America’s Greatest Problem: We’ve been off the farm too long


Photo courtesy: Benjamin D. Esham

Photo courtesy: Benjamin D. Esham

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This is an opinion article from Appalachian Magazine, written by Jeremy Farley:

This past year, our nation celebrated its 241st birthday and though my heart fills with patriotic fervor each time I catch a glimpse of those red stripes flapping in the wind, I can’t help but have those feelings checked by the harsh understanding that America 2018 is a nation in dire trouble.

Far from being the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are now a nation of spineless weaklings ready to be offended at the drop of a hat and often it is the very ones who dropped the hat who are the most offended.

I do not pretend to be an expert on sociology or American history – everything I know I had to learn from my life’s experiences, mostly as a child on a +200-acre beef farm in nowhere Virginia.  The older I get, the more I have come to realize, however, that it was here that I received the type of education no Ivy League institution can come close to offering.  My only regret is that 200 million other American children never had the same opportunities I enjoyed – opportunities to bottle feed a baby calf, drive a truck through an empty field at the age of 5 (alone), spend summers sitting alongside my father inside the cab of a John Deere tractor, begin Christmas morning the same way I began every other cold and windy winter morning – opening the gates for dad as he unrolled hay for hundreds of hungry animals.

In the year 1790, 90% of the American population were farmers.  By 1850, this percentage had dropped to 64%, and then down to only 21% by the year 1930.  Today, only 2% of the American population serve as farmers.

And though American agriculture is more productive than ever, I’m afraid that as a nation we are beginning to witness the consequences of having raised multiple generations who have never looped a metal chain through a gate or chased lightning bugs through a field of freshly mowed hay.

As a nation, we have allowed Disney to convince our children that all animals are cute and cuddly, then wonder why dozens of people get killed each year attempting to take selfies with grizzly bears, cougars and copperheads.

As a nation, we have replaced the garden hoe and watering bucket with an Xbox and cell phone, then wonder why our “children” refuse to move out at the age of 30.

As a nation, the vast majority of our families have never even came across an injured bird, let alone taken the time to nurse one back to health, then we wonder why a generation has been brought up to have no respect for nature or its Creator.

While our forebears were busy praying for rain, we have come to regard the water that falls from the sky as being a cursed object — unaware that it is the rain that keeps us fed each day… All sunshine and no rain makes a barren desert, but hardly anyone realizes this in 2016 America; which is why so many never find peace during their darkest days.

There was a time when Americans consumed bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fried eggs and a big glass of milk each morning — and yet they rarely got fat.  Why? Because after eating such a hardy breakfast, they went out in the fields and spent the next thirteen hours fixing fences, hanging gates, delivering calves, killing, yes, killing predators, and harvesting food.

Farm work is dirty, tiring, sometimes cruel and always difficult; which is exactly why the percentage of Americans who engage in this work has declined with every generation.

Yet, it was this type of upbringing that allowed a nation to produce men and women who pulled together to fend off the forces of Hell in the Second World War, explore the heavens, eradicate disease and tap the ocean depths.

Sadly, those farm children are dying off the scene each day. They have been replaced by “men” who have never gotten dirt under their fingernails and purchase overpriced coffee as a status symbol.

I’m not so foolish to believe that all of our ills could be solved by a trip back to the farm, but I am confident that if a few more people had the type of upbringing I enjoyed, the world would have a lot more common sense!

“Men In Denim Built Our Country…Men In Suits Destroyed It.”

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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  1. Not a true ‘farmer’, but I manage 11 acres with 5 horses on my own. I’ve feed a foal, fixed a fence, rehung a gate, put new distributor caps in a Ford 9n and I totally agree. People have learned to hire someone else. There is no ingenuity, no common sense, no pride in a sweaty brow and a job well done. I think as a country we need mandatory military service and farm work. It can teach a person and a body so much. And for the record, I’m praying for rain.

  2. Very well said. I wasn’t raised on a farm but I stayed with my grandparents every summer that had a farm. If you were there you had chores. At one time they raised tobacco and I have worked in the tobacco fields. All the memories I have of my childhood spent with my grandparents are good ones. You are right about children today. They think they are entitled. I guess we as parents have something to do with that. Especially the grandchildren. I would love to take my children and grandchildren back to my childhood.

