Patriotism 1899

Patriotism, like many other virtues, is easily counterfeited. Gruff old Dr. Johnson called it “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” It has one thing in common with charity, “it covers a multitude of sins.” It often expends itself in mere bawling. Our holiday oratory brings out no end of inspired and inspiring utterances; but allowance ought to be made for considerable leakage of gas. Indiscriminate praise of everything American is a cheap way of drawing applause, but the truest friends of the country are they who make us worthier to be free, who helped to save mankind, ’till public wrong be crumbled into dust, and drill the raw world for the march of mind, ’till crowds at length be sane and crowns be just.

–courtesy of Tom Giessel – July 28, 1899, Tiller and Toiler newspaper, Larned, Kansas

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Farm Tenancy In Kansas 1917-2017

Tom Giessel
Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

by Tom Giessel, Larned, Kansas

The Twentieth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture was published in 1917. The very first chapter was dedicated to the topic of Rural Welfare and began with an article by George E. Putnam, Associate Professor of Economics in Lawrence, Kansas. He devoted the first twenty pages to the topic of Farm Tenancy in Kansas. The concern of farm tenancy was a front- burner issue of the day. His report was a rather extensive document of the percent of land ownership, versus rented lands. Coupled with those numbers, was an equally thorough examination of the overall evils of tenant farming, and its impact on rural communities. In those early days, tenant farmers were under the thumb of outside interest and money. He further stated “A new factor is being introduced into the agricultural situation through the development of huge estates, owned by corporations and operated by salaried managers upon a purely industrial system.”

The tenant was seldom equipped for cultivating a large farm intensively. The tenant could cultivate a large farm extensively, or a small farm intensively. He continued, “stating all of these factors resulted in a decay of initiative, independence and citizenship.” Other consequences of tenancy included an absence of, or backward educational facilities, little incentive to improve his temporary home, depopulation of rural communities, and the prevalence of land speculation. In a short period of time, World War I would shift the focus away from the tenancy issue. A multitude of economic woes developed in the 1920s, which lead to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Here we are, a century later, and we find far fewer farms and ranches. Today, many are owned and operated by family farms and corporations. We never read much, if any, reference to farm tenancy and burdensome debt. Could it be that farm tenancy has been masked and taken a much different form? Has outside capital and huge corporate interest re-created a new generation of farm tenancy?

Meet the 21st Century farm tenant. Producers [no longer referred to as farmers] almost exclusively plant seeds that are purchased and cannot be saved and replanted. They assume all liability and responsibility for those genetically modified organisms. They assume all environmental liability. They sign long-term technology agreements without negotiation, compromise or protection of individual rights. They prepay all research and development expense to multinational corporations, and buy the product back at a later date. They no longer make the decision as to which [if any] chemical to apply, that has been pre-determined by which seed has been purchased. They no longer drive their own equipment, or even repair it. They defer decision making to a computer program, designed by some far-away company and a computer programmer that could not recognize the difference between a kernel of wheat and a soybean. They contract/sell into a system in which they have no control. But they claim to be independent and believe they have the freedom to farm.

So what has changed in the last century? The obvious claim and truth would be technology. It has allowed us to produce vast quantities of commodities with many fewer people. Plant sciences, along with all facets of engineering, have made tremendous leaps and gains. But what did we trade for those so-called advancements?

One hundred years ago, our predecessors combatted the evils of farm tenancy and the daily struggles of life on the farm, with their own creativity and ingenuity. They did not buy most things they needed. They created them. They built their farms and ranches, from the ground, up. They were also organized as a neighborhood or group, forming cooperatives and creating communities. They held a high regard for education, both in the classroom, as well as on the farm. They captured the wealth of the land and transformed it into the future. They did not rely on information, management or skills from far away to guide them. They trusted in themselves, their family, and their neighbor across the section. They understood the importance, of not only making a living, but also to make a life, and with it, their responsibility to the future.

Farmers today are blessed with many gifts, manifested in multiple ways. They have an inherent understanding that making a living is more than making money. It is imperative that we strive to maintain a balance between the many tools that technology allows us, and taking ownership of our responsibility to the land, our resources, our communities, our future and ourselves.

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Vice: Meathooked and End of Water

Examining the environmental harm of our meat addiction; assessing the depths of the world’s water crisis.

