farming

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Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky's First District says being one of the only farmers in Congress and being a former state agriculture commissioner made him a frontrunner to serve on the conference committee that will negotiate the final version of the Farm Bill.

On a beautiful sunny day recently in south Lancaster County, Pa., farmer Abner Stolztfus and seven of his eight children were inside, bottling yogurt in a room next to the barn. "The younger one is only 2 months old, so she's not working out here yet," he said, laughing.

Stolztfus and his family own Cedar Dream dairy farm in the town of Peach Bottom in southeast Pennsylvania. He and his kids milk 50 cows twice a day — at 5 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon. His family has been farming for generations.

"I learned milking cows before I started going to school," he said.

Bob Fitzgerald lives on the edge of a flat field that's just a few feet above sea level. It's the same spot on Maryland's Eastern Shore where his ancestors settled before the U.S. became a country.

"The land grant came into the family in 1666," he says.

When he was a child his parents grew tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans. Now nearing 80, Fitzgerald plants corn and soybeans to supply local chicken farms.

In American farm country, a grass-roots movement is spreading, a movement to keep more roots in the soil. (Not just grass roots, of course; roots of all kinds.) Its goal: Promoting healthy soil that's full of life.

I met three different farmers recently who are part of this movement in one way or another. Each of them took me to a field, dug up some dirt, and showed it off like a kind of hidden treasure.

"You can see how beautiful that soil [is]," said Deb Gangwish, in Shelton, Neb. "I'm not a soil scientist, but I love soil!"

Updated at 4:45 pm ET

President Trump thanked America's farmers for their political support on Monday and unveiled a plan designed to help revive fortunes in struggling rural areas. At the same time, the president is pursuing trade and immigration policies that could be harmful to farmers' bottom lines.

A few years ago, Kansas City restaurateur Anton Kotar surveyed the local and national restaurant scenes and concluded his town's reputation as a steakhouse paradise had slipped.

The problem, he says, is the way conventional beef is raised – bulked up with grain on feedlots, making it cheap and plentiful and changing what Americans expect to taste.

"I think some of our best steakhouses chased the quality of the beef to the bottom," Kotar says.

It's early afternoon, and the roosters of Three Stones Village are clucking themselves into a frenzy. They're responding to the antics of farmer Liu Jin Yin, who darts this way and that between bamboo groves, rice paddies and livestock, carrying a tripod that holds his iPhone.

The barefoot 26-year-old climbs a tree and descends with a handful of flowers. He leans into his phone to explain.

Chris Newman used to be a software engineering manager, well-paid, but he worked long hours, ate fast food and went to the doctor a lot.

Eventually, enough was enough. He and his wife moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Charlottesville, Va., to become farmers. Now he is healthier, has fewer stomach problems and can eat dairy products again. He raises pigs, ducks and chickens.

An organization representing the interests of small farmers across rural America fired a legal salvo Thursday aimed at a Trump administration they feel has let them down.

The Western U.S. is just starting to recover after a prolonged, 16-year drought. A lack of water can force people to take a hard look at how they use it, and make big changes. That's what happened in southern Colorado, where farmers have tried a bold experiment: They're taxing themselves to boost conservation.

Colorado's San Luis Valley is a desperately dry stretch of land, about the same size as New Jersey.

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