    • Then do it, even if it’s s raised bed in your back yard or a strawberry pot. I have a 10 year old (almost 11) grandson. He loves to plant with me and help me harvest, I’ve taught him how to make pickles. He happily puts down the video games when he goes to grammies. And I live in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, not a farm.

  3. I grew up in suburban San Diego. No, not a farm, but we had a massive canyon as a backyard. I grew up with feeding wild birds out of my hand, gardening with my Mom, and catching snakes in the summer. I loved this upbringing. After 20 years in the military, hubby and I moved to Kentucky where we have a 100 acre farm in which we do square bale hay, eggs, poultry, and goat products (milk, yogurt, hard and soft cheeses). If my Mom were alive, I’d thank her for letting me play in mud puddles when I was a kid, catch lizards and snakes, and stare at the stars. Now some of the books I write reflect that life I so love now.

  4. Well said. I was not raised on a farm. I was raised in the suburbs. However, I ride my bike daily out of the neighborhood with a pellet rifle over the bars.
    These days we are feeling a longing to return to what my grandfather used to do. I fight a natural tendency to be lazy. I feel that had I grown up without my Nintendo at the foot of my bed, I would be different. I cannot turn back time. But, for my children, they will grow up on a farm. Even if its small. We are now on 2 acres, raise our own produce, chickens, and meat. We hope to find 10+ acres next. We are returning to a better way. To dig up your food and drink tea with a neighbor. I feel you are dead on and have poked directly at the problem. I was that Xbox kid and I approve this message.
    A friend of Ralph F

  5. I am the fortunate one to have married a man raised on a farm. We now live on the family farm. I talk to the turkeys everyday, watch the geese and deer have babies. We are a beef cow farm and I am fortunate to have horses. I’ve helped deliver a breach calf. My indoctrination into farming life was watching the sick bull drown and that’s when my husband said I had to get used to life and death, because that was the reality of life and farming. I have a nephew who left a great teaching job to become a farmer. We are all backing him to succeed. That is the issue – to succeed at farming today. Your article is so true which is very sad. I live in an area (outside the Washington, D.C. Area) where all the family farms are being bought out by developers and the land is disappearing. All the new residents want a shopping center on every corner with their Starbucks and gas statins and fast food restaurants. We see them have no respect for the land or remaining landowners. You are correct when saying they feel entitled. So sad watching th farms disappear because once they are gone – we never get them back.

  6. This article is very judgmental and “othering”. I did grow up on a farm, and you know what? I don’t have the longing to return, nor do I think that those that didn’t have that experience are weak. It didn’t make me tougher, it made me harder to relate to when I left that farm. I still work in agriculture, and I don’t pretend that I am better for it, I need other people with other backgrounds to do my job. You can learn hard work and success through many modes and to pretend you have the cure for societies woes is ridiculously self indulgent.

    There is a reason the agrarian life has been abandoned, it doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t even work for most. If it did, we wouldn’t have abandoned it. You can give this message in this article because people opted out of that lifestyle. Computers and the internet don’t rise from the ground. Your car didn’t grow off a bush. Your tractor? Yeah, not a byproduct of the farm. You needed people with non-agrarian skills to make that happen.

    • The old farmers needed every skill to get by, and ridiculed anyone who hired out. But that was a very long time ago.

    • I grew up on a south Texas farm and thankfully there are still many opportunities for farming here. With only 2% or less providing food, that is a scary scenario IF farms ceased to exist. Your technology and autos and homes couldn’t be built unless you had food to nourish the worker.
      I became a Master Gardener so I could learn “modern methods” of growing veges and fruit trees and landscaping lawns. For my service hours, I teach Primary school 2nd graders about having their own food gardens. They are so excited and willing learners. I still live on a farm and ranch and have 12 grandchildren for whom we provide a place for them to experience farm life and work!
      No wars could be fought, no technology invented, no tractors built, no autos, no money made to buy food if it wasn’t as cheap and plentiful.
      If everyone had to spend days working a large sized garden plot to provide enough food for an entire year…and preservin it’s quality by.canning or drying…there would be no time for people playing XBOX or FB. I am thankful we provide food. I am very thankful for preserving a way of life that has dwindled to tragic levels.
      Everyone should have an I Appreciate Farmers Badge to wear!

