Rain on the Scarecrow

Rain on the Scarecrow

Last week I received my monthly copy of The Stockman Grass Farmer. This is a print publication started in 1947 dedicated to the art and science of grassland agriculture. The pages are loaded with great tips and techniques from authors like Greg Judy, Allan Nation, and Jim Gerrish to name a few. I typically put the paper aside, saving it for when I have time to read it cover to cover. But this month my attention was drawn to a cover page article, “Relational Harmony” by Joel Salatin (currently the Editor).

In the second paragraph I was confronted with this profound revelation – “Per capita farm suicides are higher than highly publicized suicide rates among war veterans. What’s going on here.”

Having a foot in both worlds, this touched me deeply. I’m often brought to tears when I contemplate the daily suicide rate of US service members, so imagine my surprise to learn that it’s even higher for farmers. I guess the relative numbers are what make the news (there being significantly more soldiers than there are farmers) with “22 a day” being a slogan to bring attention to veteran suicides. For every 100 thousand farmers, there are 36 suicides every year, contrasted to the 28 per 100,000 for soldiers. That means that farmers are 28% more likely to commit suicide than veterans. Both of these numbers are soul crushing.
After I recovered from my shock, it only took a few moments for Molly to explain the correlation between the two. The loneliness and isolation, a culture of stoicism and self-reliance, and the pressure to succeed and provide for the family can be overwhelming. Economic challenges, unpredictable markets, and environmental factors further intensify the stress, creating a situation that may become untenable for farmers and their families.

I’ve often commented that I can’t imagine being a farmer selling into the commodity market. You never get to interact with your ultimate customer, and you’re often trapped in a system that is little better than indentured servitude. For me, talking recipes, hearing your stories of healing, and watching your children grow up right before me, coupled with the ability to steward God’s creation, makes this a very rewarding occupation. I’m deeply grateful for having defied the odds, finding both success and fulfillment on our farm. Yet, I’m acutely aware that without my full-time “off farm” job and our “direct to consumer” model, I likely wouldn’t make it as a farmer.

So how do we fix this? Not a simple question and surely there are no simple answers. Just like the first step to saving veterans is ending all wars, perhaps the first step to saving farmers is to end Big Ag. At the pinnacle of both of these problems are corporate behemoths that thrive on the destruction of local communities.

While we can’t control the weather or the markets in agriculture, we can control how we manage our own stress and how we support our neighbors during times when things might not be going so well on the farm. I salute each of you for doing your share – shopping locally and buying direct. Please consider the other ways that you interact with the food you eat. Are there opportunities to make a few changes that will have a direct impact on the farming community? Are your friends and family aware of the exploitive nature of Big Ag?

As always, we are ever thankful for all that you do and look forward to seeing you at the market.

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