Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Politics & Farming . . . Is this a joke about manure?

It has been pouring down rain on the farm for most of the day. I enjoyed listening to the weather report on the radio indicate that there was a possibility of showers, as I looked at the kitchen window and watched the rain falling with great force! It was definitely a good day to stay inside, drink tea, and read a favorite book. Instead, however, I headed out to the barn to feed the animals. No matter what the weather may be, the goats still expect to be fed! Some of the highlights of the day included Rosie the Rooster flying into my face while trying to run away from Charlie Parker, chief rooster of the hen house. The new piggies rolling with joy in the mud, thanks to the pouring rain. The goats "yelling" at me to hurry up with their bale of hay -- while they stood in the dry comfort of the barn and I struggled to navigate the mud without dropping a massive bale. D Calf (my adorable new little angus) refusing to eat in the barn with the heathen goats, instead prefering to take his bottle in the soaking rain!

As I stood in the pouring rain, watching the goats eating inside the barn & enjoying time with the new calf, I was overwhelmed with such a sense of joy! Yes, I was soaking wet. Yes, I was covered in mud & manure. Yes, my back was ouchy from having to carry extra bales of hay. I was, however, quite filled with happiness at my life on the farm. So few people get to experience the sincere joy that comes from honest labor on the farm. I know how blessed I am to have my life! At the same time, I realize the precarious position of farmers. We work to feed everyone, yet very few people understand our work. A lack of understanding can yield criticism without knowledge. A lack of understanding can also allow for well-intentioned efforts to fail -- especially on the part of our political leaders.

Over the years, as I have become more politically active, I have tried to include political awareness as a part of almost any speech I give. Whether I am discussing ethnic markets or careers in agriculture or usage of animals by humans, I always include my encouragement for farmers to become politically active. Our political leaders rarely have a strong background in agriculture. I often joke in my speeches that few of them have had the pleasure of being in a barn at 2am, kneeling down in the manure, covered in blood & placental fluid, with their hand shoved up inside a mother sheep as they struggle to deliver a baby lamb! Thus, we farmers need to be able to convey to our political leaders what we need to be able to continue providing a safe, healthy food supply for our country. This is truly a national security issue.

Last night I watched a documentary about the Great Famine in Russia in the early 1920s. I never recall learning about this tragic chapter in Soviet history, and I was absolutely astounded by it. Following the Russian Civil War, the Leninist government took grain supplies from the farmers to "redistribute" food. Not only did this mean that the farmers lost much of their own food supply, they also lost their seeds for the next growing season. Following this move by the government, a terrible drought affected Russia's agricultural lands. Famine spread throughout the nation and absolutely devastated the population, largely due to ignorant agricultural policies on the part of the Soviet regime.

Herbert Hoover, a much-maligned president, ended up being the salvation of the Russian people. Hoover was serving as Secretary of Commerce under President Harding at this point. He was known as a well-organized businessman and true humanitarian. At the height of the Great Famine, 25,000 Russians were starving to death EVERY WEEK. Cemeteries were being robbed for meat sources, straw roofs were devoured. Hoover worked to convince Congress to authorize the purchase of American corn to send to feed the Russian people. It was a vast undertaking -- jeopardized by anti-Soviet sentiment in America and the interference of the Soviet government (which was quite willing to let undesirables starve to death). Thanks to Hoover's efforts, shipments of food helped to stave off hunger and provisions of wheat provided seed for the next harvest.

I have a completely new respect for Hoover after seeing this documentary. The pictures from Russia of the starving children, the butchered dogs & cats, and the stacks of corpses will always haunt me. This humanitarian undertaking by Hoover was emblematic of the American drive to help others. It also allowed for the Russian people to develop a new perspective toward Americans. It is unfortunate that Hoover is too often portrayed as an uncaring Republican who allowed the Depression to rage while doing nothing. This documentary led me to do some reading on Hoover. I am now quite impressed by this gentleman who worked to help others. Of note, as an experienced businessman, he realized that the American economy would eventually right itself as part of the cycle of expansion & contraction. He knew that throwing vast amounts of taxpayer dollars would only serve to create an overbearing national debt.

The fact that much of the suffering in Russia from the Great Famine stemmed from ignorant agricultural policies, underscores that farmers must continually connect with governmental leaders to promote sound policies. Farmers are so busy working in the fields and laboring in the barn that it is difficult to allocate time to write letters to our leaders, make Congressional visits, and reach out to state lawmakers. For the success of our livelihood and our way of life, however, we must make this a priority. I had the pleasure of attending a legislative reception last week for state lawmakers. There, I was delighted to see Representative Michael Stinziano, who is a freshman in the Ohio House. Rep. Stinziano has made an effort to connect with local farmers to learn about our issues, and this is greatly appreciated! It is very important for farmers to take time to meet with our political leaders and discuss such things.

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining the presidents of Union County Farm Bureau and Madison County Farm Bureau to meet with Congressman Steve Stivers in Washington DC. We had a very productive session discussing issues that face our area farmers. It was refreshing to note the interest of Congressman Stivers & his staff in learning about the farm community! I recognize, however, that farmers are just one of many groups that ask to meet with Congressman Stivers and Representative Stinziano. We are fortunate that both of these gentlemen have been very responsive to learn about farming. As farmers, it is our responsibility to continue this dialogue -- to educate our leaders and to promote our products. It is our responsibility to help guide American farm policy. Without our experienced input, our leaders cannot make informed decisions. If we do not engage our leaders, we risk creating the same ignorant policies that led to massive suffering in Russia during the Great Famine . . . and there may not be another Hoover to help save our people!

Photo Captions: A great meeting in Washington DC with the Farm Bureau State Women's Trustee, the President of Union County, Congressman Stivers, the Goatherd, and the President of Madison County!

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