    • Well said and maybe people will open their eyes. I grew up on a non working farm, but all my neighbors and friends were farmers. I have no interest in farming, never did, never will. I experienced allot others would never experience, but I didn’t experience how to be street smart when I went to the city. I didn’t get the experience of city life. So what, like you said, it took someone from “off the far” to produce things the farmer needs.

    • Petra, I’m sorry to hear that the farm made you “hard to relate to”. I can see that from your post. I’m the 5th generation to farm my family’s land. I do agree with you that hard work and other positive characteristics can be learned in other places than a farm. I believe you missed the point if you felt this article meant that it could not. The farm is a special place and it seems American farms have a long history of producing people of character. I’m speaking of local leaders in the churches, fire departments, county and school boards, and even sometimes presidents. There is something about being at the mercy of the weather (droughts, hail storms, floods, freezes, etc) that build character. Growing up my entire family would pray earnestly for rain and then rejoice when it would finally come. I learned to trust God always and to hold tight to family. And I learned to never, ever give up. I’m a better person because of growing up on the farm and am thankful to be a farmer.

    • Wow- you sound so angry. There are other parts of agrarian life that people are missing out on, not just the labor. The peace of the country, being close to nature, and understanding the cycle of life. And, I hate to say it, but growing up and working with the land and nature helps you to understand God’s works. I am not trying to sound religious, but living so close to nature, the land, and creating food from it helps you to understand how everything works together that living in the city simply cannot impart to a person. People do not appreciate the day to day living that living on a farm gives you. Living in the city, and I say that as a person who had to live in the city for over 20 years, simply teaches you how you must keep up with the Joneses. People in the city are generally much more materialistic, having to own the new car, the bigger tv, the nice deck or pool, etc. You can see it by the cars that are driven in the country and small towns. People do have gardens in the city, but when water comes out of the end of a hose, you simply cannot develop an appreciation for nature when the rains come. If living on the farm is not good for the soul, why do so many people “escape to the country” for their vacations? I’m sorry, but there is a difference, and living in the city does not provide the peace and tranquility that living close to the land in the country does.

  7. I grew up in farm country upstate New York – but not on a farm although my mom had a huge garden and canned all our food. We raised rabbits to eat and dad hunted for the rest. Today I live in the suburbs (Long Island) however, I grow all the food we need to eat. I can, freeze and dehydrate all our food for the year. I raise chickens, ducks and rabbits and I’m looking to add bees to the mix! My kids know how to grow a garden raise animals, put up food for the winter, make butter, cheese, sour cream and yogurt from fresh raw milk. So to say that you have to live in the country in order to “farm” isn’t quite true – you can farm your suburban lot and enjoy the benefits of farm living!!

  8. I run a farm in the Ottawa Valley Canada with my husband. Your article feels like it could be written about our lives. We think society is too far removed from the earth that feeds and clothes them. This gives them no idea of the time, blood, sweat and tears it takes to supply them. This makes them easily swayed by dumb ideas, fads, and gives them a sense of entitlement. How they would panic if, for one day, all that the farmers supply was taken away. This does even cover the morals or work for gain they miss out on.

  9. Farming isn’t just an occupation or way of life, it’s a pattern of history, (from the agricultural revolution,) a huge megatrend over more than 10,000 years, as Lewis Mumford explained in The Transformations of Man. It’s a major alternative to the power complex, which arrived 5,000 years later, (the urban revolution,) and which has long exploited agriculture. For that reason, an agricultural ethics tends to be an ethics of distributive justice. Globally, about half of the world is still rural.

    The urban power complex offers bigger benefits in important ways, but also bigger, more authoritarian problems. Lewis Mumford wrote that “The chronic miscarriages of life in the city might well have caused their abandonment, might even have led to a whole sale renunciation of city life and all its ambivalent gifts, but for one fact: the constant recruitment of new life, fresh and unsophisticated, from rural regions . . . . These rural folk replenished the city with their blood, and still more with their hopes…. Once we allow the village to disappear, this ancient factor of safety will vanish. That danger mankind has still to reckon with and forfend.”

  10. Growing up and working hard produced a lot of perseverance in myself and all of my siblings. It is so much better than sitting around the house all summer with some kind of electronic in you hand! Get outside somewhere and find something beautiful and fun!

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