MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Cattle rancher and political activist Mike Callicrate has spent a lot of time fighting for what he considers fair and open markets in the beef industry.
He’s sued large corporations, lobbied lawmakers, fought to defund the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and helped to file ballot measures supporting what he feels is the fair, humane way to raise animals.
Callicrate, who is known for inventing the Callicrate Bander used to castrate bulls, was one of the featured speakers at an event sponsored by Ohio Farmers Union Feb. 25 in Mount Vernon.
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He wears many hats, but his main theme is supporting “family farmers” against industrial agriculture.
“My whole reason to get out of bed every morning is to increase income at the farm gate,” he said. “Number two is to provide a good, healthy food for people.”
According to Callicrate, grocery stores, meatpackers and large farms are pushing family farmers off the land. His organization — the Organization for Competitive Markets — fights for a “true supply-demand based competition.”
In recent years, after experiencing some setbacks with lawsuits and legislative pushback, he’s decided on a new approach: Go around the major food companies and find a direct way to the marketplace.
This has worked for Callicrate, whose company raises, slaughters and sells its own meat in Kansas and Colorado. But as an activist, he wants to see this model spread, and more of what he considers “family farmers” be put back on the land, while overcoming what he considers industrial agriculture.
Part of his new approach is becoming a partner with the animal rights organization Humane Society of the United States. Callicrate joined the HSUS farmer advisory council for Colorado in 2012, and has worked alongside the organization to “stop industrialized ag.”
He spoke about his vision in Wooster and in Mount Vernon, alongside Missouri farmer and HSUS Vice President of Outreach Joe Maxwell.
Last year, Ohio formed its own HSUS advisory council, which includes Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan, who moderated the event. Other Ohio advisory council members who attended were Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery, Bruce Rickard of Fox Hollow Farm, and Mardy Townsend of Marshy Meadows Farm.
Maxwell talked about the decline in the number of farmers, while large farms and agribusinesses have continued to grow.“Where is the justice,” he asked. “Where is the justice in America today for the farmer, the animal and the land.”
Maxwell knows all about the concern some farmers have regarding HSUS — that it promotes Meatless Mondays, promotes reducing and replacing meat, and that it’s president, Wayne Pacelle, is a vegan.
But, he said HSUS and family farmers do have a lot in common, in terms of values and their intolerance for mistreating animals. And, Maxwell said,“family farmers” today are so badly outnumbered, they need the support.
“It’s not that we won’t fight. It’s not that we won’t mount, we won’t charge … it’s the simple fact there’s just not enough of us,” he said. “We charge toward the Capitol and they just laugh at us — they shove us aside. We charge toward your state capitol and it’s the same thing. There’s just too few of us to penetrate the line anymore.”
Maxwell and his supporters got a new hope for penetrating the line when Wayne Pacelle offered them the chance to join HSUS’ state advisory councils. He said the size of the HSUS and some of their similar values, made it an attractive partner.
“It’s time for us independent producers to start looking outside of the traditional place to find support,” he said. “We have to look to consumer groups like HSUS. We have to begin to reach relationships with the environmentalists. We have to begin to build those coalitions and collaborations if we are going to win today.”