“Howard Lyman-As a fourth-generation family farmer in Montana for almost 40 years, I speak from a background of personal experience when I say that chemically based agricultural production methods today are unsustainable, and therefore ecologically disastrous. My experiences range from working in a large organic dairy to raising registered beef cattle to owning a large factory feedlot. I have farmed thousands of acres of grain and reproduced a herd of over one thousand commercial beef cows. In addition to raising cows, I have raised chickens, pigs, and turkeys. I have also grown crops such as wheat, barley, oats, corn, alfalfa, and grass.
I was involved in agriculture at a time when the call dictated getting bigger and better or getting out. I was educated in modern agriculture, and I can tell you from firsthand experience — it is not sustainable. I followed all the modern advice and turned a small organic family farm into a large corporate chemical farm with a thousand range cows, five thousand head of cattle in a factory feedlot, thousands of acres of crops, and as many as thirty employees. I saw the organic soil go from a living, productive base to a sterile, chemical-saturated, mono-cultural ground produced by my so-called modern methods.
In 1979, a tumor on my spinal cord caused me to be paralyzed from the waist down. That changed my life forever. I promised myself that, whatever the outcome of the surgery, I would dedicate the rest of my life to doing what I believed to be right — no matter what changes that necessitated.
The period before and after the surgery gave me much time to think about the changes resulting form my methods of farming. Convinced that we were going the wrong way, I decided to become a voice for the family farmer and the land. In 1983, I sold most of my farm and started working for farmers in financial trouble. This led to my working for the Montana Farmers Union and from there to Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union.
For five years I worked on Capitol Hill for America’s family farmers. In that time we had some small successes, such as passing the National Organic Standards Act. But even after the act became a law, it took the administration several years to allow funds for its implementation. I became convinced that the changes needed had to come from the producer and the consumers at the grassroots level. Until that alliance is put into play, the big money interest will continue to control public policy in the Congress of the United States.”
“The question we must ask ourselves as a culture is whether we want to embrace the change that must come, or resist it. Are we so attached to the dietary fallacies with which we were raised, so afraid to counter the arbitrary laws of eating taught to us in childhood by our misinformed parents, that we cannot alter the course they set us on, even if it leads to our own ruin? Does the prospect of standing apart or encounttering ridicule scare us even from saving ourselves?
That prospect intimidated me once, and I can only wonder now what I was frightened of. It’s hard to imagine, now that I’m a hundred thirty pounds lighter, infinitely healthier, more full of life and energy, much happier. Now that I have vegetarian friends wherever I go, and feel part of a movement that is not so much political as it is a march of the human heart. Now that I understand how much is at stake. Now that I’ve come to relish shaking people up.
I would love to see the meat industry and the pesticide industry shaken up, too. I would love to see feedlots close and factory farming end. I would love to see more families return to the land, grow crops for our own species, and raise them organically. I would love to see farm communities revive. I would love to know that I’ve wandered into my nation’s heartland by the sweet smell of grain and not the forbidding smell of excrement.
When you can’t take it with you, all that really matters is what you leave behind.”*