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Farm Day at the Capitol
by Lynette Nyman
March 2, 2000
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Farmers, religious leaders, and family-farm activists rallied Wednesday at the Minnesota Capitol in Saint Paul. The event was designed to bring attention to failing family farms and the growth of large, corporate farms.
About 1,000 marchers filled the rotunda inside the Capitol where they asked several politicians whether they'd pledge to support them.
Photo: Bob Collins

THE MARCHERS WERE a mixed bag of farmers and activists from Minnesota and surrounding states. Emboldened by words of faith delivered at a church service before the march, the participants walked together to the Capitol building. About 1,000 marchers filled the rotunda inside the Capitol.

Farmers draped their arms over banisters with signs sporting phrases like "It's not just a farm crisis, it's a rural crisis." Many questioned the amount of legislative support for proposals aimed at slowing the growth of large, corporate farms for the benefit of small, family-owned farms; proposals such as requiring labeling of genetically-modified foods and blocking limited liability companies from conducting agribusiness in Minnesota.

The crowd gave a cool response to all of Representative Steve Sviggum's answers when they asked him whether he supported legislation to benefit them. They shouted at him when he replied that the legislation is a federal issue.

When asked whether he'd go with them to Washington D.C. he said he'd be in Minnesota working to cut farm property taxes. Sviggum, who grew up milking cows on his own family's farm, said he's sympathetic to the plight of rural Minnesota. He said a Republican development package will address many rural concerns.

Small farm operators like Jeanne Rohl, who came from Prescott, Wisconsin to attend the rally, say what they need most of all are higher commodity prices so the next generation will have an incentive to remain on the farm. Rohl says her sons can't afford to farm so she's selling the family's 75 dairy cows. "Farmers are leaving, like farmers my husband's age and us, because we have no one to take over the farm. And it is so painful," she said.

Small farm advocates plan to press their case at a demonstration later this month in Washington.