South Dakota Farmers Union President granted audience with Pope Francis |

South Dakota Farmers Union President granted audience with Pope Francis

South Dakota Farmers Union President, Doug Sombke was among five Farmers Union state presidents who were granted an audience with Pope Francis, March 25, 2015.

Sombke met with the Pope following a weeklong series of meetings with Vatican officials and rural-based non-governmental organizations to discuss the important role family farmers play in food security as well as the fact that most food produced in the U.S. is produced by family farmers.

“This was an incredible opportunity for South Dakota Farmers Union and our brother organizations across the United States to work with the Vatican and network with others in Europe for the future of family farming,” said Sombke, a fourth-generation Conde crop and livestock farmer. “It also affords us the opportunity to let the world know what farming in the United States is truly like.”

Sombke added that one of its biggest challenges the Farmers Union delegation faced was dispelling the widely held myth that U.S. agriculture is completely dominated by large, multinational corporations. “Many see American farmers as corporate-controlled and nothing else.”

The delegation also spent time with Caldoritti, the largest farm organization in Italy, the International Catholic Rural Association and the secretary general of the World Farmers Organization. These meetings were held prior to an international symposium of faith, food and the environment that will take place in Milan, Italy, June 24 to 27, 2015.

The two principal organizations representing the U.S. were National Farmers Union and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. The findings of earlier symposiums and these meetings in Rome both will be used to develop The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader, a set of resources that Catholic Rural Life is developing with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican.

“All religions are concerned about stewardship and the environment. And this is a belief that can help unite a very divided world,” said Dave Velde, National Farmers Union chief counsel, about the discussions that took place in Rome, which he felt transcended all national borders and religious beliefs.

Alan Merrill, president of Montana Farmers Union agreed. “After spending time revisiting the values we hold, with the emphasis on our spiritual, moral and physical responsibilities to the land and the production of food, Farmers Union grassroots membership should be proud that these same ideas are held high around the world.”

Discussion not only included land use and conservation, but also a resource that is increasingly scarce: fresh water. “In discussions with Vatican officials on environmental issues, one of their concerns is water and the availability in the major agriculture producing regions of the world. Whether it’s drought or contamination we need to make sure that the water supply remains safe and abundant,” said Darin Von Ruden, Wisconsin Farmers Union president.