Art Cullen Speaks at JFAN Meeting: “Bigger Is Not Better: Rural Communities in the Wake of Livestock Consolidation”

Art Cullen, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times. Photo by Mark Brown.

Rural America pays a heavy price for the multinational corporate takeover of livestock farming. Just four companies control a disproportionate 67 percent of the pork, 73 percent of the beef, and 54 percent of the chicken markets.

Art Cullen, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times, headlines a compelling panel of experts, farmers, and neighbors to take a hard look at how livestock consolidation impacts rural America. The JFAN Annual Meeting, Bigger Is Not Better: Rural Communities in the Wake of Livestock Consolidation, will be held on Thursday, November 9, from 7–8:30 p.m. via Zoom. The meeting is free, and you can register at

Art Cullen. (Photo by Tom Wallace)

Cullen will be joined by Dr. Chris Jones, water quality expert and author of The Swine Republic; independent hog farmer Chris Petersen; and family farmer and attorney Sonja Eayrs, all offering a variety of perspectives on how livestock consolidation hollows out rural communities.

Speakers will kick off the meeting with presentations, but the bulk of the evening will consist of a substantial audience question and answer session. Questions from audience participants are encouraged.

Reporting on Iowa issues for over 38 years, Cullen has directly witnessed how livestock consolidation impacts the state. He’ll share an insider’s view on its effects in both his hometown of Storm Lake and throughout Iowa. Cullen’s writings include the environmental, economic, and political consequences of livestock consolidation for The Storm Lake Times as well as for national and international publications including The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Dr. Chris Jones is well known for his experience in monitoring Iowa’s water quality. He will lay out how the growth of factory farms and accompanying corn/soy monocropping system degrades Iowa’s waterways. Dr. Jones will also candidly cover how Iowa’s legislature is affected by powerful agribusiness influences.

Family farmer Chris Petersen

Independent hog farmers have been hard hit—92 percent have gone out of business over the last 50 years. But independent Berkshire hog farmer Chris Petersen from Clear Lake, Iowa, is holding on. Petersen will talk about how consolidation has influenced his family farm business and those of other independent family farmers and how the social structure of rural Iowa has changed.

Consolidation also impacts neighbors in rural communities. Family farmer and attorney Sonja Eayrs watched 12 CAFOs encroach upon her family’s 760-acre farm over the past 30 years. She will speak about her experiences fighting CAFOs in Dodge County, Minnesota, located 30 miles north of Iowa, and how they have affected her farm, her family, and her community.

About the Speakers

Art Cullen is the editor and co-owner of The Storm Lake Times, a family-owned, independent newspaper in northwest Iowa that he co-founded in 1990. In 2015, the Des Moines Water Works sued three counties for funneling high levels of nitrate into its drinking water. Cullen let loose a series of 10 hard-hitting editorials, uncovering and challenging the dark money from corporate agriculture that funded the counties’ legal defense. It won him the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 2017. He’s the author of Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper.

Dr. Chris Jones, author of The Swine Republic

Dr. Chris Jones is a retired research engineer formerly at the IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering laboratory at the University of Iowa. For eight years he managed the Iowa Water Quality Information System, a program of 66 water sensors throughout the state reporting nitrate levels in real time. Dr. Jones’ University of Iowa blog became the basis of his popular book, The Swine Republic. In it, Dr. Jones covers the science, politics, culture, and economics of Iowa’s agriculture system, linking Iowa’s deteriorated waterways to the state’s legislated agricultural practices. His new blog can be found at

Chris Petersen is a lifelong independent and traditional family farmer in Clear Lake, Iowa, raising antibiotic-free Berkshire hogs on a humane, small-scale farm. He manages a herd of 50 sows, selling piglets to other small-scale Berkshire farmers and raising some to finishing weight that he sells through direct marketing. Petersen’s farm barely survived the 1980s farm crisis which drove many small-scale farmers out of business. He’s a past president and current board member of the Iowa Farmers Union, a co-founder of the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture, a member of various national groups, and a fierce advocate for family farmers.

Rural advocate and attorney Sonya Eayrs

Sonja Trom Eayrs is a farmer’s daughter, rural advocate, and attorney. Her family has been on the front lines fighting industrial agriculture for 30 years. Encircled by 12 hog CAFOs within a 3-mile radius of the Trom family farm, Eayrs and her family know and understand firsthand the damage sustained to rural America by large multinational corporations. She has worked and written extensively on threats to the environment, public health, and corporate consolidation due to industrial agriculture. Eayrs, her family members, and other local citizens founded Dodge County Concerned Citizens, a grassroots organization determined to fight corporate factory farms.