The Fargo Forum is calling for the restoration of local zoning when it comes to concentrated animal feeding operations.
This is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. In fact, the North Dakota Catholic Conference testified against removing local input as far back as 1999.
“This principle recognizes that human dignity requires that persons and communities should possess the ability to exercise responsible self-governance. Subsidiarity means that while larger governments have a role and sometimes a duty to involve themselves in local affairs, they should give deference and due respect to local communities. Specifically applying the principle of subsidiarity to rural issues, the bishops stated that local communities should be allowed to enact land use ordinances to further the common good. House Bill 1397 violates that principle by stripping counties of their rightful position to regulate for the common good of the larger community.”
You can read the full testimony here.
The great thing about Catholic social teaching is that it is timeless and prophetic. The same principles for a good society that applied in 1999 apply to today and will apply seventeen years from now.
“Mercy calls us to always include the common good and the environmental good, even if doing so is not required by the law and even if it means that others will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
In my last column I suggested that a key to understanding mercy is the call to never abandon. Not abandoning also means to be in relationship, including a relationship with the created world.
The environment, however, is not a person. How can we be in relationship with something that is not a person?
The key to understanding this challenge is to recognize that God the Father blessed us with this world and that he wants us to live within it according to his will. In Laudato si, Pope Francis states that Genesis teaches that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (No. 66.) Sin disrupted these relationships. To walk right with the Lord, to walk in mercy, means to walk again in relationship with all three.
The importance of including creation in this triad of relationships should be apparent. God made us with physical bodies in a physical world. At this very moment you are touching the physical world. Christ became incarnate and lived in this same physical world, breathed the same air, ate the same fruits of the same earth, and walked on the same ground. By his life we learn that our bodies and the material world in which they roam are not just valuable, but also that they are part of God’s will for us. We were made for this creation and it for us. He means for us to be in right relationship with the environment.
Care for creation, therefore, is not just care for creation itself. Care for the human person is central to our care for creation and flows from our acceptance of the Father’s plan. Pope Francis explains that because of this relationship “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (No. 49, emphasis is Pope Francis’.) It also means that the “human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together. . .” (No. 48.)
Contrary to portrayals in the news and social media, Pope Francis is not just talking about specific environmental problems, though he has done a little of that. Building upon what already is Christian teaching on creation, Laudato si consists mostly of a call to live with respect to the environment as a Christian. In other words, in right relationship with God.
The rupture which began in Genesis has become so great that it threatens the earth on a global scale and especially the poor of the world. Perhaps more damaging, however, is that it has become so engrained that we do not see the broken relationship in our daily lives, especially our public life.
Our relationships with God, others, and the environment should be an integral, not secondary, part of our economic and public life. Environmental concerns should not viewed as just limits on what we can do.
This is especially true with agriculture. John Cuddeback, a professor at Christendom College puts it this way: “Stewardship issues are not something that place an exterior limit on agriculture, as though we were to say: ‘Do your farming, but remember to be careful and don’t damage the earth too much.’ Rather, true farming is intrinsically environmental and stewardship minded.”
Nor would it be right to say: “I’ve followed all the laws and I’m just doing what I need to do to make a profit” or “we have to do it this way to compete.”
Here is where care for creation and relationship with others relates to mercy. Remember: mercy is about going beyond what required. Certainly, laws should protect people and the environment from practices harmful or detrimental to both natural resources and the common good. The political and legal system, however, often falls short. Mercy calls us to always include the common good and the environmental good, even if doing so is not required by the law and even if it means that others will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In its testimony against legislation to weaken the state’s anti-corporate farming law — legislation being put to the voters in June — the North Dakota Catholic Conference noted that Pope Francis has called the relationship a farmer has with the land as like the relationship that exists with in a family.
The same principle applies to all economic and social activity. As human persons we are called to be in relationship with God, others, and creation in all that we do. As agents of mercy, we are called to go beyond what is required, just as we do for family.
Catholic leaders have long called for an agricultural system that preserves and maintains farm ownership and control in the hands of local family farmers. Although well-intentioned by some, SB 2351 fails to meet this criteria, which is why the North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes the bill.
