Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Country Life

There is this old timah' that lives down the road a bit.  Often, if he has extra parsnips or corn, he will pull into our drive to share his bounty with us. In return, we give him some of our time and share a conversation with him. Bachelor Farmer is the term I have for him; but really, he is retired from the rail road. He grew up in this area.  He is land rich, cash poor and wealthy in the wisdom of how to live on little. He always grows his own very large garden heavy on potatoes, corn and beans.  He is  hard of hearing so our conversations are spoken loudly.

Last night he came by to tell us that a couple of black bears had been seen in the neighborhood. The conversation meandered through the stories of him chasing the goat and cow that another neighbor has grazing on his land; his regret that he did not have enough money to invest in oil futures (apparently you need 45,000) and his hope to get his roof re-shingled this summer. ( I have no doubt that he plans to do this himself!)

Finally, he shared the story of a dairy farmer in the next town over that had committed suicide. The farmer left 5 children, his wife and massive debt behind. Recently, the farmer had decided that he had to cull some of his herd because dairy prices had collapsed over the last year. There was no realistic way to pay back debt if you are giving your product away. And, in order to begin the next growing season of corn used to feed his herd and all of the pesticides used to grow that corn, he would need to take on more debt.  Credit that is not available.

We own land about a hour from my home.  If you were to travel there you might see a few vast potato farms, plenty of logging trucks and windmill blades traveling on flat bead trucks. Back in the 1950's  it was the dairy center of Maine. And then...And then the federal government came in and required all dairy operations to have electric refrigeration. This was a region of the state that did not have electricity. Much of rural Maine did not get electricity until the 70's.  So, what was once the major dairy provider for the Northeast became a few vast potato fields.  What had been a vibrant rural community was devastated.

Our old timah' neighbor had some theories as to why there was a collapse of dairy prices. Some of what he said I was familiar with: BHT, supply/ demand issues, pricing regulations, and foreign trade agreements that hurt our farmers.  In the end, I think it comes down to  cheap at any cost. Until we realize that food; the growing and  transporting, is an expensive endeavor; until we realize that if farmers can't provide milk, grains, meat with out fair compensation, until we get Big Ag Companies out of the equation; until we realize that local agriculture is food security ,the story of the dairy farmer the next town over is just one more tragic story being played out in rural America.


Wendy said...

That story just makes me want to cry.

And it makes me nervous, too. I mean, what happens if more farmers decide they can't support their herds on the $2.50/gal the "corporate" milk companies pay them, or farmers decide they can't afford the price the chain supermarket is willing to pay them for their corn crop?

Suddenly that great deal on strawberries at the Super Wal-Mart doesn't seem like such a good deal.

Anna M said...

So sad. This is why I am growing my own and using local as much as possible. Actually my milk comes from Maine, Booth Bros. We always think we have a free market economy but we don't. It's all a shell game. Sigh...

Kathy said...

Such a sad story Karin, not only for the farmer and his family, but for all of us. But somewhere in there is a lesson, if only more would listen.

Pat aka Posh said...

When was a kid growing up on a farm we experienced the same goverment intervention.. my mom finally had to sell our milk cow because even tho we were the only ones using the milk she still was required to have a vet come out and give it shots and a bunch of other crap involved too.. so I too have watched the same things happen to all the farmers there.. too much governement causing out of picket prices and low return on the sales..
Just makes you want to cry.