Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." In other words, if you listen long enough to someone, you'll get what's really down deep inside there. You can't hide it but so long.
Cultural orthodoxy surfaces in media, sometimes tucked into news stories where you'd least expect to find them. One of these prejudices is about farming. Many people blanch when I point out that for all our alleged interest in food and farming and resource stewardship, as a culture we have a subconscious condescension toward farming. Relegated to the unsophisticated, to the backward elements of society, farming is philosophically if not physically marginalized.
As a case in point, a recent issue of The Economist carried an article about the burgeoning elderly population in Vietnam and how it will strain the much smaller younger generation to pay for elder care. Mind you, this is not an editorial; it's just supposedly an objective news article, an analysis of facts.
Tucked neatly into the article is this: "But none of that will change the structure of the economy. Usually as countries climb the income ladder they shift from farming to more productive sectors, like services." Just for effect, you might want to read that again. Slowly. Did you get it? Notice it doesn't say 'shift from farming to services." The phrase that stuck in my craw is "more productive." So attorneys are more productive than farmers?
Again, this is not editorial; it's hard news. Catch the prejudice? It's so deep and ingrained that it comes out: services are more productive than farming. Really? Has anyone eaten a computer motherboard lately? If you're starving, do you care if your laptop is working or not? Is a teacher in front of starving children more important than a farmer who could feed them first?
Statements like these, buried as gee whiz understandings, belie a ubiquitous prejudice, an assumption about agrarian value, that ultimately determines how an economy functions. If this is the soul of an economy, it will not value farmers nearly as much as the sophisticated folks who fix the problems farmers have created. And so we have a nation of impoverished farmers alongside a nation of high paid engineers and technicians.
Would it not behoove us to incentivize good farmers in the marketplace, or in the first place, so we don't have to fix as many pathogens, pollutions and poverty nutrition? What we're dealing with here is the ultimate expression of a paradigm. By definition, a paradigm is so much a part of our belief system that we don't even know we have it.
I wish I could count the number of times I've been disrespected because I'm a farmer. Urbanites who give heartily to environmental causes and champion tolerance and inclusiveness routinely make caricatures of farmers, forming condescending stereotypes and perceptions around baseline land stewards. That farmers are simply a footnote, numbering half as many people as we have incarcerated in prisons, moves us into a category called societally invisible. We're so few the Census Bureau does not even record us as a vocation any more.
The point of this blog is to call out this kind of ubiquitous prejudice for what it is. It indicates a deep seated value system that views farming as a cultural footnote. Well, I hope this reporter dines well on The Economist pages when that's all that comes from the kitchen.
What have you done to elevate the status of farmers?