One doesn’t have to be too perspicacious when reading agricultural reports to realize that farmers are quite dependent on Washington for survival. So streamlined, specialized, and isolated are modern production methods that the act of planting and growing things isn’t much discussed anymore; rather, much mainline farm media talk circles the subjects of what’s happening in regard to trade, pharmaceutical laws, environmental regulations, and other factors that ultimately affect profitability. As a result, people who grow things pour a lot of effort into supporting the correct pair of Burberrys seated in strategic chairs throughout the government.
I learned this lesson first hand when the political circus created a perfect storm that drove grain prices to record highs throughout 2011-2012. A product of the Renewable Fuel Standard, giant subsidized distilleries making fuel alcohol couldn’t get enough of the grain fast enough. It was great if you were selling corn, but, in our position as consumers of the stuff, the situation was catastrophic. Very rapidly, and by no effect other than the hand of policy, a foundational ingredient in our beef production became our worst nightmare.
Being young and still metaphorically wet behind the ears, I did what every farmer facing a tough situation does: I looked to authority for help. After finding a nice suit to wear, I set out joining organizations and getting active wherever I could.
Lessons life teaches are never delivered easily, and the message I received through those years of wearisome effort was that the only way to beat the game was to not participate in it. I’ll elaborate.
By 2011, when things were going south, our retail store had been in business for six years, and the connection it provided with our customers removed us from the doomed situation of depending on commodity beef markets to provide enough income for survival. People in our community supported us instead of a computerized board in Chicago. When politicians, organizations, and national markets failed, Clarion stepped up to the plate. That, dear friends, is a game-changing revelation in the agricultural world.
If direct-to-consumer sales is the first iteration of a safeguarded food system, then grassfed beef is the next for me. Somewhere along the line, through many bouts of crushing frustration, I realized that obsessing over the price of grain will not alter its value one cent. Complaining about it is simply puerile. But eliminating the need for grain neutralizes the price immediately.
A stable and productive farm is one removed from input price manipulation and backed by community support via local sales. By extension, the farm’s customers are then equally unlikely to encounter uncontrollable peril. What’s happening in the news with beef? They don’t need to worry.
John Ravenscroft is quoted as saying “It is way too easy to get so caught up in doing manual labor that you forget your primary job as a rancher is to think.” Unfortunately, far too many of us believe we’re thinking when we’re participating in a strategy to make policy improve our situation. On the contrary, good thinking makes policy irrelevant to the prosperity at home. Farmers must think for ourselves, of our customers, and while we’re working. We must guard our minds from thinking about what the rest of the world is thinking, for the scope of that issue is so vast it will surely swallow us up if we jump in. The by-product of a Do-It-Yourself attitude is a new kind of peace of mind. I’ll take a dose of that.