FORWARDS, Back & for Words Again
Starting out with a letter to the editor from Klaus Karbaumer
The weather keeps me away from farmwork today, and so I can attempt to fulfill my promise of writing a response to the question you asked (in your editorial) in SFJ Vol 43, # 3, 171st edition.
If I understand you correctly, despite the positive ending of your musings, acknowledging that publishing the Journal allowed you to take care of your horses and cows, you deplore that the response to all your heartfelt work, especially to your editorials and comments was lacking and scarce, indicating that people might not have read what you wrote. Well, let me start with this: Running a diversified farm or ranch already is a full-time job for any person, you did that all those years. In addition, you not only published this wonderful magazine, which I have been reading for more than thirty years, but also wrote a good number of books, most of which I have, engrossed yourself in your own astonishing art work, organized many events and visited many sites, participating in many events. I do not think you can ask more of yourself or of any person. As to the response, you might do yourself and your readers a little injustice here. Even in times, when the magazine did not appear regularly or with big time intervals, people held on to it. You published many, many letters, which overwhelmingly praised the SFJ, what it stood for, and how it had positively influenced their lives. Many told how they were encouraged to get involved in draft animals or even take up farming. I, myself, took the step to leave a very good and remunerative professional career in Germany in part inspired by the enticing reports of revived draft animal farming, which I read in the SFJ and also the DHJ, to come to the USA in 1991 to begin a new life. I do not think I would have done that if I had never read the SFJ. There are great agricultural writers in the USA, like Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, John Ikerd et. al., but I doubt they had as much influence on personal decisions as you had with your magazine. And even though I do not credit you with having stirred up my love for draft horses, after all, I have had and worked with horses of my own now for 57 years, you strengthened this passion with many reports that showed what was possible. As you know, for many years now I run my wife’s and my commercial organic produce operation with draft horse power and I felt honored that years ago upon the invitation of the Nordells I could publish a small article about Marketable Cover Crops in the SFJ, and a few years later was featured again in a pictorial by the photographer Ryan Jones in the SFJ. So, you had a great influence on many people’s lives and their responses consisted in staying loyally with the magazine.
But I wouldn’t be of German, particularly Bavarian, descent if I didn’t want to add a few other thoughts:
Responding to your editorials or musings is not always easy, since they usually are quite extensive, cover a lot of ground and, forgive me for writing this, are not always very concise or clear. I want to point out one topic, that you often broach with a lot of passion, and rightfully so, the turn that agriculture in this country took and who you hold responsible for that, namely corporations, the government, often also misguided activists of all kinds. For some time the attacks got so fierce, yet simultaneously vague, that I even interrupted my subscription (only to return ruefully realizing that I was missing a dear friend). What got me riled up to do that? Well, quite clearly the fact that you, like many other agricultural writers, tended to see rural populations as the victims of the above mentioned culprits, and omitted the degree to which farmers, ranchers, etc. participated in what took place. For example, to my knowledge, nobody forced farmers to give up on their work animals and nobody forced them to throw the exhortations to the wind, that for example farmer H. Edgar Messerschmidt voiced in a superb article in the 1954 Belgian Review, in which he already foresaw the consequences of increased mechanization. Likewise, nobody forced farmers to get themselves on the treacherous and slippery field of specialization, chemicalization, monoculture, overproduction, resulting in fiercer competition, depressed prices and fewer and fewer farms; “get big or get out” was Earl Butz’s battle cry, but he found too much acclaim, just like today many farmers are not stemming the tide, but, with their organizations are in a fact driving it on. I understand that as a publisher and businessman one hesitates to openly take on one’s own clientele, but as a journalist you could have made clear, that among farmers, ubiquitous government bashing rests on a misunderstanding of the situation: the institutions, created by the founders of the republic, are the ones to be loyal to, not the people, one sends into them. These need to be watched carefully. Having lived in this country now for 29 years, I find that many rural Americans have it backwards. With great loyalty they send the same people of the same party back to Congress or into other governing offices, while they revile the ‘gubbermint,’ on which, by the way, they often depend financially and in services. Of course, government bashing is convenient as thereby farmers and rural publishers avoid the serious political discussion, but instead are attacking a common foe, a process or tactic which can give the superficial impression of agreement. In these cases I wished you had been a clearer voice detailing divergent interests and how they can best be if not harmonized, then at least mitigated.
Criticism is often directed at animal rights activists and environmentalists, who I admit, often overshoot the mark. But instead of heaping scorn and ire on them, farmers would have fared better, had they sought not adversity but support among these groups, who need in many cases more education, but not opposition. The difficulties and problems we are dealing with in agriculture today have not been caused by being too aggressive concerning the environment or animal welfare, but by putting profits for the few over all other concerns. Again, even though you addressed critically the moneyed interests, I wish you could have done more to align farming interests with those of animal lovers and environmentalists.