Catholic Rural Life, the U.S. Catholic Church’s rural life voice, recently looked at SB 2351 and wrote:
SB 2351 also threatens the viability of small family farms by unfairly stacking the agricultural market in favor of larger, corporate operations. It undermines the idea of farming as a vocation, a way of life, and reduces it solely to utilitarian endeavor, detached from the human element. This cannot be squared with Catholic teaching, for as Pope Francis recently put it, farming is “characteristically and fundamentally human.”
It’s no secret that most North Dakotans favor businesses owned and operated by residents of the state. Currently on the books, corporate farming laws prevent nonfamily corporations from owning and operating swine or dairy farms in the state.
Read the rest . . .
The North Dakota Catholic Conference, representing Bishop John Folda of Fargo and Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, testified before the House Agriculture Committee against SB 2351. The bill would exempt dairy and swine operations from the state’s anti-corporate farming law.
The testimony is below:
To: House Agriculture Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: SB 2351 – Investor-Owned Farms
Date: March 5, 2015
The North Dakota Catholic Conference, representing Bishop John Folda of Fargo and Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, opposes SB 2351. This position is not new. North Dakota’s Catholic bishops, like faith leaders here and around the country, have for decades appealed for laws that preserve and maintain farm ownership and control in the hands of local family farmers. In fact, seventy-six years ago Catholic bishops of the United States, led by Fargo Bishop Aloisius Muench — the only bishop from North Dakota to be named a Cardinal — warned that investor ownership of farms would threaten families, communities, and our obligations as stewards of creation.
Some could argue that agriculture has changed since 1939, and they would be right. But who we are as human persons and what farming means to us as humans has not changed. That is why this is a religious issue. It is a religious issue, because it is a moral issue. It is a moral issue, because it is a human issue. It is a human issue because, as Pope Francis stated just a few weeks ago, farming is “characteristically and fundamentally human.”
Indeed, Pope Francis’ recent address on the vocation of agriculture is enlightening in that it illustrates precisely why investor-ownership of farms is so risky. Pope Francis explains that the relationship a farmer has with the land is “familiar.” The Italian word he used was “familiare,” which means not “familiar” as in “well known,” but “of family.” This is important to understand. Outside investors cannot be like family. Only human persons can relate “like family.” Only human persons are capable of entering into a covenant with creation. The further we remove the owner/steward from the land, the more we threaten that covenantal relationship intended by our creator.
That is why how we engage in agriculture affects who we are as humanity. Indeed, the position of the bishops is not based not just on church doctrine. It also stems from what they and other bishops have witnessed in states that have repealed or weakened corporate farming laws.
Senate Bill 2351 is not just about a small segment of the agricultural community. It is a radical upending of the foundation of our state’s most widespread and permeating activity. Disrespecting the “familiar” relationship that should exist between the human farmer and farming will affect us all. If we truly believe that North Dakota is such a great place to live, why would we take that risk?
We realize that some segments of agriculture are facing difficult times and we need to respond. Indeed, responding is a moral imperative. We have heard about the appeal of allowing neighbors, fellow farmers, and more family members to invest in dairy and swine operations. But that is not the bill before you. The bill before you does not contain any limits on who or what can own farm land or really how much can be owned by these outside entities.
North Dakota farmers have always faced difficult challenges. Nevertheless, we have always found creative solutions without sacrificing our way of life and without succumbing to the temptation to reduce agriculture a mere economic activity. In North Dakota, we have done — and can do — better.
North Dakota’s corporate farming law is premised on the recognition that people are more important than profits, communities are more important than corporations, and that just because some things can be done does not mean that they should be done. Changing the law is ultimately a spiritual question. Just as Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gain the world and lose his soul?” we must ask, “What does it profit our state if we gain some agribusiness investors but lose the soul of agriculture?” We respectfully ask for a Do Not Pass recommendation on Senate Bill 2351.
Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, testified today in opposition to SB 2351, which would allow outside corporate investors to own swine and dairy farms in North Dakota.
Citing Church doctrine and recent remarks by Pope Francis, Dodson stated that the bill “a radical upending of the foundation of our state’s most widespread and permeating activity” that will “affect us all.”
Dodson noted that just two weeks ago Pope Francis stated that the relationship between a farmer and the land must be “like family.” “Outside investors cannot be like family,” said Dodson. “Only human persons can relate “like family” and enter into a “covenant with creation,” he added.
Catholics of North Dakota are urged to contact their state senator and urge him or her to vote against SB 2351.