Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nicodemus, Kansas: Gil Alexander.

I want to be a good farmer, but I also want to be a good steward too...but I’ve got a banker I’ve got to satisfy too, so I’ve got to grow those bushels.

It was hot and dry in Kansas.  And it had been dry for some time.  The farmers here in dryland counties were struggling, having no irrigation infrastructure, and with drought years fresh in their memories.  

As we traveled and made connections, looking for interesting people to talk to and farms to visit, at some point we called Edgar Hicks of the Kansas Black Farmers Association.  Groups and associations often gave us terrific leads and introduced us to farmers that we would never have met otherwise.  Edgar encouraged us to drive to Nicodemus, Kansas, a town 40 miles from the nearest interstate.  When we looked it up on a map, we saw a tiny footprint of 3 or 4 streets upon a backdrop of fields.  In Kansas, in farm country, the roads around the fields are set in one-mile-square grids.

There we met a number of great people, and learned about this historical community, the "only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War" according to its website.  The current population is roughly 40.  More on Nicodemus in the next post.

We met Gil Alexander, whom multiple people insisted we contact.  We met him on his farm in the evening, as the sun was getting low.  Thunderclouds were forming suggestively as we entered his house.  

When the interview was over, we went out into the darkness to take a photo.  Thunder could be heard, and Gil looked up into the clouds, hopefully.  We all smelled the stirred-up dust.  Then it rained.
I’m the family historian.  Whenever an aunt or uncle dies, the trunks all come to my house.  I’m actually fourth generation.  The whole thing was started by that gentleman right up there {points to a photograph}, Sam Garland.  He was a slave in Mississippi, he was half black; his mother was a Cherokee Indian.  They were gonna make a field hand out of him, so he ran off at the age of 14.  Worked on the Mississippi River as a cabin boy, and he eventually heard that Congress was forming the 24th and 25th Infantry in the 9th and 10th Calvary for black soldiers to serve.

Gil is one of few remaining farmers in the area, working about 2,700 acres of wheat, corn, and sorghum.  He is a founding member of the Kansas Black Farmers Association, and with that group is working on several projects.  He feels that they need to create a niche for themselves, as commodity prices and operation costs have not been friendly recently.  Some years ago, the railroad pulled out of town, making it harder and more expensive for Gil and his neighbors to offload their crops.

He is at times solemn and at times jolly as we talk, alternating between discussion of hardships and pleasures.  Like many farmers, he left the farm when he had the chance, and never intended to come back, but ended up in charge when he returned one season.

I’m a flatlander.  I like looking out my window and seeing the town 30 miles away.  While my dad was alive, we ran cattle and I worked at Winter Park Ski Resort during the winter.  I would leave Thanksgiving weekend, and dad could handle cattle by himself, and then about the second weekend of April I’d come back to the farm to work.  Guys out there thought I was nuts, arguably the most beautiful scenery in the world, right?  The Rocky Mountains.  And after about 2 months, man, I was going nuts, I was like, “I need to see what’s over there!”  I just couldn’t see far enough.


We asked about the KBFA and the associated projects, such as the Flour Co-op (he sent us off with a package of pancake mix, made from his white wheat flour and sewn up in a lovely little bag) and the Nicodemus Teff project, which hopes to grow and market teff to the American Ethiopian communities who can not import it from their home country.

[The KBFA] came together through Glickman vs. Pigford.  Remember the lawsuit?  Gosh, my timeline’s probably way off here, probably even 10 years ago.  Tim Pigford files a lawsuit against the USDA for discrimination.  It just went nationwide immediately.  In fact, there’s still some issues with it.  And because of that, we started going to different meetings to learn about the lawsuit.   I never will forget, we went to a meeting in Oklahoma City and I walked into a pretty good sized room, and there were probably 300-400 people there who were black farmers.  Which just blew my mind.  I had never really talked agriculture with  another black person before, it was just strange.  A lot of them were ranchers, still involved in agriculture.

Click the link to read the full interview.  Gil speaks about no-till farming, his wariness of the direction that his type of agriculture is going, and about why he feels so connected to this spot.

When we asked him, as we asked everybody, what the role of the farmer is society should be, he had one of my favorite answers:  

We should be kings.  Seriously, we feed y’all!


GIL ALEXANDER

I’m the family historian.  Whenever an aunt or uncle dies, the trunks all come to my house.  I’m actually fourth generation.  The whole thing was started by that gentleman right up there {points to a photograph}, Sam Garland.  He was a slave in Mississippi, he was half black; his mother was a Cherokee Indian.  He always worked with the livestock, worked with the horses.  And he got in trouble one day with the master’s son, or something happened.  Anyway, they were gonna make a field hand out of him, so he ran off at the age of 14.  Worked on the Mississippi River as a cabin boy, and he eventually heard that Congress was forming the 24th and 25th Infantry in the 9th and 10th Calvary for black soldiers to serve.

