I had lived on two farms by the age of 12. My dad made $100 a week. We paid no rent, the utility bills were small, and we grew much of our food. We went into town mainly to buy what we needed in the grocery store, send letters at the post office, and check out books at the library. If we needed clothes and “luxuries,” we drove to Warsaw, or Wabash, or Fort Wayne. We often went to Fort Wayne for glasses and usually stopped off to eat at an Azar’s Big Boy Restaurant. It was fast food; but since we could go inside, it was like a regular restaurant to me.
Even back then, I knew I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life on the farm. I was interested in science fiction and the future. I imagined and then drew what I called a stack farm back around 1966. It was over 40 stories tall and let sunlight in to shine on the crops. Hydroponics could be used, and nutrients plus water would be pumped past the roots in the walls to help the plants grow. A 100 story-tall stack farm might be located on an acre of land and produce like a 19,800 acre farm.
By and large, farmers are the forgotten Americans. When you consider the rate of inflation and the farm prices plus the expenses of farming, many farmers made out better a century ago than they do today. FDR tried to “help” farmers by having them kill livestock, dump milk, smash eggs, and plow under crops to jack up the prices. My grandparents hated Roosevelt for that because people were starving in America, and perfectly good food was being destroyed. But it is still done today. Trucks loaded with oranges will be dumped in an orchard, and the fruit will be allowed to rot instead of turning the oranges into juice and fertilizer for the orchard. Irradiation of fruits, vegetables, and meats could extend their shelf-life.
There is a farm bill being stalled in Congress and the Senate. Food stamps are the big sticking point. Republicans want them to be dealt with separately to indicate how bad poverty is, and I’m sure Democrats want to unionize farms and not give corporate welfare payments to corporate farms and those who aren’t farmers, yet benefit from subsidies. I have a friend who has been farming most of his life, and he told me that the government should let farmers grow what they want and cut back on the subsidies. He is a third-generation farmer and will probably farm until he can’t climb aboard a tractor. He keeps in shape by hammering iron on the old anvil and selling things at crafts markets. He was probably at Gettysburg this year shoeing horses as a blacksmith. He mainly raises hogs and hopefully made enough to put his two daughters through college. (But I haven’t talked with him for years, and I don’t know the situation.)
If the farm bill isn’t passed, inflation could rise a bit because commodity prices may soar if there are no price caps. A gallon of milk may go for over $5; and with a hard winter that has been predicted, livestock will die (and the price of your fast-food hamburger may rise by over 20%.) With the government having farmers grow corn for ethanol production, foods that have corn and corn syrup in them have already been priced higher. And where there used to be wheat fields, corn fields have replaced them (which drives up the price of food made from wheat.) Yet most people forget that 10% or more of the liquid that goes into their gas tank was once grown by farmers. And if you consider that more energy is used to grow and process corn than what comes from corn, using it as fuel doesn’t make much sense.
If the government wants to help farmers, it could let them grow what they want to grow, raise what they want to raise, and process what they can process. There are at least two plants in the nation that turn animal carcasses into fuel oil that can be used in Diesel engines and other engines that use my plasma igniters. Farmers should process dead animals to produce fuel. Genetically altered plants and animals could help farmers produce more food. And instead of throwing away blemished fruit, they should process it into juice. And once the honey bee blight is ended, farmers could have fields of clover that could be “processed” into honey. Genetic modification over the millenniums transformed corn from a grass into what we eat today, so don’t put down genetic modification in all cases.
Protein diversification would allow farmers to raise fish in ponds and grow bacteria and yeast to transform plant material into food. Corporate farms will still produce more food than family farms. But if the Agriculture Department cared about family farms, it would help them with research programs and government contracting so that American farmers could be paid to help farmers around the world. Until food replicators are perfected to turn sticks and stones into something similar to food, we’ll need our farmers to be able to make a living as farmers instead of farming being the death of them.
Photo credit: iluvcocacola (Creative Commons)