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Let Earth Be the Boss: Keeping Family Farms Alive

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Precious Blood Brother Nick Renner has been a farmer for 60 years. He’s toiled on the land owned by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in Mercer County, Ohio and he’s seen a lot changes.

“When I was a kid, I’d say 50 percent of people were farming, and now we’re down to one or 1.5 percent farmers. A lot of people farm part time and have a job in town.

“That’s an issue where food is getting into the hands of a few, and I always consider that dangerous because we all have to eat every day,” he added. “A lot of people want to know how we’re farming and why we do what we do.”

Brother Renner works with the Northern Area Rural Life Conference, which covers Darke, Mercer, Auglaize, Shelby and Miami Counties. It operates under the auspices of the archdiocese’s Catholic Social Action Office, along with the Southeast Rural Life Conference, which covers Adams, Brown, Clinton and Highland counties as well as the Eastern part of Clermont county.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, those 10 counties contain more than 12,000 farms.

Brother Renner speaks at Catholic grade schools to educate children on where food comes from, and about his passion project, regenerative farming. The process is sometimes called no-till farming and cover cropping. Brother Renner said its better for the Earth and can even be more profitable.

“It’s not organic exactly, but it’s understanding how the soil works, the biology of the soil,” Brother Renner said. “We have the attitude of trying to work with it. Let earth be the boss. We try to work with it, but Mother Nature always wins.”

Brother Renner isn’t as active in personally doing farming of the Precious Blood’s 1,100 acres near Carthagena, Ohio. The land is rented to other farmers now, and the revenue helps support the St. Charles Center, a senior living facility for Precious Blood priests and brothers, as well as lay people.

Both rural life conferences have sought to educate the next generation on the importance of farm life and understanding the food supply. Pat Hornschemeier, of the Southeast Rural Life Conference, said before COVID-19, the conference would host immersion trips with students.

“Basically, city people would come out and see life in rural areas and become acquainted with what the issues are in rural areas,” Hornschemeier said.

More recently, he said the conference has worked to educate people on the Farm Bill. The bill traces its roots to the 1930s and is renewed every five years. Today, much of the funding is granted to nutrition assistance programs, but farm subsidies are still included. Hornschemeier said getting more money for crop insurance has been a positive trend in the last couple bills.

“The biggest single thing would just be the, the economics of making it work. Making this vocation work for you, very often the profit margin selling commodities and so on is narrow enough that you could end up the year without making a profit at all. The federal government has made subsidies available to help pay the premiums of crop insurance. In my mind that is a good use of federal dollars.”

The legislative efforts help keep the family farm alive, and that, in turn helps society get healthier food.

“I think one of the biggest values (of family farms) is the buying of your food locally,” Hornschemeier said. “You’re probably not going be able to get your corn flakes from a local corn flake guy, but if you can, get your fruits and vegetables from local people. It’s much, much more wholesome food and you don’t have the horrendous carbon footprint of hauling the stuff.”

The St. Augustine deaneries Catholic Rural Life Committee would like to invite all to celebrate and give thanksgiving for faith, farm, and family. During the mass Catholic families wh have farmed and nurtured the same land for 100 years or more will be recognized through the Catholic Century Farm Awards. The Farm Mass will be held at the Buck & Fran Siefring Farm at 3598 State Route 705, New Weston, Ohio on Thursday, July 20th at 7:00 p.m. with Archbishop Schnurr presiding.

Southeast Deanery: The 2023 mass will be held on Friday, September 8, at 7:00pm with Archbishop Schnurr presiding. Gary & Shirley Moran will host on their farm, located at 5565 Moran Rd. in Ripley, OH.

This article appeared in the June 2023 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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