In high summer, fields of wildflowers bloom at Tony Thompson’s Minnesota farm: gray-headed coneflowers, phlox and white prairie clover. Those plants are designed to do more than just beautify. They prevent water runoff and block nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from spilling into and polluting the Mississippi River.
It’s just the kind of farming that inspires the kind of folks who shop at Whole Foods. That is, until you tell them that Thompson grows 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans from genetically modified seed. That classifies Thompson as an “industrial” farmer — and in today’s debates on agriculture, big usually equals bad.
New small farms can help reinvigorate agriculture, and they deserve champions. But large-scale farmers who are working toward sustainability also deserve a platform. Like it or not, those farmers grow the staples that feed (and fuel) our country and the world. The small, incremental changes that they make can have dramatic impact — perhaps more than a dozen or even a hundred small farms that adhere to strict environmental standards.