So he joined up with the 10th cavalry at Fort Leavenworth in 1867.  And because of his heritage, he served as a scout for the 10th cavalry company F; he could mingle with hostiles, get all their secrets, all that stuff.  So when he started at Fort Hayes, Fort Wallace, Fort Sherman, a lot of the forts out in this area, he did his five years, and when he got out in 1872, decided that he wanted to settle down back out here.  So he came back out, homesteaded some land; he was into everything, he was a politician, he had several implement dealerships in Nicodemus in his heyday, he actually led a group of other black settlers out to Manzanola, Colorado where there’s another black settlement. 

Anyway, that’s how my family got here.  And like I say, he’s my great-grandfather, so I’m 4th generation of doing this.  I guess that’s probably why I do it.  Like I said, I have my days and I’m going through one of my periods here, trying to make the books balance and figure out “okay, we’ve got the wheat cut, here’s what we’ve got to sell, how are we going to make this work for the next year?”  It really gets frustrating right at this time of year.

You know, there’s too much history and too much hard work for me to just walk away from it, so I guess… You know, I was just visiting with some of my friends, relatives who come back for the celebration, who are computer programmers and they’re making big bucks.  And I think “gosh…”.  Every now and then I think about that.  But I can leave my doors unlocked at night, so I guess that’s the bonus of it. 




Are you the only one in your family who farms?

Right now, yes.  I don’t have any children.  I’m separated right now.  I have a couple of nephews.  Neither one of them seem to have the aptitude for it.  So what I am thinking right now is more of an educational type…I’ve kind of been working with some friends of mine at K State with the minority agriculture program there, to be able to provide a place for minority kids who want to farm to come get a hands on type of thing. 

Right now I’m just trying to pay off…I inherited a heck of a lot of debt from my parents, so I’m trying to get that paid off and make the thing work right now, to just stay here.  That’s kind of top priority right now. 



How much acreage are you farming now?

My sister and I, we own 1200 acres together.  I’m farming right at 2700 right now with what I rent. 


So how has farming…I mean, you’ve been doing this your whole life, right?

Basically.  I grew up on it.  With it.  Hated it.  Graduated from high school, left, never coming back.  Got my degree in accounting in college, worked outside the farm for awhile, and came home to help with harvest one summer and never left.  My stuff’s still in the basement, packed, marked “kitchen”, “living room”. {laughs}

I still don’t know what happened, I really don’t. 


How has farming on this land changed for you over those years?

Oh…a lot has changed and a lot has not.  ‘Course we’re doing more and more no-till, trying to learn to farm in the Great American Desert.  Actually, the last two or three years it was kind of cool because we went to a wet cycle.  Gosh, you can grow all kinds of things when it rains.  Out here we’re semi-arid, so it was just kind of a bonus to have water standing.  Right now we’re going back into that dry cycle. 

But basically, the equipment, of course, is getting bigger, more expensive.   But I think that no-till and more of the chemical farming is the biggest change that I can see.  And I’m still not quite…financially, or economically it hasn’t quite penciled out for me yet to go completely no-till.  I would have sprayers I’d have to hire, all that type of thing.  But for the moisture conservation part of it, really it makes a difference.   I think that’s one of the biggest changes. 

And a lot of that scares me too because of all the chemicals we are using; we’re starting to see this Roundup-Ready corn, Roundup-Ready milo, stuff like that, and now we’ve got weeds that we can’t kill with it.  That’s your go-to chemical for getting rid of stuff.  I don’t know, but that’s one of the biggest changes I can see. 


What are the biggest issues you’re dealing with now, and what has come up over the years?

The biggest issue, I think…oh gosh, there’s so many…but the commodity markets are just insane.  Edgar {Hicks} was a commodity broker by trade and guys like him are sitting around scratching their head, like they don’t know what’s going on.  I was out on the combine, we were actually out cutting wheat, and we get $4 here first part of July, and I picked up my cell phone and sold all I had cut, I think for like $4.14.  Harvest was over, it kind of fluctuated, went up and down, went up, I sold a bunch more for $4.55, and last Friday it closed at $5.15.  And no one knows…what’s driving this market?  You get like 18 different answers, nobody knows.  There’s no set…you know, you can’t sit down and study and try to make an educated decision on what to do.  I mean there’s no patterns to follow or anything, it’s just nuts.  So you just king of get your chicken bones and go from there!



