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The Ongoing American Dairy Crisis and Its Impact on the Family Farm

By   /  October 15, 2018  /  1 Comment

This is an issue close to Jason Birchfield’s heart. He doesn’t think there’s a silver bullet. But he believes in the small family farm and wanted to share this in hopes of starting a dialogue that could lead to solutions.

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A Flint and Walling Star 24 windmill (circa 1924). Photo by Jason Birchfield

 

The ongoing American dairy farmer debacle deeply bothers me, and every time I see another reference to it I’m forcing myself to think it through. Extra cheap milk in which to dunk your Oreos it would seem is the new cultural norm, along with some of the highest suicide rates farm families have ever seen. Disturbing.

Social media posts, written articles, viral videos are all so eager to put on display the ‘been doing it for half a century’ old and broken head of the family farm, his wrinkled face crying, hugging a few of his closest family members, heads hung low and shoulders slouched, all taking in their last few moments of existence as tough, gritty, incredibly consistent, and innovative American dairy farmers.

Over time, you either tune it out or embrace the collective nostalgia that for some has turned to anger and depression, crying out through the ripped and torn cultural fabric almost as intensely as a mamma cow mourns a dead calf. Of course, all along generating the buzz that dead things generate and all the ad revenue which follows. We’re witnessing the end of an era with more healthy norms and values sure to disappear along with it. I suppose when something is taken, many times the only thing we can do is look back and reflect on better, more idyllic days. For the few, brief moments after watching the profit drumming drama, we feel sorry…at least until the next bombarding buffet of fingertip, free-choice media sagas show up mid-scroll.

When all the ads have been sold and our minds and souls exhausted from the digital onslaught of our own choosing, the dust settles and we wonder, “Ok, who is really to blame here?” My knee jerk every time is Wal-muck, and ignorant consumers still shopping there buying 48 cent gallons of milk. How could they?? Don’t they know all the hidden cultural evils baked into the cake, or bad bread, or cheap Chinese plastic thing that lasts for 2 days then piles on our landfills?? Seriously, how could they??? Well, we do because it’s cheap and convenient, and Wal-muck can because milk is a loss leader positioned at the back of the store, so they still make money. And in the world of big government capitalism, those with the most green bills and authoritative favor at the end of the day get to stay alive, no matter if dairy farmers could buy Wal-muck milk and fill their bulk tanks and sell it back to them and do better, or not. Sure, they are part of the problem, but Wal-muck thrives, mostly because we all still shop there. Let’s travel deeper.

Dairy farms have been a lot like the rest of American agriculture, large numbers of small farms producing a little, small numbers of large farms producing most all, with little in between. And it’s a crystal clear message that’s been sent throughout the decades over and over and over to American farm families: “Get BIG, or GET OUT.” Most think the trend started with industrialization, but the truth is man has been enslaving man like this from the beginning of time, the free gifts of God twisted and perverted until unrecognizable.

The American dairy farmer is exceptionally dedicated and must work hard several times a day…every. single. day. As a farmer myself, I would imagine at the end of the day there’s just not much left of time, energy, or brain for managing the sale and distribution of final product, especially at a vulnerable time when industry really took off.  And the best part of the small family farm was that it was mostly human powered and fiercely independent. I wonder, could it be that hard working humanity, once again worn down and lured by the ease of all that sparkles, made the decision to let the slithering snake of over-civilized suit and tie whisper in its ear? Can you hear it? “This is EASIER and will make you BIG with LESS effort.” “Don’t you see how well your neighbor is doing?” “Trust us, this IS the future.” “You can BUY what your family needs and be BETTER.” So the big, silver tanker truck pulls up with contract and you sign and pump…until one day it doesn’t.

It’s fascinating how we are so deeply disturbed collectively by the disappearing dairy farmer. Perhaps it is because humble farming is where we all collectively come from and opposite where we are collectively headed. America is now beyond dairy farming. America is beyond family farming. We have arrived at a new normal: systemic money farming, no matter the costs or lives in the way. Make no mistake, after you pledge allegiance, the master of American industrial money farming will have no mercy on you, your family, your health, or your farm. But I’m not railing on the victims so much as I am digging down and unearthing that which is rarely mentioned: the real cost. When we fully align ourselves, our families, and our resources with this one-dimensional industrialized system, not only must we be willing and able to endure its destructive practices, but we must also be able to watch as many simultaneously and quite heinously profit off our demise. Like a mamma cow with the young calf tortured by black vultures, there comes a point where all we can do is watch…the difference being the vultures are only there for the flesh.

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About the author

Jason strives for authentic connectedness to faith, family, community, and soil on a small piece of land in Ohio. His farm is home to the pasture based art of raising hair sheep, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, honeybees, and a Flint and Walling Star 24 windmill (circa 1924) that he vows to one day fully restore. In addition, he enjoys running a sustainably harvested hardwood business, crafting furniture and finished products from the standing tree.

1 Comment

  1. Curt Gesch says:

    When I read your desire for “authentic connectedness to faith, family, community, and soil” I am inspired.

    I am a dual citizen (U.S.A./Canada) and what I remember from American history is that at one time there was a president nicknamed the “trustbuster” (Roosevelt). Here’ how Ohio State website describes him: ‘The point for Roosevelt was that the government should enforce a “rule of reason” on business. If a firm grew through reasonable means, then the government should not attack it. However, if a firm grew through unfair practices, then government should enforce its power in order to protect the innocent.’ https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/1912/trusts/roosevel

    That sort of thinking seems foreign to the U.S. regulatory agencies at this time.

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