June 18 2014 12:00 AM

Farm bill gives mid-Michigan’s agricultural community a boost


Along a twisty dirt road in Westphalia, about a half hour northwest of Lansing, is K & K Dairy Farm. It’s right out of a Pure Michigan commercial: The rolling grass is a perfect shade of green up against ORGANIC a brightly painted apple red barn, adjacent to a farmhouse where visitors are welcomed by a sandy Labrador and an orderly herd of friendly of cows. Yes, friendly — they follow the farm’s owner Gregg Trierweiler around like giant puppy dogs.

“Sometimes when I’m corralling the cows in the barn, I find myself saying ‘come on honey’ or ‘let’s go sweetie,’” Trierweiler said. “I don’t even know if I talk that way to my wife. But I want be extra nice to them. They’re the ones making it happen for us.”

Trierweiler said the Farm Bill had significant benefits for him. In part, it created the dairy margin insurance program, which takes into account both volatile milk prices and high feed costs. As a result, it allows Trierweiler to take out more loans for expansion.

Trierweiler supports the Farm Bill’s funding for organic growers and appreciates the direction the farming industry is going, but he says he has no intention of going organic.

“People should be careful about the word organic,” he said. “(They should) really make sure to understand what it means before (they) buy.” The main concern for milk processing is removing antibiotics, if any, from the milk and bovine growth hormone (rBGH).

“Of course I give my cows antibiotics, if they get sick — I have to,” Trierweiler said. Milk from sick cows is not used for processing, but Trierweiler stresses that his milk goes through a triple filtration process that removes any trace of antibiotics left behind. Technically, that would make his milk organic, but to be a “certified organic” dairy farm is a costly process that many dairy farmers find complicated and unnecessary. This is why organic products are typically more expensive than conventional.

Other dairy farmers in mid-Michigan may have an opportunity to afford the switch to organic. The Farm Bill benefits farmers, but is also it benefits the rest of us — including the nation’s 47 million food stamp recipients — who rely on those crops, that milk, those products to live. Being a consumer of fresh produce has changed a lot recently. Pre-packaged salads that came in a few varieties just a few years ago now take up almost an entire aisle at Meijer. You can find specialty items like Thai eggplant and chayote gourds at local farmers markets, often grown organically and in Michigan. Farm-to-table has gone from being a buzzword to common practice at many local eateries.

In February, President Barack Obama visited East Lansing to sign the Agricultural Act of 2014 — informally known as the Farm Bill. The $956 billion bill supports conventional and organic farming.

“This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow said in a March interview with The New York Times. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions, (but) I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”

Eating locally is a recent trend that has built-in health and ecological benefits — food that doesn’t have to go far can be eaten when it’s fresher and has more nutritional value, and it doesn’t require as much highway travel, saving on fossil fuels. You can find organic food items in every major grocery store in and around Lansing, and those sections are continuing to grow with consumer demands.

“There is nothing hotter than farm-totable,” said Republican Michigan State Rep. Bill Huizenga in the same Times article. Foods that were once only available conventionally are now being sold in organic varieties. But even if it doesn’t bear the label “certified organic,” when you buy local, you’re still supporting smaller farms that work closely with livestock and produce. And — surprise — it might actually adhere to organic standards, even if it doesn’t boast the label.