent or adequately respond to this disaster is outrageous, wait till you hear the agriculture policy Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad rolled out this week.
The latest round of statewide and state legislative candidate financial reports are available on the website of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. For most candidates, these reports cover money raised and spent between June 2 and July 14. Some of the candidates didn't file a June 4 disclosure report, and in those cases the latest filing covers the period from May 15 to July 14.
Fundraising numbers for Democratic and Republican candidates for statewide offices are after the jump. In addition to money raised and spent and cash on hand figures, I've listed the largest donors for each candidate. I am working on a post about the noteworthy fundraising figures from Iowa House and Senate candidates. John Deeth hit some highlights at the Des Moines Register blog. It's important to remember that leadership committees for both parties will also spend a lot of money in the battleground legislative districts.
We need to restore a civil political dialogue in Iowa and Roxanne Conlin is exactly what Iowa needs after 30 years of Chuck Grassley. She's a fighter who will stand up for Iowans, like she did as Assistant Attorney General and U.S. Attorney. When an Iowa teacher was fired for being pregnant, she took that woman's case all the way to the state Supreme Court - and won.
Roxanne will go the extra mile and it's that work ethic that is going to earn her the votes to win in November. Now, we need to provide her with the resources to fight back against one of the Senate's most entrenched Republicans.
Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is touring the state to talk about his just-published book, "A New Vision for Food and Agriculture." He's scheduled to speak in Oskaloosa on June 29, Marion on June 30, Storm Lake on July 1, Dubuque on July 6 and Mason City on July 13. All events are at 6:30 pm; click here for location details.
* Encourage the installation of farmer-owned, mid-size wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, to power farms, and help to power the rest of Iowa. I will lead in advocating feed-in tariffs, which are agreements with power companies that will allow farmers to sell their excess power, finance their turbines, and make a profit from their power generation.
* Make Iowa farms more energy self-sufficient and put more biofuel profits in farmers' pockets by refocusing Iowa's biofuel investment on new technologies that will allow farmers to produce biofuels on the farm to power farm equipment, and sell the excess for consumer use.
* Create more jobs and economic development by supporting local food production. We can grow more of what we eat in Iowa. Locally-grown food can be fresher, safer and healthier for consumers, and will provide jobs to produce it. I will reestablish the Iowa Food Policy Council to provide guidance on how to connect farmers to state institutional food purchases and greater access to consumer demand for fresh, locally-grown produce.
* Expose predatory practices by corporate monopolies. We need Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to restore competition to agricultural markets. I will work with Iowa's Attorney General and the Justice Department to ensure fair treatment for farmers.
* Reestablish local control over CAFOs, and regulate them to keep dangerous pollutants out of our air and water, and protect the health, quality of life, and property values of our citizens.
* Promote wider use of perennial and cover crops to keep Iowa's rich soils and fertilizer nutrients from washing into our rivers.
Near the beginning of that clip, Thicke observes, "Energy is a big issue in agriculture. We are highly dependent upon cheap oil if you look at agriculture almost anywhere in this country. And that's one of the big issues in my campaign: how we can make agriculture more energy self-sufficient, make our landscape more resilient, and make our agriculture more efficient as well." It's sad that our current secretary of agriculture has shown no leadership on making this state's farm economy more self-sufficient. Using renewable energy to power Iowa farm operations isn't pie in the sky stuff: it's technologically feasible and is a "common-sense way" to cut input costs.
(I enjoyed the diary and the video tour of Thicke's farm after the jump. - promoted by desmoinesdem)
Who is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture? The answer to that question is, and has always been: whichever faithful servant of Big Agriculture was keeping the chair warm and keeping Monsanto, Koch and Cargill happy, Democrat or Republican. (Currently, it's a guy who loves chicken factories.) An urban dweller, I didn't think that the Ag Secretary had anything to do with me.
A few months ago, I met Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer who is running for Secretary of Agriculture, and he changed my mind about that. I have begun to grasp how this official affects the food I eat, the quality of the air and rivers where I live, and waters far downstream from Iowa. I have even begun to hope for change in the way we produce food and use energy in Iowa, where we often set the example for farming practices across the country.
Francis Thicke (pronounced "tickee") has an organic dairy farm near Fairfield, Iowa, a small community best known as the home of Maharishi University. Francis and his wife, Susan, make milk, yogurt and cheese with the milk from his 80 cows, and sell all of it locally. Although he grew up on a farm, Francis wanted to be a musician. He studied music and philosophy in college, and plays a mean trumpet. But eventually he got a doctorate in agronomy instead, worked at the USDA, then came back to Iowa to start a dairy farm.
Radiance Dairy is no ordinary farm. Livestock and landscape nourish each other. Everything the cows eat is grown on land they fertilize, and as Francis says, they enjoy their work. He uses solar panels to power pumps for water , to electrify fences, and to heat water for his dairy processing plant. A wind turbine is in the works. His operation is so innovative that he attracts visitors who come to learn, from local schoolchildren to the World Bank, and he travels frequently to teach and give lectures. He has received awards from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, which recognized him as a "Steward of the Land," among other awards. People who know him regard him as a national treasure.