Mike Callicrate: It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a bushel of corn. And if an animal eats 50 bushels of corn in it’s time in the feedlot, we’re looking at about 125,000 gallons of water per animal under the industrial model.

Isobel Yeung: So when it comes to those industrial scale feedlots, the majority of the water they’re using actually goes into producing the corn.

Mike Callicrate: That’s correct. And the reason that JBS has a big feedlot at Yuma Colorado is because there’s water. And they don’t pay one dime for that water. And they pay below the cost of production of that corn. The corn is the cheapest thing that we can feed because we buy it below cost of production. The water is subsidizing that operation.

Isobel Yeung: So with free water and cheap corn, the price of mass produced beef is kept artificially low.

Mike Callicrate: The question is: How much of the Ogallala aquifer do we need to support an industrial model or any model as far as that goes. And if we are so foolish as to let that precious resource run out, that’s a tragedy.

Isobel Yeung: Mike showed us the scale of land and water used by the giant meat producers here. So we’re just flying over Yuma County here in Colorado. This is one of the huge huge scale feedlots. You’ve got 100,000 cattle in this one feedlot down here. Is this all corn down here, these circles?

Mike Callicrate: Yes! Basically all of the circles that you’re seeing here is corn.

Isobel Yeung: That’s a lot of corn fields.

Mike Callicrate: Everywhere you see a circle, is pumping water. I think we have to have a true cost accounting going into these production models. The reason that these big companies can do what they do is because they’ve got the power to externalize so many of their costs. Whether it’s water. Whether it’s the pollution of the soil with the overuse of chemicals and the production of the crops. Environmental damage. That’s how we’re able to get a dollar burger at McDonald’s. And we’re not thinking about the future. We’re only thinking about the short term.

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David Overmyer, The Great Commoner, 1906


When Hon. David Overmyer died, the farmers of this country lost a friend — not a mere pretending friend for policy sake, but a loyal, true advocate of the cause of agriculture.

David Overmyer’s boyhood days were spent on a farm. There, early in life, he learned the value of toil and although he left the farm to become a lawyer, he cherished throughout his career, a close fraternal feeling for the farmer and whenever opportunity offered, his voice was raised on behalf of the producing classes.

Genius scorns conventionalities and David Overmyer had a way particularly his own about everything.

He was a genius, a master of the English language not even second to the brilliant Ingalls, a born orator and a poet in prose. There was a remarkable combination of rhythm, euphony, music and sound common sense in every utterance of this remarkable man — every utterance whether written or spoken. He unconsciously blended the poetic and the practical in a harmonizing manner.

The speeches and writings of David Overmyer are gems of literature and thought, but unfortunately, few verbatim copies of his speeches are in existence, for the reason that he always spoke extemporaneously, disdaining manuscript or even notes.

The Advocate, however, has in its files a complete copy of the address of welcome delivered by Mr. Overmyer before the Farmers Co-operative Congress which assembled in Topeka, October 22 of last year. From the Advocate of October 25, we reproduce Mr. Overmyer’s speech as follows:

“To the Farmers National Co-operative Business Congress, Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Congress: On behalf of the people of this city I extend to you a most hearty welcome. You will find here an appreciative and sympathetic atmosphere. As my duty in welcoming you is purely a duty of courtesy, you will not expect from me any extended address. It may not be amiss, however, to call attention to a few points in which you may be interested. It is said that ‘self preservation is the first law of nature’. Also, that ‘the Lord helps those who help themselves’. And again it has been said, ‘Who would be free himself must strike the blow’. If I understand your mission, it is along such lines as I have suggested. You will find nobody in this world to help you, unless you are able to help yourself.

We are told in ancient fable that Anteus was invincible while his feet stood upon the sustaining earth. So nations and peoples are invincible so long as they live close to nature and cherish agriculture.

Light, heat, food, clothing, shelter. These are the essentials of civilized life. And yet, the farmer cannot purchase an article which enters into any of these in a free and open market; but is compelled to purchase them all, except such as he himself may produce, in a market which is completely monopolized and in which prices are determined, not by the laws of trade, but by the arbitrary will of a limited number of men. And, on the other hand, he is confronted by a combination of purchasers, and is prevented from access to a free and open market in which to sell his products by combinations, who, having driven out all competitors, are the only purchasers to whom we may offer his products.

