Everybody loves the family farm. According to the conventional wisdom it's the bedrock of American values, the repository of the sturdy virtues of hard work and thrift, the beating heart of the heartland.
So who could possibly have any problem with an organization called Friends of Family Farmers whose aim is to help family farms survive and thrive?
Apparently, of all people, the Oregon Farm Bureau does.Kendra Kimbirauskas, an organizer of FOFF and owner, with her husband, of a small farm outside Portland, came to Central Oregon this fall to hold a couple of meetings with area farmers to build support for a statewide initiative that would help small farms by improving their access to a labor supply and processing facilities, among other things.
But Kimbirauskas discovered her visit had been preceded by a nasty "fact sheet" anonymously distributed to dozens of area farmers. The "fact sheet" claimed she was associated with organizations "unfriendly to the farm community" including People for the Ethical Treatment of animals (untrue) and the Sierra Club and Oregon League of Conservation Voters (true).
The scurrilous "fact sheet" was unsigned and bore no letterhead, but by tracing e-mails the Source was able to establish that it had originated with Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau, who sent it to Matt Cyrus, president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau, at his request.
Cyrus said he didn't know anything about FOFF and turned to the Farm Bureau for information. Eventually he came to realize FOFF was not the "wolf in sheep's clothing" it had been made out to be, but by then the "fact sheet" had been circulating. (Cyrus said he sent it only to his board members, but somebody apparently passed it on.)
Why would the Oregon Farm Bureau want to smear Kimbirauskas and her organization? The likely reason is FOFF's history of opposition to factory-farm operations such as a giant dairy farm in Boardman and an industrial-scale chicken farm near the Molalla River in Clackamas County.
In the past the Farm Bureau has lobbied on the side of agribusiness against regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and legislation that would have made it easier for farm workers to unionize, among other things. The bureau "is a voice for industrial agriculture," said Larry Brewer of Sisters, president of the Small Farms Conservancy. "It's funded by industrial agricultural interests, and anybody who is advocating moving from industrialized agriculture is probably considered by the farm bureau as not a friend."
If giant agribusinesses are paying the Farm Bureau's bills, we guess it has an obligation to defend their interests. But that doesn't excuse it for engaging in dirty tactics like sending out anonymous and misleading information about their critics.
Kimbirauskas finally hired a lawyer who helped her draft a letter warning the Farm Bureau to back off or become the target of a libel suit. We hope that works. In the meantime, the bureau has made itself a worthy target of THE BOOT.