Ag at large: Worlds divide the market for farmers

By Don Curlee | Contributed

We talk about the world of farming, but we and today’s farmers need to know what other worlds exist in today’s reality, and how farming can relate to them and prosper.

Rock-solid farmers who have sustained their operations and expect to expand or diversify are aware that the world has changed around them. They have survived the onset of several defined generations from Baby Boomer to Millennial, Generation X, Y and  Z and the New Silent Generation – 10 altogether since 1946.

With these later generations have come several pronounced changes in attitude, some of them quite harsh. It is unlikely that present generation farmers, or people in any walk of life, felt a burning dislike for the customs and practices of their parents’ time. They might have departed from them, or found more satisfying livelihoods, but few of them began throwing rocks and verbal epithets at their parents’ lifestyles once they settled on their own.

But beginning with the Beat generation, open conflict with the values and behavioral standards of its predecessor generation became a hallmark. The lifestyle was unorthodox, the music was loud, the behavior was shocking and the drugs were nearly universal.  For the preceding Greatest Generation the scene was disappointing and shocking.

Many farm family parents of those who comprised the Beat Generation – and several following generations — must have felt that their children were stolen from them. To a great degree they were, and the theft has continued to some extent in subsequent ages.

The theft did not occur incidentally; it was masterminded, and on a large scale.  Perhaps the primary mind thief of the past 75 years was not Dr. Timothy O’Leary, with his scintillating message of “Tune in, turn on and drop out.”  Instead it was a somewhat obscure Chicago writer and teacher named Saul Alinksky.

Many farmers will recall that Alinksky and his socialistic institute was a prime tutor of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez. Later on, politicians Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton studied under him. And though Alinksky died in 1972 his books aimed at “radicals” continue to attract those seeking a path that deviates from and discounts their parents’ generation.

Alinsky’s writings offered tactics for the disempowerment of prior generations and “the establishment.” He explained how his adherents could satisfy their longings and dissatisfactions by organizing. They began to organize communities, sometimes nothing larger than their own dorm rooms, advocating destruction or distortion of the values of preceding generations and applying them in alternate directions.

Indirectly that tactic caught on, and has become prominent, though subtle, in America’s education, social, business and political processes ever since. At the same time they accepted identification as radicals in preference to other labels like liberals, leftists, socialists or communists.

Radicals are prominent in the environmental movement, and in most every effort that involves controlling behavior and extracting, even destroying, traditions, beliefs and behavior of prior generations. Some legislatures are dominated by them, and multitudes have found their way into government service.

So what do farmers need to internalize of all this social science gobbledygook? They need to understand that they are surrounded by potential enemies of those sacred American principles of free enterprise and free choice. Customers yes, but they might be looking for opportunities to undermine traditional farming practices and policies. Animal rights extremists have accomplished that dramatically.

Establishing a farm product for market and identifying its producer can put a farmer in an uncomfortable and awkward, even threatened, position. While hoping for acceptance and perhaps some appreciation and – ooh, that ugly word “profit” –  he or she might find themselves the target of vile criticism and militant disagreement.

That’s part of the outcome of the generation gaps that have developed in today’s society. Providing nutrition for the enemy is a strange dilemma. And if the enemy is of your own blood line the exercise is likely to be more than frustrating. Welcome to the farm marketplace.