We are told that prices are determined by the law of supply and demand, and that is true. But allow me to control the supply, or to control the demand, and I will control the price. Both supply and demand are controlled, at present, by the combinations to which I have referred, which shear the farmer of his profits and put up the price enormously to all consumers. They corner and control the supply or finished products which are to be placed on the general market for the general public, and thereby control the price arbitrarily. They limit the number of purchasers and combine the limited number, and thus they limit the demand for the farmers’ products by limiting the number of purchasers, and by a rigid combination of the limited number. Both producers and consumers suffer from the actions of these trusts and combinations which rule the markets. The farmer is a constant and great sufferer at their hands.

Again the transportation companies contribute greatly to the wrongs under which the farmers suffer by excessive rates and discrimination’s and rebates. The conduct of the companies in this respect in this state has been and is most flagrant and it is the same elsewhere, unless, perhaps, in Texas, which state has attained to a greater control over the railroads than any other state.

Wheat shipped from central Kansas to Kansas City bears a rate of 15 cents a hundred; while from Kansas City to Galveston the rate is 15 cents a hundred. But if the shipper would send his wheat from central Kansas directly to Galveston he must pay the rate from Kansas City plus the rate from his shipping point to Kansas City, even though he is as near Galveston as Kansas City it. Thus, he must pay double the rate to Galveston which a shipper shipping the same distance must pay who ships from Kansas City; and even if he should ship from Caldwell to Galveston, that point being 200 miles nearer Galveston than Kansas City, his rate will be 30 cents, while the rate from Kansas City to Galveston will be 15 cents.

Apples are shipped from Buffalo, N.Y. to the Pacific coast. Apples are also shipped from Kansas to the Pacific coast. The shipper from Kansas must pay as high a rate for half the distance to the Pacific coast as the shipper from Buffalo pays for the entire distance across the continent. Citrous fruits are shipped from the Pacific coast to Boston and New York. They are also shipped to Kansas. The charge for shipping from the Pacific coast to Kansas is the same as the charge for shipping from the Pacific coast to Boston and New York. Lumber is shipped from the western camps to Agra, Kan., 57 cents. It is carried on 200 miles further to Kansas City for 50 cents. Lumber is shipped from the southern lumber camps to Agra for 30 cents and carried on to Denver, several hundred miles further, for 30 cents; while on the shipments within the state the rates are excessive and great discrimination’s abound. These are but a few examples.

These high-handed practices of transportation companies are a great burden on all producers, and especially upon farmers. These wrongs have been going on for years, and though we have made some laws, and the courts have given a few wholesome opinions, yet very little, if any, impression has been made upon the general evil, and it is certainly true that conditions in these respects are as bad as they ever were.

The question which confronts the farmer is, How shall these evils be remedied? It will never be done by anybody for you, and there will be no improvement of your conditions until you organize to take care of yourselves. Once, nearly all of the people lived in the open country. Now, one-half of them live in cities and towns. Once, the impulse that ruled the government was rural. Now, it’s urban. Once the idea of public men are sentimental. Now, they are commercial and called ‘practical’. Once the question was, is a thing right? Now the question is, will it pay?

These changed conditions make it necessary as never before, that the farmers of the country shall organize, as never before, and as one man, demand their rights. When this is done, and not until this is done, will the farmers resume that importance and that dignity that were once theirs. They will not only enjoy the benefits that are due them as the producers of all that sustains life, but the methods, notions and habits of all the people will be changed.

The restoration of the farmers to their proper place will greatly improve the morals of the country by causing a return to the permanent, stable and abiding manners, customs and morals which under urban influences have greatly deteriorated.

And now, gentlemen, wishing you every success in your most laudable work, I again extend you a most hearty welcome.”

David Overmyer was one of the really great lawyers of the west. Moreover, he was a power among men. He might easily have amassed a great fortune. But he didn’t. He was content to be simply prosperous and provident. Summed up tersely, he fought the people’s battles strictly as a matter of principle — and he did it to his own financial detriment.

An untarnished name will be written in history as the monument to David Overmyer’s illustrious and exemplary career.

—courtesy of Tom Giessel

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Words to Live By

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