Having said all that, I still believe, and reiterate, that SFJ is a great magazine, that you have done great work, and that, like in all human endeavors there is room for improvement. You allude to your age quite often, and since we both are of the same age, I share this concern. I do hope that under your guidance younger people can take over and continue this important work.
Sincerely, Klaus Karbaumer of Platte City, MO
letter to Klaus from LRM
Dear friend Klaus,
Thank you for your letter in response to my request in the editorial. And thank you for being a reader for many many years. As you know it’s what keeps us going.
Your many compliments are appreciated but over the top. I agree this publication has done good work, even though, I must add, I have not always served it well. This publication has done well because of its staff and the readership – people like you and your wife. I sincerely believe I am here because no one else wants the job, hardly a healthy reason.
I feel compelled to respond to the most useful and constructive ‘meat’ of your letter which I see as your general criticism that we, collectively, should be looking to ourselves as the cause of social problems most particularly as regards farming. We should have, if I understand you correctly, sent ‘better’ people to office rather than spend so much time ‘bad-mouthing’ vital institutions. And, you add:
“I wish you could have done more to align farming interests with those of animal lovers and environmentalists.”
I fear, deep down, we must agree to disagree. For a long lifetime, watching from within government and from without, I have seen how corrosive our entrenched institutions have been to the values and character of the few outstanding elected and even appointed officials. And same may be said of political movements and non-governmental institutions including those in animal rights and environmentalism.
It, in my small opinion, is quite impossible to imagine that a few elected officials of differing political persuasions could correct the country’s path. And I DO NOT believe the answer is to tear down what we might think are the offending institutions. The cultural, economic and moral problems of this country and others start at the ‘bottoms,’ the biological health of the planet, human education, family structure, family life, and food. Many of the worst social ills of this and other countries exist because humans have failed to properly elevate education. The antidote to prejudice is education, the solution to climate problems is through education, the cures for disease come from science and education, the corrective challenges to economic disparities comes from education.
Though I avoid speaking of it directly, I will confess that I see the bulk of true animal rights advocates and environmentalists to be the thinking farmers on the ground.
But all of this in the age of moronic and deadly governance may be cold soup too late. If it is indeed true that a strain of Bubonic plague has been isolated in China today, and that a more virulent Avian Flu is hatching, what we are experiencing with the current pandemic is but a soft entry into an extended living hell for most of humanity. It is democracy that has failed us not humanity. 17% of America’s angriest citizens effectively control the electorate. Animal rights organizations and environmental groups haven’t been able to make a dent in the dire need to address climate change, nor has there been much of any general government success. I sincerely believe that one of the greatest calamities of this age has been social networking and the mega digital corporations such as Google and Amazon. It is these dragons which protect the rights of idiots to insist themselves upon us all.
In spite of all this naysaying, I do believe things will get better and the planet will survive. It will happen because the survivors will remain in stewarding attendance. Our present form of government will not survive this digital age. And ultimately, social networking companies will destroy themselves. So I pray it will be educated people who will design a better future.
Thanks for writing, Lynn
And a returning salve-O
Thank you for taking the time to respond at length to my remarks. I do think the positive statements I made about you personally, and the magazine, are well deserved. Everyone who has met me knows very well that I am not somebody who says things just to please or compliment; after all I am from Germany, to be exact from Bavaria, where we can be quite frank, without getting into a row, on top of that I was an educator in the Bavarian system where we are not known for coddling people.
I do not think we are far apart in our perceptions about reality in this country, the point I was trying to make is that I’d rather have animal lovers and environmentalists in the small farmers’ camp and I think that could be done. After all, they are just like most of us; against CAFOs, gestation crates for sows, deforestation, etc. to name just a few issues. You are right to doubt that a few elected officials alone could correct the path we are on, but it would be easier if we had more of the right mind in political positions. You are also right that the “thinking farmers” are the true animal rights advocates and environmentalists (how many are out there?), but they need support from outside the farming community because from inside they have too little. So far most major farm organizations support our present system and the politicians who do not stand up to it, and I hear no protest from their members. It may be different in Oregon, but here in the Midwest we still see hedges being bulldozed, wetlands destroyed to make room for larger row crop fields and applications for building more CAFOs. Missouri’s neighbor states, Iowa and Illinois are the most de-naturalized states in the nation, and the reason for that is agriculture. So farmers as a group have no reason to pat ourselves on our backs, like it is so frequently done in official statements or ads on TV.
I agree with you totally that we will have to plod on and that our tool has to be education. Education can be effective for a better world only if it is perceived and experienced as being completely honest in its approaches.
Take care, my friend. I wish we were living closer together, we could share a lot of interesting conversation, and probably activities, too, after all we are of the same age. Klaus