By Nina Baker
On October 16, in the atrium of the Humanities and Social Sciences Center (HSSC), Austin Frerick `12 and her husband became the first couple — but certainly not the last — to be married at the CSSS.
“I am eternally grateful to Grinnell. A liberal arts education changed my life forever,” Frerick said of his choice of venue. Her husband, a Middlebury graduate, agreed with the sentiment. “We actually got engaged in Middlebury and married in Grinnell.”
An extraordinary location isn’t the only thing Frerick took away from his time at Grinnell. On January 27, four months after his marriage, Frerick announced his candidacy for Iowa State Senate District 37, a decision he attributes in part to the upbringing he received at Grinnell.
District 37, located northeast of Iowa City, is currently owned by Zach Wahls, a popular Liberal Democrat from Coralville. If Frerick remains in the race, Frerick will face Wahls in a competitive Democratic primary on June 7.
In 2018, Frerick ran an unsuccessful campaign to represent Iowa’s 3rd congressional district. He dropped out three months before the Democratic primary. Cindy Axne, who won this primary, currently represents the 3rd congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.
In his state Senate platform, Frerick advocates raising the minimum wage beyond Iowa’s $7.25 an hour, increasing funding for K-12 education, and to create universal childcare services. But Frerick mostly spoke about a different issue that closely affects him: the proliferation of industrial animal facilities (CAFOs) and the corporate consolidation of agriculture.
“During my life in Iowa, I saw the collapse of the family farm. You were driving and you saw cows and you saw pigs. You don’t see any more animals,” he said. “I think that’s one of the worst things that’s happened in modern Iowa history.”
Frerick’s interest in agricultural advocacy stems from his childhood on his grandfather’s farm. This interest only deepened at Grinnell.
In 2011, Frerick completed two Advanced Mentoring Projects (MAP) on Iowa’s slaughterhouse towns and the effects of large meatpacking plants on rural school districts. Slaughterhouse towns are characterized by small rural populations where the largest employer is a slaughterhouse or factory livestock factory.
These cities are invading Iowa. In Columbus Junction, a slaughterhouse town described in Frerick’s MAP, more than 1,000 people are employed by a Tyson Foods meat processing plant. Columbus Junction has a total population of just 1,883.
While completing the MAPs, Frerick said he developed an ideological framework that was skeptical of corporate consolidation.
“I think collectively, rural Iowa is basically an extractive colony at this point. And we are the Stockholm syndrome. People fought for power and they lost.
Frerick graduated from Grinnell with a successful but non-linear career trajectory ahead of him. He received a full college scholarship to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for an MPA in tax and social policy, and later worked in the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Department of the Treasury in the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
While working in Washington, Frerick began writing about farming and corporate farming for Voice, Forbes and Data for Progress. But Frerick rejects the label of journalist.
“I’m not a journalist,” he said. “I like to write because for me it allows me to really sharpen my thinking and my vision to understand how power accumulates.”
In 2018, Frerick left his post at the Treasury and became director of special projects at the Open Market Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening antitrust law.
During my life in Iowa, I saw the collapse of the family farm. You were driving and you saw cows and you saw pigs. You no longer see any animals. . . I think that’s one of the worst things that’s happened in modern Iowa history. –Austin Frerick `12
Frerick said he had always been critical of the consolidation of corporate power, but Frerick’s shift towards antitrust accelerated when he met Lina Khan, author of the famous article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.“One afternoon, while Frerick was still living in Washington DC, they got together to discuss coffee monopolization. Frerick would later become the deputy director of Yale’s Thurman Arnold Project, an initiative dedicated to antitrust research and advocacy.
Frerick said he decided to run in 2022 because he said he was angry and exhausted that a pervasive problem with a seemingly bipartisan solution had yet to be resolved.
“You have just about everyone and their mothers mad at meat consolidation, from ranchers to workers to Great Plains Republicans to urban Democrats. Yet nothing significant is really being done about it.
See Frerick’s full campaign platform here.