Farmers Need Economic Justice

Wendell Berry, in the foreword to his new book of essays entitled Another Turn of the Crank says it as well as any. Speaking of the predicament he faces with his writing and as a rural citizen when it comes to the political landscape today, he writes:

"The 'conservatives' believe that an economy that favors its richest and most powerful participants will yet somehow serve the best interest of everybody. The 'liberals' believe just as irrationally that a merely competitive economy, growing always larger in scale and controlled by fewer and fewer people, can be corrected by extending government charity to the inevitable victims: the dispossessed, the unrepresented and the unemployed. No agrarian or community member could look kindly upon or wish to serve either belief."

Berry calls himself an agrarian because he believes farming to be a high and difficult art, one probably impossible in the current economic climate.

The Clinton years were for me eight long years of frustration and misunderstanding. It would be difficult indeed to make the argument that Clinton was any good at all for farming and rural well being. I have regularly said that I failed to vote for the man twice, a statement that raises a few eyebrows because I make little secret of my political leanings. But the other thing that happens is the immediate assumption that if I voted against Clinton, I must have voted for the "other guy", which I most assuredly did not, and that I accept the idea that Clinton is wholly defined by his personal morality, or the lack of it, which I do not.

Clinton and his wife Hilary are both entirely too closely tied to the corporate agribusiness world to be of any use whatever to rural America. This was especially evident in his first choice to head the USDA, Mike Espy, who is a man with no farming background but impeccable agribiz connections. But it was evident much before that to anyone who cared to notice what boards of directors the Clintons sat on and who the clients of their law practice were. The Clintons are both neck deep in the corporate power that is destroying rural America.

It is these facts which provide a perspective from which to cast a ballot. Clinton's lack of sexual morality is shameful, especially for his family, and upsetting to anyone who cares about the presidency, but it should never have been the sole focus of national news for four straight years. The nation has other business.

The recent election provided a similar kind of non-choice for rural citizens. Gore made little secret of the fact that he thinks production agriculture is something that will increasingly belong to the third world and that this is a good thing for America. And Bush, while making all the right noises to calm Christian political activists, plunges straight ahead into what he gave every indication he was ready to do, which was to increase and concentrate power at the top of the economy. His first tools are a massive tax cut for the rich and a secretary of agriculture who will casually ignore an election among the nation's hog producers that threatened to shake up the established order.

The most important political fact of the day is this: Both major political parties share a belief in the dominant economy. The Democrats want to pick up the human wreckage after the economy, the Republicans want to leave its victims to their own devices. Neither is willing to talk about the problem, which is economic justice, and how to bring that about.

A complete rejection of politics is nothing that any loyal American should lightly undertake. But it does seem evident that now economic justice is better served by attention to our own businesses, by working at getting our farms to run for the communities in which they are located and to the benefit of the environment in addition to the bottom line.

There is more of economic justice in the reaching out toward the buyers and eaters of our food with new marketing businesses and forming a community that has food at the core than there is in the polling place. When our farm delivers meat and eggs and dairy products directly into the hands of customers, we are making a strong statement that we believe in the careful use of the the livestock and the environment, as well as the rural AND urban communities and the buyer is acting from the knowledge that his/her food dollar can be spent to bring about a better kind of farming and rural community. This little, or personal, economy is of a scale that can be controlled by and made to serve its participants. It is a start.

Van Der Pol farms near Kerkhoven, Minn. Due to other commitments, he plans to suspend his regular column.

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