A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
For the past 70 or so years, many food-savvy Americans have embraced the concept of organic farming. As a result, numerous supermarkets and restaurants now feature a selection of organically raised meats and produce, underscoring the growth of sustainable farms in America’s rural areas. In Iowa, farmer Ron Rosmann from Westphalia in Shelby County initiated the organic movement in his region, and he credits his Catholic faith for this.
“I feel strongly God’s creation shows the beauty of nature,” he said. “Science can explain how life happened, but God and faith explain why and it explains the interactions between man and nature.” He pointed out that the book of Genesis talks about God’s dominion over the earth, but Man has forgotten that he does not have the dominion. Instead, he added, “If you work with nature,” he said, “she will do the heavy lifting.”
Raised on a farm in this rural Catholic town, Rosmann noted that even in Catholic geography books his was a model community. “We have a claim to fame in this small town of 125 residents,” he said. “Our parish now has 75 families. And we had a priest in 1926 who saved the town. He was a forward-thinking man. He even started a co-op grocery store modeled after the movement in England.” His name: Father Hubert Duren.
Rosmann’s passion for farming came naturally. After attending Iowa State University where he obtained a degree in biology, Rosmann was called back to the family farm to help his ailing father. He planned on spending about a year or so there. “I thought I could be happy,” he said, “and I would give it a try.” Then his life changed.
He not only decided to remain on the family farm, but also he married and began his own family. Starting out, Rosmann surveyed the national economy of the times, and decided he needed a different approach to raising and marketing his crops: “We became organic in 1983,” he said. “I thought we farmers did not use pesticides before. So it was not a big jolt for me to say ‘no’ to pesticides. My biology degree also helped me to understand the processes of soil and plant functions such as carbon and nitrogen cycles in growing crops.”
He pointed out that pesticides kill beneficial bugs, fungi, and bacteria and allow weeds and pests to develop genetic resistance to the toxins. “That means farmers now must use more of the same harmful chemicals,” he said. “Big chemical companies insist on having control of nearly all the seeds and chemicals used throughout the world.”
Starting an organic farming movement, the Rosmann family helped to initiate a statewide group called the Practical Farmers of Iowa, working with Iowa State University and researchers. Now with a membership of more than 3,500, the group is learning how to be stewards of the land without using as many toxins. It is also reaching out to farmers that have just made farming a business but have no relationship to the land.
(Note: The Rosmann farm family was chosen as Organic Farmers of the Year is 2018. Ron Rosmann Is a founding board member of the Practical Famers of Iowa; a former board member of Catholic Rural Life; and past president and board member of the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The Rosmanns are authors of Preserving Our Past, Ensuring Our Future.)