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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinApril 18, 2008 Issue 

A time for prayers, blessings and reflections

Fuel prices, late spring, raise farm concerns

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

Related article this week:

Organic methods bring new life to local farm
    Costs higher, but so are profits and the
    environmental benefits

If you doubt that the concerns of the agricultural community affect you, consider the recent crisis of salmonella-tainted cantaloupe from Honduras; or the price of diesel fuel that has already risen over $4 a gallon, forcing grocery prices up.

The impact of climate change, the energy crisis and sustainable agriculture will be highlights for discussion at the annual diocesan Rural Life Days celebration held on April 23 and 24. Both days will begin with 10:30 a.m. Mass with Bishop Robert Morneau and include blessings of seeds, animals and farm equipment, and a noon dinner with speaker.

This year's speaker is Greg Hines, coordinator of Glacierland Resource Conservation and Development Inc. in Green Bay. He will speak on "Sustaining God's Gifts."

Rural Life Days as an annual celebration, dates back to the 1980s. Rural Life events date back to the 1950s. This year's events will be held at St. Therese de Lisieux Parish, Pilsen (Kewaunee County) on April 23 and at St. John Parish, Gillett, on April 24.

Conservation and becoming efficient in what we use is key to sustaining what we have and developing viable alternatives to the use of fossil fuels, said Hines.

"The message is (that) we are running out of petroleum and we need to start thinking about it now," he said "The energy crisis is real; it is coming and if you're going to sustain yourself, you need to start acting now. It's real and it will affect you and it's expensive."

He said that, globally, we are "one crisis away from $5 a gallon gas prices."

Hines is one of 375 coordinators of local Resource and Development areas around the country. They were formed by federal legislation in 1962 to address local social, environmental and economic concerns. Hines said that, recently Glacierland has moved from educational forums to projects. These include restoration on the Baird Creek Parkway in Brown County, lakeshore habitat restoration along Lake Michigan and wetlands workshops around the region.

Today, Hines said, the number one concern is wind energy. He said it's something farmers want, but people who move to the suburbs don't want.

Norbertine Br. Steve Herro, social concerns director for the diocese, oversees the annual celebration. He said that both economically and from a justice viewpoint, sustaining the resources of the earth is a matter of concern to everyone.

"If you don't have an earth that sustains people, all the rest of our principles are a moot point," he said.

Locally, he sees a number of concerns facing the rural community. These include:

  • The price of diesel fuel, which is over $4 a gallon;

  • The late arrival of spring this year;

  • Heavy rains in early April, which is delaying field work;

  • The environmental impact of run-off of pesticides;

  • The development of bio-fuels, also called agro-fuel, from farm products such as corn and beets;

  • The Farm Bill, which has been stalled in Congress since last fall, with a major sticking point being federal commodities payments which currently favor larger corporate farms over smaller, often family-run, producers;

  • Immigration issues, including raids from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and visas for agricultural workers.

"Our large farmers are dependent on an immigrant work force," Br. Herro said of northeast Wisconsin. "Our mega-farms milk 24/7 and 75 percent of farm workers in the state are immigrants, from the orchards in Door County to the dairy farms in Marinette and Manitowoc counties."

He added that the current farm issues relate to the broader areas of Catholic social teachings, including the principles of the common good, the dignity of work, the sanctity of the human person, and care for creation.

"With the degradation of the environment and its effect on food production," Br. Herro said, "a major climate change on just one or two food products (like cantaloupe in Honduras or cotton in India), and it is the people with the most basic diets who will be most affected." And that, he added, leads to migration, food safety issues, commodity price instability and economic crises in developing nations.

So the quarantine of one cantaloupe from Honduras really can lead to a farm worker crisis in Wisconsin.

(Tickets are needed in advance for the Rural Life Day dinners and are $7. Call the two parishes directly to order: St. Therese's number is (920) 863-8747; St. John's is (920)855-2542. Tickets are not needed to attend either of the Masses.)

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