From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Lutherans Delve into Farming Crisis in North Dakota
Brenda Williams <BRENDAW@elca.org>
24 Jun 1998 17:36:09
Reply-To: ElcaNews <ELCANEWS@ELCASCO.ELCA.ORG>
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
June 24, 1998
LUTHERANS DELVE INTO FARMING CRISIS IN NORTH DAKOTA
BISMARCK, N.D. (ELCA) -- "Hundreds of farmers and ranchers are living
on the brink of financial ruin in North Dakota," said Arlene Olson, a
family farmer, south of Wing, N.D. "If something isn't done very soon,
there won't be any family farmers left." Olson is a member of Bethlehem
Lutheran Church in Wing.
About 140 people involved in hunger ministries of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met here June 18-21 for the ELCA World
Hunger Synod Leadership Gathering to worship, tell stories, foster
education about agricultural issues facing farmers and ranchers in North
Dakota, and examine issues of poverty on the Standing Rock Sioux
Reservation in Fort Yates.
"In North Dakota, most of the farms are family farms that come in
different sizes. A true family farm is operated by a family that may
include just a husband and wife, or it might be husband, wife and children
who are married. The average age of a farmer here is 50. We have very few
young farmers simply because they cannot afford to farm here," said Olson.
"Farmers can deal with the weather ... insects and weeds, but we
cannot deal with government's bad policies," said Olson. "When the
government imposed the Freedom to Farm Bill in 1996, it completely took
away a 'safety net.' The bill allows farmers to plant whatever they want,
but now there is no compensation if farmers cannot sell their commodities
at market price."
"Without a good price for farm commodities, family farmers are not
earning enough to pay for their living expenses and health insurance or to
pay back money borrowed to maintain farm operations," said Olson.
"Every farmer I know is doing twice as much as what they did 10 years
ago, whether it be to raise more cattle or farm more acres, but they are
not making ends meet," said Olson. "Farmers have tightened their belts to
the point where they can't tighten them anymore."
According to Roger Johnson, commissioner of agriculture for the North
Dakota Department of Agriculture, each farmer in the state grows enough
food to feed 129 people. "North Dakota has 30,500 family farms and
ranches. The average farm here is 1,318 acres, compared to the national
average of 469 acres." Johnson, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,
Bismarck, spoke at the gathering.
"The state's principal agricultural products are wheat and cattle.
These two enterprises were also among the hardest hit by recent weather
disasters," said Johnson. "Disease and insect problems, coupled with poor
prices, have led to a predicted decline of more than one-and-one-half
million acres in 1998 wheat plantings. The Commission of Agriculture
recognizes that many members of the farming community need immediate relief
if they are going to survive economically, socially and emotionally."
"The population of North Dakota is 630,000. Fourteen thousand
families are on the Food Stamp Program," said Royce Roberson in an
interview. "Out of the 14,000 families on food stamps, 228 are farmers,"
he said. "The irony here is that farmers feed the world, yet some farmers
cannot feed themselves." The number of hungry farmers may be higher, but
they are not willing to accept state assistance, said Roberson, director
for the energy and nutrition division of the North Dakota Department of
"I think it is important for people to have a good understanding of
where their food really comes from and the issues that are faced by farmers
and ranchers on a daily basis," said the Rev. Muriel L. Schauer, Bethlehem
Lutheran Church, Wing. "Having a better understanding of agriculture will
also help people to understand more fully the development issues and
priorities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran World
Relief and other partner agencies around hunger."
Schauer said, "Bismarck is an excellent location to learn about
agriculture because it provides access to both farming and ranching."
Schauer invited members of the ELCA involved in hunger ministries to hold
their annual meeting in Bismarck. An objective for the ELCA's World Hunger
Program is to provide relief and development assistance for those who
suffer from hunger and injustices related to hunger in this and other
St. Luke Episcopal Church, the largest church on the reservation,
received $6,000 for its food pantry ministry from the ELCA World Hunger
Program. The pantry is open once a week during the summer and twice a week
in the winter.
"Bismarck is close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. We have
done very little to look at the issue of poverty on Indian reservations,"
said Schauer. Standing Rock Reservation covers 2.3 acres in North and
South Dakota. There are 8,198 tribal members living on or near the
reservation; 2,332 are under the age of 16.
Participants visited the reservation and learned that about 76
percent of adults between the ages of 16 and 64 are not employed. More
than 40 young people have attempted suicide in the past five months on the
Standing Rock Reservation.
ELCA participants received the 1998-1999 ELCA Hunger Resource "tool
kit" titled, "And Who Is My Neighbor?" The kit contains illustrated
stories of "real neighbors whose lives have been touched" by the ELCA World
Hunger Program, newsletter and bulletin inserts about the program, a poster
and a catalog of hunger resources.
For information contact:
Ann Hafften, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG
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