Reclaiming the Soul of Iowa, By John Ikerd

Reclaiming the Soul of Iowa

By johnikerd1 October 28, 2016 Uncategorized

Iowa, Iowa, where the soul of the earth is slipping away. Hold on, hold on, people are waking and hope is not gone. This is the refrain from my new song, “The Soul of Iowa,” that opened the Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Annual Meeting in Fairfield this week. I followed the closing refrain with the following short presentation. John Ikerd

We have allowed the desecration of the earth for far too long by supporting the failed system of farming that I refer to as industrial agriculture. But, enough is enough! Tonight, we are calling for an end to this betrayal of our sacred trust as caretakers of the earth. We are here to reclaim the heart and soul of Iowa, of rural America, and of this great nation.

This meeting will focus on the growing problem of water pollution. But pollution of our drinking water with agricultural wastes is just one symptom of deeper concerns about industrial agriculture in general and factory farms or CAFOs in particular. The human body is mostly water – ranging from 50% and 70%. So, “Water is life” – the very essence of life. A lack of respect for water then is a lack of respect for life. If life is sacred, then water is sacred. Thus, protection of water is a sacred trust. In fact, when factory farms pollute our water and air, degrade and erode our soil, destroy our family farms, and leave our rural communities in decline and decay, they are corrupting the very soul of Iowa.

This condemnation of factory farming is not just my personal opinion. It is based on more than fifty years of scientific research and real world experiences of people in rural communities. For example, a 2016 International Panel of Experts in Sustainability reviewed more than 350 studies in documenting the failures of industrial agriculture and the necessity for fundamental change. They described the evidence as “overwhelming.” They concluded: “Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high greenhouse gas emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies, alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.”[i]

The report confirmed that contrary to popular belief; we don’t need industrial agriculture to feed the world, and second, viable alternatives to industrial agriculture are already available. Again quoting from the independent report: “What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversify­ing farms… replacing chemical inputs… and optimizing biodiversity, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term soil fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure [farming] livelihoods. Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed… paving the way for diverse diets and improved health.”[ii]

The leader of the independent panel stated: “It is not a lack of evidence holding back the agroecological alternative. The way food systems are currently structured allows [economic] value [or profits] to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems. We must change the way we set political priorities.”[iii]

This is precisely the problem we are confronting today in Iowa. We have a failure of governance. In response, the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture, of which JFAN is a member, is calling for a state-wide moratorium of factory farms to give Iowans an opportunity to change the way we set political priorities in Iowa, before it is too late. The potential for factory farms to generate profits for corporate investors is being given priority over our basic human rights and our unique human responsibilities as caretakers of the earth. We are saying, let’s stop and think about what factory farms are dong to our water, air, the earth, and to the people of rural Iowa. The very heart and soul of Iowa is slipping away. Let’s stop and think, before it’s too late. Enough is enough!

Admittedly, the U.S. constitution doesn’t specifically mention our right to a clean water, clean air, or a healthy environment. However, the 9th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” It clearly states that “other” rights, in addition to those named, are to be “retained by the people.” Some of those “other rights” are clearly expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. It states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

What can be more important to our right to life than our right to clean water, clean air, and safe food? More than fifty years of research and real world experience clearly link factory farms to major public health risks associated with polluted water, polluted air, and chemically and biologically contaminated food. It’s time to hold our government accountable for failing in its most fundamental responsibility: to secure our God-given, unalienable, constitutional rights to clean water, clean air, and safe food.

Thankfully, the people of Iowa are awakening. The Iowa Alliance’s call for a moratorium on factory farms is being welcomed by people all across Iowa. Iowans are awakening to what factory farms are doing to their air and water and to their communities. They are saying, enough is enough! It’s time for a moratorium on factory farms – a time to stop and think. It’s time to demand that our government give people priority over profits. It’s time to claim our constitutional rights and accept our moral responsibilities as caretakers of the earth.

“Hold on, hold on… people are waking and hope is not gone.” Together, we can reclaim the soul of Iowa and begin healing this still great land.

End Notes

[i] IPES – Food, International Panel of Experts on Sustainability, From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems, June 2016,

[ii] IPES –Food, From Uniformity to Diversity.

[iii] Andrea Germanos, “’Overwhelming’ Evidence Shows Path is Clear: It’s Time to Ditch Industrial Agriculture for Good Common Dreams, Thursday, June 02, 2016,