By Mike Callicrate |September 19, 2003
Presented to the Catholic Bishops gathering in Washington, DC…
Standing before the rickety abandoned farmstead the young man asked, “What happened Grandpa?” Well son, the same thing happened to me and Grandma that happened to my grandparents in Ireland. We were driven from our land and home by low prices.
Like others on the land, we worked hard to produce the food to feed the nation, trusting that our works would have its reward and that we could live out our hopes and dreams. We know now that the markets didn’t work for us, they only worked for those who bought our grain and livestock. The big grain and meat packing companies were making record profits while we were going bankrupt.
Son, I remember when we were losing this farm. Grandma and I felt like we had failed. We felt so alone. We thought it was something we had done wrong.
Grandma had two jobs in town and I had one. No matter how hard we worked, it just wasn’t enough. We were convinced we had failed not only as farmers, but we worried we had also failed our ancestors and our children, including your father and even you.
The government, our universities, and our own producer organizations kept telling us we had to become more efficient and that we had to continue to lower our costs. They told us, if we were struggling, it was our fault, not theirs. They told us we were just bad managers. They said low prices were a cycle and things would get better. Despite what we were told, we knew then and we know now that we really were efficient and low cost producers.
Son, as I look back on it, I can’t blame Grandma for what she did. I was suffering, too. I only wish she was still with me today. Looking back, maybe I was better able to fight the depression big corporate and government economics put on us. I worked outside, closer to God’s daily miracles. But you know, son, there is something about working on the land, caring for livestock, the feel and smell of the soil, the caring for God’s blessings and creations that brings you closer to the understanding of what is really important in America. People like us will farm for very little income. We will fight the droughts and the blizzards. We love our country and what we do so much.
You see son, when it’s money and power that you think you need, you can never get enough. People are what really matter. Respecting the wonderful human spirit in all of us is what is most important. Doing unto others as we would have others do unto us, and investing today in our children’s futures by caring for God’s gift to us, the land, is what Grandma and I believed.
Most of us, so fortunate as to grow up on our farms and ranches, know this. We know that the land provides for everyone. We know how to help create the wealth that drives our nation’s economy. For these reasons, I worry about our nation on the long road towards losing its farmers and ranchers, and with that, our connection to the land.
Still, there are people fighting for farmers and ranchers. I know it is too late for many of us, but it is still probably the most important fight there is. After all, it’s about economic freedom allowing people all around the world to feed themselves and to care for the land, so the land can continue to provide wealth for all people, not just a few big corporations. It’s about people everywhere sharing in the prosperity, not just creating prosperity for a few.
A few years ago Grandma and I attended a meeting at the livestock auction. A man told us it was the market power of big corporations that was the cause of our low prices, not oversupply like everyone else was saying. He said, “You are making too little because those who buy your farm commodities are taking too much of the consumer dollar.” He instilled hope in that crowd that night. He was so determined to do something about the problem. We thought maybe there was a chance for us to survive.
I was so proud of Grandma when she fought her way through the crowd to tell him to keep up the good work. But then I was so embarrassed when she told him that he should tell everyone that he spoke to, to not be too proud to accept welfare. She said, “We wouldn’t be here tonight if we hadn’t taken food stamps.”
Grandma seemed to do better for awhile after that meeting, but then the taxes were due, and we missed another mortgage payment. We lost too many calves in the spring blizzard. When we couldn’t pay our doctor bills she seemed to just give up. I pray that she is with God. I believe she is, I feel her spirit helping me through each day.
Son, all things considered, I think there is still hope. I believe people are beginning to understand the importance of what our family and others have done so well for generations. Thankfully, today we are beginning to hear God’s message crying out from the pulpit, answering prayers to help his people of the land. I believe we are making progress. Maybe with God’s help, farmers and ranchers will be given the opportunity to do what we love for ourselves and our country.
Grandpa, “I’ve heard all you have said. I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it a lot, and, if you don’t mind, I think I want to be a farmer!”