In the Mirror

Note: Land Stewardship Project member Jim VanDerPol raises crops and livestock on Pastures a Plenty Farm near Kerkhoven in western Minnesota. He recently wrote this commentary expressing his opinions on the farm financial crisis for his own blog, and has given permission to re-post it here.

Farmer suicide is on an uptrend. Some would call it a spike. I would not because I fear it is not done going up. There are reasons for this. An erratic and foolish President who gets a kick out of playing with agriculture markets would be one, also a chicken magnate as Secretary of Agriculture who thinks there really is no room for any on the farms who are not huge businesses.

Climate change tends to make knee-jerk reactions out of carefully laid cropping plans. Government responses to both climate and political meddling are hugely expensive and pretty much ineffective.

But perhaps the most central reason is who we are as farmers and how we think. We tend to hold ourselves responsible for everything. Every bad thing that happens on our farms is our responsibility, we think. We are to blame. And the truth is that this delusion has spread throughout the economy. Our tendency to blame ourselves is the very best and sweetest success of those who already have most of the money and use it to control the economy, the technology and the government.

Farmers do have some control. But that fact is hedged about with truly insurmountable odds on all sides. We can decide to plant corn, but will not succeed if we must wait til a week into June to get to the field. We can decide to rely on our understanding of livestock animals to earn our living but cannot succeed if the market fences us out because of small size, for instance, or difficult milk pick up, or if Silicon Valley decides to create and peddle an end run around the very idea of animal based protein. We can study and pay attention to soil health, but will have little impact if our primary attention must be to the job that provides us money the farm doesn’t and healthcare for our family.

Anger is a very appropriate emotion in our circumstance. Properly harnessed by a shrewd perception as to where blame actually lies for our predicament, it can be hugely useful. But never if it is largely focused upon the person we see in the mirror.

Leo Tolstoy knew this and wrote about it more than a hundred years ago: “I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible…except by getting off his back.”

The rich are every bit as greedy as they were a century ago, plus today they are cheeky enough to put it out that they, and only they, have the solutions to our problems.