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Retreat tackles issues affecting local farmers

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

By David Eck

ST. MARYS DEANERY — Bracing for a possible ballot issue to set minimum requirements for livestock care in Ohio, Catholic farmers from around the state last week discussed how to build networks among the state’s rural and urban communities.

 Father Kenneth Alt
Missionary of the Precious Blood Father Kenneth Alt celebrated the Mass
during the retreat. At left is Deacon Floyd Hohman of the Toledo
diocese. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

This was among the goals of a retreat at Maria Stein Spiritual Center March 11-12 titled “We Share Around the Table.” Some 40 farmers and those in agriculture took part in the retreat, which was presented by the Ohio Catholic Rural Life Conference.

Among the issues discussed was the possibility of a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2010 ballot that would require the new Ohio Livestock Care Board to adopt minimum standards for the care of some farm animals in Ohio. The care board is being established after voters approved its creation in 2009. Hundreds of people have applied for the board’s 13 spots.

Family farmers fear the minimum standards being proposed by the United States Humane Society could jeopardize their livelihoods.

“What we want to focus on is how farmers can harness their own stories so that we can better educate consumers around the state about the realities of where their food comes from, whether as voters they support or oppose what the Humane Society is promoting,” said Tony Stieritz, director of the archdiocesan Catholic Social Action Office. “That will be important this fall if the United States Humane Society gets its issue on the ballot.”

As part of a panel discussion during the retreat, Robert J. Boggs, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said people across the state would have opportunities to share comments as the care board develops standards under the current legislation.

“Everybody’s going to have a say who wants to have a say on these standards,” Boggs said. “We want to make sure everybody is engaged, everybody participates.”

He also outlined the amenities that make farming a strong industry in Ohio, such as the state’s available water, soil conditions and location.

“This is really the epicenter of agriculture in Ohio,” Boggs said. “We, as farmers, should really respect what God has given us to work with.”

 Pat O’Bryan
Pat O’Bryan, director of Rural Life for the Cleveland diocese, addresses the panel. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

James Ennis, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and a workshop presenter during the retreat, explained that part of the USCCB’s document, A Catholic Framework for Economic Life, says it should be shaped by moral principles and economic choices, and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.

“Rural life is alive and well,” he said. “We have to be involved in these justice issues.”

The panelists said best practices and values could be reconciled by reaching common ground and focusing on over-reaching policies that encourage more local food production, maintain moderate consumer prices and eliminate livestock cruelty.

“I care about animals,” Boggs said, “but I care about humans a whole lot more.”
    
There are also efforts to connect rural and urban communities. These include making state property available for community gardens and Farm to School programs in which schools serve fresh, locally produced food, Boggs said.

Roger Hoying, a dairy farmer who lives outside of Fort Loramie, was pleased with Boggs’ comments about the care board.

“He’s a farmer,” Hoying said. “He knows what farming is like.”

Phil Hertzfeld, whose family runs a chicken farm in the Toledo diocese, said he would like to see the care board build on current standards and address them where necessary in ways that make sense.
 
“I want to see how it’s going to affect me,” he said. “Until it’s finished, it’s hard to see.”

Other elements of the conference included celebration and reflection on rural life in Ohio, Mass and a prayer service and discussion on rural realities, including issues about food, family, farmers and the environment.

In a Mass before the panel discussion, Missionary of the Precious Blood Father Kenneth Alt used his homily to urge those present to respond to the issues with justice and sensitivity.

“We know that there are tough issues out there impacting our lives and our world. We all look at those things from different perspectives,” he said. “Let us tune in to the Lord. He’s got great resources.”

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