Stockholm Syndrome–for Farmers


The current print issue of Farm Futures magazine features some frightening cover art: a huge, menacing woman pushing a shopping cart through a cornfield, with farmers (five male and one long-haired and possibly female farmer about to be flattened) running for their lives ahead of this monster.

And who is this cart-wielding monster?  Why, she’s your average middle-class consumer, who, according to the article’s authors, Mike Wilson and Jacqui Fatka, has been “preyed upon” and led astray by “special interest groups” encouraging her to take a good hard look at how her family’s food is produced.

I’ll be the first to agree with one of the article’s assertions–that the average consumer often doesn’t understand what goes into farming and how food gets from the farm to the table.  But consumers are educating themselves.  The problem, according to the article, is that the sources they’re turning to aren’t friendly to industrial ag.

People who want local, organic, and/or sustainable foods are characterized as “luxury food extremists” bent on starving the rest of the world’s population through their desire for these choices, while the article conveniently fails to mention that 25% of the U.S. corn crop goes into our gas tanks (that fact is noted elsewhere on the magazine’s website, where it can be seen in a more positive light).

The article’s hoped-for outcome seems to be a kind of Stockholm Syndrome for farmers–attempting to convince them that their captors (the magazine’s major advertisers) are the “good guys,” while consumers starting to question the environmental and nutritional impacts of industrial agricultural practices are the enemy.

Too, the article quotes a Wellesley College Professor of political science, Rob Paarlberg, about fears that the general public will begin to see farmers as “villains,” which is funny on a couple of levels:

  • The Industrial Ag behemoth shouts down another non-ag prof who speaks for the “know your farmer, know your food” contingent because, as a journalism professor, he’s supposedly not qualified to talk about agricultural issues, and
  • That other non-ag professor (Michael Pollan, of course) has contributed heavily not to the vilification of farmers, but to the recent status elevation that has some calling them the new “rock stars.”

Pollan doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t agree with everything he says or writes, but I do think he’s right to start asking questions, and encouraging others to do the same if they care about what they eat and how it was produced.

Further, the authors seem certain enough that their readers have not seen the film, Food Inc. to assert that the film vilifies farmers, though having seen the film myself at a theater owned by farmers and in the company of other farmers (some of whom have grown “conventionally”), the consensus was that the film actually vilifies some of Farm Futures’ major advertisers for their victimization of farmers.

Maybe the most important education for consumers is that anger over farm payments or subsidies should really not be directed at farmers themselves–for the most part, they are simply acting as middlemen to transfer the bulk of that money to the seed and chemical companies they’re wedded to.

In this respect, the article’s warnings about what the Obama Administration might do seem pretty spurious in terms of what they are doing–which is to start looking very hard at the monopolies some of those companies enjoy on a worldwide scale.

Interestingly enough, the final line of the article, “It’s up to farmers and their organizations to get on the same page as their customers,” is something I can agree with.

But I don’t think that page will be one that denies climate change science and fights each and every regulatory change that could help make the bulk of U.S. farm enterprises account for the true cost of their production.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Good post, Rebecca. I would think that, under free market rules, the proper response to changing consumer demands is to meet those demands. But when consumers decide they want food grown in ways that are better for human health and for the environment, the big producers reject consumer desires and choose a propaganda campaign to manipulate consumers back into believing what supports the status quo business model. Hmm….

    You also hit the nail on the head with anti-Pollan propaganda. Pollan and local food advocates aren’t vilifying farmers. Heck, local food advocates like you are farmers. We support farmers! We just oppose the industrial machine holding farmers hostage.

  2. hear, hear to this and your previous commenter.

    there is a lot of BIG money pushing industrial ag’s cause but yet, i keep seeing more and more people at the farmer’s market year after year….

  3. Posted by George Buehler on February 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Good article, nice blog, with lots of tasty links to sample…
    Found your site through Marcella’s blog . My wife is a South Dakota girl, currently living in the high, dry sagebrush country of SE Idaho.

    We’re not farmers, but pretty serious organic gardeners, yard killers, slow food practitioners, Pollanites, craftspeople and naborhood eccentrics. Your site looks like a comfortable place to visit periodically…

    The days are getting longer 🙂

  4. Posted by joelie hicks on February 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    We get a lot of those magazines in our mailbox and I read them. Often I write to the editors, not as letters to the editor, just privately, going over certain articles and ads. Especially if they are misrepresenting books and studies I have actually read. I recommend Acres/USA magazine and certain books to them. The usual response? They do not send us the magazine any more. This has happened a few times. Dakota Farmer is the most recent publication that dropped us, although Lon Tonneson did respond privately to my e-mail.
    My husband agreed w/the farmer at the end of the movie Food Inc., “we just want to give people what they want.”
    That cover makes me take heart. We’re winning!

  5. Posted by flyingtomato on February 15, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    The subscription isn’t mine, so I’m hopeful the person who shares them with me doesn’t get cut off. I’ve got another post coming, I think, on a recent article in Corn & Soybean Digest.

  6. Posted by joelie hicks on February 16, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I look forward to the post. The Agri biz people do not like people like us, because we are not disgruntled suburbanite yuppie types that they like to characterize as being ‘anti ag’, afraid of manure, afraid of animals. Or animal ‘rights’ activists.
    I help butcher chickens with friends for my share of pasture raised meat. But I believe, and most ‘real farmers’ believe, that animals should be treated decently, to be able to exhibit their natural behavior. To believe that means you cannot support debeaking, tail docking etc., simply so you can crowd animals in to smaller spaces, or that you have to keep an animal clean enough that their tails are not caked with manure.
    We do dehorn, it is a safety issue for both animals and people.
    We do castrate, ditto.
    A pasture full of bulls with horns-not a good idea.
    One of the things you mentioned at the conference, how we are in the middle of farm country,beautiful fertile land, lots of animals and most of the food eaten comes from far away. That, I hope, is changing.

  7. Posted by flyingtomato on February 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Joelie–

    I think it is changing–for myself, I do not see this area as a “food desert” because I raise food for local consumption and know so many others who do, too. So, we grow, buy, and barter amongst ourselves (as I know you do, too). I’ve gotten the the point where if half or more of what I’m making for any given meal wasn’t produced locally, I’ve failed in some way. And I make a note of what things are missing from the pantry or freezer or run out too soon, and tweak my production and home processing for the next year–or seek out another producer who has what I’m missing.

    The problem is getting to that point where you can find local food in your local restaurants and grocery stores as a matter of course–the rule rather than the exception. That’s partly a production issue, partly a processing issue, and partly a price issue (as in, can the producer and buyer figure out a price point that’s sustainable for both of them).

    Living in a small town, I am careful about how much I complain about restaurants, but the fact is, most of the food you get when you go out came off a truck and tastes that way. You can hardly get real butter for your bread anymore–or actual milk (nevermind the hormones and antibiotics it’s laced with) for your coffee. It’s all “buttery spread” and coffee “whitener.” Eating out, for me, isn’t a “treat” so much as a last resort when I’m just too exhausted to feed myself.

    But, there are some local places that grow some of their own ingredients or buy at least a few things from local farmers, and those are the places I try to patronize when we do go out–without being too much of a snob about it if H wants to go somewhere else. 😉

    Thanks for your comments!

    –re.

  8. […] Flying Tomato Farm with Sounds Corny to Me and Stockholm Syndrome for Farmers […]

  9. […] Tomato Farms March 16, 2010 tags: farming by Morganna Today I want to mention the post on Stockholm Syndrome in Farmers from Flying Tomato Farms. In short, Farm Futures magazine writes about the supposed mis-education […]

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