Sunday, December 5, 2010

Benton, Illinois: J. Larry Miller, Farm Bureau

Benton, Illinois has a lovely library staffed by warm and helpful folks. Upon telling the librarians about our project they consulted and came back to us with a list of farmers whom they thought would be willing and beneficial participants for an interview.

We spent a good chunk of that humid, hot day in the library.  We happened to read an article in the paper by Larry Miller, Farm Bureau agent, and contacted him for an interview as well. Larry was willing and we met him at his office the next morning.

Farm Bureau provides all sorts of services to farmers, ranging from insurance for crops to political representation regarding governmental land and farm policies (it varies state-by-state). Larry fell mostly into the latter category- he is responsible for researching and weighing in on laws that will effect how farmers in his community do business. As a farmer himself, Larry understands the issues personally as well as pragmatically. In Larry's opinion it would be best to get politicians out of control in policy making and let farmers have more control over the methods they choose to farm with. This probably sounds scary to people who don't know or trust the people who grow their food, but I believe Larry thinks this would be the best way to farm because people here are neighbors, not strangers.

Larry spoke highly of the apprenticeship programs that are becoming available as many farmers are aging without heirs to keep the farm going. The programs match younger people without the means to buy/rent a farm with older farmers who wish their farms to remain farms but have no one in line to take it over after their retirement.

Illinois farming has been particularly hit hard in this recession; the university extension budget has all but dried up and in some parts of Illinois one extension agent services 5 counties. Farm Bureau and other farm-advocate organizations have been similarly affected.  700,000 people leave Illinois every year and part of Larry's goal is to figure out ways to make farming and community here lucrative. If the farmers can't survive in Benton the prognosis for the town will be dire because as Larry said "farming is the backbone of this community."


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