Support for "Groundwork" Episode 1: An interview with the "farmer's lawyer," Sarah Vogel, was provided in part by Montana Farmers Union, an organization dedicated to preserving family farms, ranches and rural communities.
Learn more about Montana Farmers Union in Reframing Rural's below Q&A with MFU communications director, Audra Labert!
Megan Torgerson (Reframing Rural Founder and Producer): Montana Farmers Union was founded in 1916. How has the organization impacted the landscape of family agriculture throughout the last 100+ years?
Audra Labert (Montana Farmers Union Communications Director): Farmers Union started as a way for farmers and ranchers to organize for a fair food system and fair prices. Although farms and ranches might look a little different now, Farmers Union has stood the test of time because it's an organization that truly stands up for family producers, the "little guys." Now, over 100 years later, Farmers Union is still fighting for that very same thing: Fairness for Farmers.
Torgerson: Can you share a story that illustrates how MFU advocates for rural and agricultural communities?
Labert: Legislation is one of the pillars of MFU, and we advocate for policy on the state and national level. Last session, Senator Mark Sweeney and Representative Katie Sullivan both carried bills in the Montana Legislature that ensured farmers the right to repair their own equipment. Right to Repair had broad support, and MFU members were vocal in the importance of the issue and its relevance to Montana farmers and ranchers.
During busy times, farmers like Sarah Degn of Sidney might be halted during harvest by a tractor breakdown, costing precious time as well as repair costs. If farmers are not given access to diagnose and repair that equipment, the alternatives can impose undue cost in the form of time and money. Ranchers like Ben Peterson of Judith Gap might have to travel 90 miles from the nearest dealer or parts store, or pay for a technician to come on site only to find out that a sensor had simply gone bad. With access to the technology to repair their own equipment, farmers and ranchers are better able to get the grain crop in on time, transport the load of beets or put up the hay they need for their cattle during the winter.
Torgerson: What is something you wish people outside of the agriculture industry knew about Montana Farmers Union's impact?
Labert: Montana Farmers Union isn't just for active farmers and ranchers. Our education programs range from school lessons about agriculture and cooperatives to the Women's Conference, which builds up leaders. Some of our members just want to support agriculture in Montana.
Torgerson: What initiatives are you working on right now that you'd like Reframing Rural listeners to be aware of?
Labert: Now is an exciting time in agriculture: There are bills in the U.S. Congress related to issues that Farmers Union has been fighting for for decades. And the thing is, what's good for Montana farmers is also good for Montana families. Farmers Union is fighting for fair pricing and markets with the big meat packers and enforcement of laws on the books to prevent price manipulation by "the middle men." This benefits families in the grocery store as well, because when prices at the checkout go up, it's not farmers and ranchers benefitting. Consolidation in the food industry, especially meat, has driven prices down for our local producers and up for consumers at the same time. We're working to change that.
Torgerson: How can Reframing Rural listeners get involved with Montana Farmer's Union?
Labert: The best way is to get involved at the local level. MFU has Ambassadors all around Montana that are creating community and supporting agriculture in their local communities. We also try to have some fun at our local meetings! Of course, the Montana Farmers Union website is the resource to find information about events, meetings, issues and more.
Torgerson: What about Reframing Rural's mission to "celebrate rural culture, preserve history and cultivate curiosity and conversation across geographic, class and cultural divides" resonates most with Montana Farmers Union?
Labert: Celebrating rural culture has a deep resonance with MFU's mission. Farmers comprise less than 2% of the population and the average age of a farmer is around 60 years old. We need more people who look around our rural communities and see possibilities and aren't just looking for a way out. Farming and ranching aren't just occupations. They're a lifestyle, and we can't live without them.
Torgerson: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Labert: MFU has so much to offer. The Foundation gives annual grants to agriculture and ag education, funding thousands of dollars to schools and education in rural communities. Our communities have so much to offer, something we have seen time again with each grant application. People are out there trying to build better schools, food systems and communities. MFU is proud to continue to offer support and resources for this common goal.
Learn more and get involved at montanafarmersunion.com!