Where Have All The Farmers Gone?
by Bob Burns
Bob Burns is an Organic Farming Consultant with the American Farm Bureau.
Today in America there are fewer than 2 million farmers left. Of these 2 million, fewer than 12% own most of the land. The corporate world, mainly DuPont, Norvartis, Monsanto, are not only breaking and taking small farms from farmers, but they are purchasing land to control water rights in Mexico, in the Imperial valley in California, and they are buying over 30% of all the seed companies, creating such things as the "Terminator Seed" to prevent growers from growing our own seeds.
When I was shop steward in the International Association of Machinists (IAM), I didn't think twice that most of my fellow workers were either part-time farmers or family farmers gone bust. During lunch break we'd argue the merits of organic farming over chemical farming. There were a lot of city-bred brothers and sisters in that local as well, but I'd venture to say at least half were farm-related in one way or another.
Later while working at the Quincy shipyard, I found a lot of farmers from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire who had lost their farms. There were a lot of fishermen too, as the fishing industry was winding down. My Uncle Cass Blasdell from New Harbor, Maine was forced from his fishing and worked with me, hating the shipyard like a bitter cancer.
Over the years working in many places, sometimes out of trade to make ends meet, I met many farmers or former farmers, and I just accepted it as a way of life. The largest percentage of ex-farmers I ever met worked at a Caterpillar shop in San Diego. We were all heavy equipment repairmen, and one day during noon hour we found only two out of a crew of 46 who were not former or current farmers.
Today, after leaving the workplace and returning to agriculture, I have discovered that the agenda the giant corporations have for the American small farmer is as follows:
Drive prices up (through such things as the Russian wheat deal). Force the grower to get more equipment to cash in on the good crop prices. Then cut the prices. Seize the land and the equipment, and sell the farm to the developer or agribusiness. The farmer can now work for Caterpillar, who sold him the equipment on loan and who helped steal his farm. When they de-unionize Cat and toss the worker out to pasture they can arrest him on a drug charge and jail him. If they do it in Texas, they can make him work for free on a Texas Agribusiness farm. Hey, that is not a bad deal, eh? Farming again, free room and board, and a prison system that is rated one of the best in the world. Who says America doesn't take care of its farmers?
Of course some of us might not like this path. Maybe we can go to school for a while, get a Ph.D., then work for Monsanto as their flunky in the Federal Department of Agriculture and help get free labor for Agribusiness.
This is not a fantasy. It is a clear, crisp reason why we as American workers and farmers have to rise up and take back this land that has been taken away, to farm it, to heal it, and to give our children and our children's children a place where this blessed gift of life can be enjoyed. It is time for farmers to return to our rightful places.
Originally published in New Democracy Newsletter, July-October 2000.