The “Right to Farm” in the Ozarks

Animals on our small family farm.By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

No matter how one chooses to look at it, farming can have an impact on the quality of our water.  Like a network of blood vessels, capillaries, and arteries found in the human body, the Ozarks are riddled with craggy veins that carry surface water deep down into the earth through the highly-fractured slabs of limestone beneath our feet – and sometimes, back out again.  Everything that touches the ground on the surface – including soil, rocks, debris, chemicals, manure, fertilizers and even acid rain – will eventually find its way into our creeks, rivers and springs, and ultimately our aquifers and our water wells.

Understandably, most newcomers to the Ozarks don’t realize the vulnerability of  our karst topography.  They see the hills, hollers and sinkholes as well as abundant water in the form of free-flowing rivers, streams and springs.  And they’d have to be blind not to see all the cracked and fissured limestone jutting out from almost every highway cut in the region.  But unfortunately, most don’t realize that each piece is but one small part of a massive interconnected system of water.

Threats to the quality of our water have always existed.  Many have been remedied, while others are still being addressed.  In most cases, remedies to water pollution of all kinds, have largely been sought by the public.  That is because as citizens, we the people have collective ownership to all free-flowing water in the state.

Fields and Water go hand in hand.As such, the people of the state should always retain their right to seek remedies for any person, business, municipality or corporation that threatens the quality and availability of our water.  Today that right is threatened by a proposed amendment to the very same constitution, which will unalterably reduce the right of the public to seek legal remedies against those who would abuse them.

I understand the challenges involved in balancing the needs of the farm versus the needs of the land.  It’s always been a delicate balance and I think the majority of the farmers in this area pay close attention to the health of their land and the impact their practices have on the land and the water.  That being said, outside interests wanting to expand industrial farming practices in our state – and in the Ozarks, particularly – have absolutely no vested interest in our communities outside of their own profit margins.  I have seen the ramifications of an industry abandoning an area after the full extraction of resources is complete.  There is no remedy for what they leave behind or what they’ve taken away forever.  The locals are left to deal with the aftermath on their own.

This is why it is so important to look beyond the rhetoric surrounding the Right to Farm bill and focus instead on protecting our way of life and our most precious resources – not Big Ag-outsiders who’d love the opportunity to exploit them and us.  And if you really want to know who is behind this amendment, take a good look at the major cheerleaders of this bill and what they and their political campaigns, businesses, and organizations stand to gain from it.

It seems to me that a good portion of those supporting the Right to Farm amendment are doing so because they have been convinced that the Humane Society, PETA and other animal welfare organizations will tell them what they can and can’t do with the animals on their farms.   Of course, everyone wants animals to be treated humanely and most of our farmers do just that because it’s in their best interest to produce healthy animals.   No, this fear comes directly from the 2010 vote to approve Proposition B, better known as the Puppy Mill Law.

When lawmakers overturned the public vote in favor of Prop B, the state clearly chose to support the rights of dog breeders over the wished of over a million voters.  The breeders won – so, why are they so afraid now?   If the state was strong enough to say ‘no’ to that legislation, then why should farmer’s worry about similar legal challenges in the future?  Obviously, their right to farm has already been backed up by the state legislature and the Governor, himself.  This actually makes a constitutional amendment a major waste of tax-payer dollars and state resources… Unless, of course, proposed Amendment One to the Missouri State Constitution is not really about animal welfare, at all…

Saving Cherokee Pony PeasIf the misnamed Right to Farm bill is truly about the rights of Missourians to farm, then the bill lacks definition and inclusion for ALL farmers.  For example, where is my right as an organic farmer not to have my organic open-pollinated food crops contaminated by the unholy grab-bag of genes found in Monsanto’s GMO seed, or to have glyphosate spray drift on to my certified organic crops, both a which would force me to lose my income and possibly my organic certification?  Is that right given to me in the proposed amendment?

The answer is, NO.  There are no legal remedies for organic farmers.  Indeed, the bill doesn’t discriminate between traditional family farms and ag-behemoths like Cargill, Tyson, Monsanto, ADM, Syngenta, Bunge and Con Agra, either.  The truth is that this bill is not meant to help family farmers at all, but rather it’s intention is to protect big agribusiness from any resistance on the part of the citizens of this state to oppose mass-scale agri-business and instead gives them carte blanche to reap as much money as they possibly can for themselves and their friends regardless of the impact their practices may have on local communities, family farmers, and our most precious resources, including water.

As a landowner, where will your rights be when a massive confinement unit sets up shop uphill from your source of well water?  Will you have the right to protect your groundwater from contamination from massive feed lots or leaking offal and manure lagoons from confinement units, slaughterhouses and the like?  If a “farmer” decides to drill down into the aquifer and sell the water he “produces” to California, what’s to stop him from saying it’s his right to farm, even though what he’s selling belongs to everyone who lives above it?

If we pass this amendment, will the citizens of this great state continue to have the legal right to challenge businesses that threaten the future of our natural resources, our water, our family farms and the health and wellbeing of our children and neighbors?

Why do we so desperately need to amend our state’s constitution, when our existing legal system already favors its citizen’s right to farm the way they always have, as was proved by the repeal of Proposition B in 2010?

Protect independent family farms for Missouri's future.There are just too many questions, concerns and apparent loop-holes in this proposed amendment for me to even begin to agree with it.  Most of it doesn’t do anything at all for real family farms and actually puts our legal rights as well as our most precious resources at risk with no recourse for the average person.

No, these snares have been carefully laid to divide and conquer the people over a matter that has long since been settled.  If this amendment is passed, it will most decidedly not be family farms that gain from it.  The spoils of dividing the people against one another will go to excessive corporate agribusiness expansion and resource grabbing in Missouri and right here in the Ozarks, where water is as close to blood as kin.

Protect our way of life from outside interests and Say NO to the treachery of the Right to Farm amendment on August 5th!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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8 responses to “The “Right to Farm” in the Ozarks

  1. You’ve hit all the important facts, Jill. This is a terrible amendment – put forth only to confuse people (and just the name is utterly misleading on purpose). It’s strictly for mega-farms & huge factory operations to set up a system where they are never held accountable for any damage they ever do. They can pollute, contaminate & ruin our beautiful state to their liking without any legal responsibility. Aside from ravaging the land – I’m really concerned about the water quality this is most likely to effect. It takes a lot of water to maintain cattle. Lowering the water table will effect everyone’s wells as well as our creeks, springs & rivers. And, equally worrisome is their additional right to drill down to take more water strictly for sale. It will be too late once it happens. Nobody should be fooled by this amendment. All present laws protect us all. The “Right to Farm” amendment would change everything we treasure. Vote “no” to keep your rights.

    • Thanks, Jerre. This one has bothered me from the get-go. The folksy, oversimplified description of the amendment on the ballot smells like fresh wool being pulled over my eyes – soft, but a little stinky! I hope I was able to give some new perspective to the debate and to ask people to use their common sense and appeal to the greater good of our communities. We don’t need outsiders to tell us how to farm or live together in peace – we’ve got that one down.

  2. You are right on all accounts, the bothersome thing is, they actually had a version all family farmers could get behind and they killed it.

    • Thanks, Elliot. That’s unbelievable. But, of course, they can’t divide and conquer when there is cooperation and consensus between real farmers. This is a Big Ag takeover of the greatest American tradition using fear as bait. Pray for our family farmers. If this amendment passes, I fear we will see many go out of business as they try to compete with multi-billion dollar conglomerates.

  3. Pingback: Happy New Year & Thank You…for Everything! | Show Me Oz

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