Iowa, Oil and Agriculture-- Meet Francis Thicke, Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

(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.

more below the fold… 

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IA Ag Sec: Who's Afraid of Francis Thicke?

(The horror! - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Some farmers are afraid of me.

I know this because a farmer named Jerry wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register recently saying that they are scared.  It would be a “scary scenario for mainstream agriculture” if I got elected as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, he said.   Francis Thicke is a “true believer in everything organic,” he shuddered.

Running for office is an adventure.  But I never expected to learn that Iowa farmers, who are among the most resilient, shrewd and creative people on the planet, are afraid of a mild-mannered organic dairy farmer with a PhD in Agronomy and some ideas for helping them meet challenges such as peak oil.   So I thought I would write him a letter to reassure him that I’m not scary, because if we don’t get our act together to deal with the real challenges of peak oil, the disruptions caused by climate change, and the growing monopoly power of corporate agribusiness, then we really will have cause for concern.

____________________

Dear Jerry,

Don’t be afraid.  This is America, and no one is going to make you “go organic.”  It’s the Big Ag interests that want to limit your choices, not me.   You might save money and protect water quality and the health of your family if you understood how to apply sustainable farming methods that do not require farm chemicals, but you don’t have to.

No one is going to force you to make your own biofuels on the farm from perennial crops that make your farm resilient and energy efficient.  Nor will you be forced to drive a hydrogen or ammonia-powered tractor with fuel derived from wind power.   If diesel prices soar in the next few years, as the Defense Department[pdf] is warning us, it’s your right to pay $6 a gallon or more and keep right on using it.  There may be shortages in our future by 2015, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find fuel at some price, somewhere.

You have the right to keep doing things the way you always have, and not take advantage of science-based ways to bring your costs down and prepare for a future without abundant petrochemicals.  All I am offering is a vision for a thriving agriculture in the absence of cheap oil, and leadership to meet the challenges that we know are coming.   Energy will be a huge game-changer over the coming decade–for agriculture, and for everything else.

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Recent Chet Culver news roundup (updated)

The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver’s been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.

Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Iowa Must Seize Chances to Grow Green Economy

(A timely commentary, since Barack Obama has just named Van Jones (author of The Green Collar Economy) to be a special adviser on green jobs, enterprise and innovation. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

 

Iowa is well-positioned to be a leader in the rapidly growing green economy. That requires savvy policy and business-development actions to continue seizing strategic opportunities for progress.

 What's at stake: Iowa's competitiveness and the jobs of the future as the global economy transitions to cleaner technologies for global-warming solutions.

Energy, environmental, employment, economic and national-security goals are converging. President Barack Obama and Congress are moving toward realigning our nation to accelerate clean-energy development to create new jobs and achieve significant greenhouse-gas pollution reductions. Clean-energy development is a win-win-win for job creatin, economic growth and better environmental quality. Three major opportunies:

Energy efficiency

Making our homes, businesses and public buildings more energy efficient is a no-brainer. We really can't afford costly energy waste in today's economy, when household budgets and businesses' bottom lines are strained. Retrofitting buildings with more efficient lighting, heating and cooling, windows and other equipment will create new, good-paying electrical, plumbing, carpentry and construction jobs.

Energy efficiency reduces utility bills, thus helping both businesses' bottom lines and household budgets. It plugs the billion-dollar energy drain that is leaking Iowa's money to states that produce natural gas and coal. Energy efficiency is the best, fastest, cleanest and cheapest way to meet power needs and avoid global-warming pollution.

Iowa's energy-efficiency winners include Pella Windows, Musco Lighting, Cenergy, providing energy design and consulting, and skilled union trade workers performing energy-efficiency upgrades in commercial and public buildings. A new farm bill program championed by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin provides grants for energy-efficiency improvements for farms and rural small businesses. The economic-stimulus legislation provides $20 billion more nationally for energy efficiency.

Wind power

Wind is the nation's fastest-growing energy resource. Iowa has nearly 3,000 megawatts installed. Six major manufacturing plants employing more than 1,000 people are operating or planned. Iowa manufacturers specializing in steel fabrication, castings and gears fit well into the wind-industry supply chain.

Huge wind-turbine blades and towers are increasingly being made near the installation sites in the Midwest to ease transportation and logistics. States with supportive policies are gaining business. Iowa is well-positioned to benefit from the national renewable-energy standard being considered by Congress.

New passenger rail

The economic-stimulus legislation includes $9.3 billion for high-speed rail and improved Amtrak service. The Midwest high-speed rail network would connect 11 major cities within a 400-mile radius of Chicago and the mid-sized cities in between.

Gov. Chet Culver and Congressman Leonard Boswell are calling for new Des Moines-Iowa City-Chicago rail service. These new trains can improve transportation mobility, pull together the regional economy, create jobs and help the environment by reducing pollution. The Greater Des Moines Partnership, labor unions and the Environmental Law & Policy Center are working together to get new rail service going.

Solving global-warming problems is our generation's moral, business, policy, political and technological challenge. The global economy is transforming with the rapidly growing trillion-dollar clean-energy technology sector. Lots of jobs and money are at stake. Iowa should seize the strategic opportunities and use its competitive advantages to help lead the growing green economy of the future.

HOWARD A. LEARNER is the executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center

About the Environmental Law and Policy Center and Iowa Global Warming Campaign:
ELPC is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental, legal advocacy and eco-business
innovation organization. We are environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business deal
making with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress
and economic development can be achieved together.

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