I’m not as familiar with the wheat market as some of the other commodities; are you able to harvest and hold it in your bins for a fair amount of time, wait for the market…

Yeah, I do have…I’m sitting on about 10,000 out in the bins right now.  Yeah, if you’re able.  My big thing is, I got this debt I’m servicing.  My equipment is old, getting older.  I’ve got a combine out there, I bought it used, I believe it’s a ’98 or ’99, with beaucoup hours on it; my tractors got like almost 8,000 hours on it.  And you know, there’s no way I can pencil out going out and buying new equipment, it just doesn’t work.  I just gotta make…

That’s another thing that just blows my mind.  When I was in high school, of course I wanted nothing to do with the farm.  So any industrial arts or anything like that, you know, I wasn’t going to need that, so here I am at the tender age of 50, teaching myself to weld.  But getting her done!  Yeah.  Machinery prices are just…you know…off the charts.  And I don’t want to work hard enough to buy a new tractor, you know what I mean?   I have a friend of mine, who plants my fall crops for me.  He bought a 16-year-old planter, I believe it is, John Deer, really nice, a nice Caterpillar tractor he pulls it with, and during planting season he runs that thing 24 hours a day, planting for everybody, just to make payments on the thing.  I mean, I’m not afraid of hard work, but hey, I just don’t want to work that hard.

And land out here, it’s just gone nuts.  That’s out of our hands because we’ve got a lot of…are you familiar with the CRP program?  A lot of that is coming out this year.  In fact they just had a new signup on a 15 year plan that I need to go and check on, but we have a lot og out-of-towners, hunters, who are buying up tracts of CRP for hunting, and you get 3 or 4 guys go together, they can afford to pay 12, 13, 14, 15 hundred dollars an acre for something that we would pay 6 or 700 an acre for.  Now we can’t compete with that.  We’re trying to make a living off of it, and they want to come out and play.  Which, you know, that’s all part of the economy too, we welcome hunters and all of that, but we can’t compete with them driving the land prices up. 


Are you renting land from those kind for folks or are they just keeping it for their own use?

They’re keeping it for their own use.  Very little of it is farmed.  They want to keep it as wild and as animal-friendly as possible, bird-friendly.   And a guy like me or the neighbors, we just can’t compete with that type of buying power. 


So what would be some changes you would like to see in the larger ag system?

Oh gosh.  You know, I don’t really think about that much.   I’d like to see equipment prices come down, I’d like to see the commodity prices at least stay in sync with fuel prices and food prices and everyday living expenses.  Less government in it.   You know, the United States gets mad at Cuba and they put an embargo on wheat.  What kind of sense does that make? 

I don’t mind paying a fair price for something if it’s fair, and I like to get a fair price for my work, to put it simply.  Right now it’s not even close.  At my age…and this is my life, I poured everything into this, and I can’t just not do it.  I can’t afford to retire.  I’m buying lottery tickets once a week but so far…{chuckles}.  I get up and go to work in the morning. 

But I don’t mean for it to all be negative.  It’s a good life.  It’s hard work.  I’m a country boy, I found out, after being away from the farm for awhile.  I love it here.  I’m a flatlander.  I like looking out my window and seeing the town 30 miles away. 

While my dad was alive, we ran cattle and I worked at Winter Park Ski Resort during the winter.  I would leave Thanksgiving weekend, and dad could handle cattle by himself, and then about the second weekend of April I’d come back to the farm to work.  Guys out there thought I was nuts, arguably the most beautiful scenery in the world, right?  The Rocky Mountains.  And after about 2 months, man, I was going nuts, I was like, “I need to see what’s over there!”  I just couldn’t see far enough.

Yeah, this is home, so…I’m gonna be here until says different, I guess. 


What do you imagine the future of this being?  If you don’t have anybody in line to take it over…

I have some really good neighbors of mine who are like family, who I would make sure got it.  They just live a mile east of us, a white family.  We grew up a mile apart.  His youngest son is farming.  He’s actually a graduate from K-State in agricultural something or other.  You know, if my plan for an educational or a school farm falls through I’m going to make sure that they got it.  I would like for the ownership to stay in the family, or at least part of it, but make sure that they farmed it. 

But I don’t know.  You’re just seeing bigger and bigger operators, buying more and more land and getting bigger and bigger.  A friend of mine lives right outside of Norton, he farms in 5 different counties.  And it’s just insane, trying to move equipment, and he actually has to buy equipment to leave in this county because it’s too expensive to road it over…and it’s just…you know, they just keep getting bigger and it looks like to me like it’s, I don’t know, almost an organism that’s alive.  I just don’t want any part of that.  I’m blessed right now, my furthest field that I farm’s 7 miles over in that direction.  I’ve been known to walk or ride my bike back and forth if I want.

And that’s scary too, the family farm…you know, that’s one of the neat things about harvest, is…and my sister, she’s kind of a forward-thinking old gal, but my neighbors over here, the ones I grew up with, a lot of times we harvest together, we kind of pool our equipment, we pool our trucks, and pool our labor together.  Cathy – that’s Bob’s wife – she does dinnertime like you would not believe in the harvest field.  I mean, she brings it out, mashed potatoes and gravy and thermoses, all spread out, and everybody stops and eats on the tailgate and all that.  To me, that’s just living.  I just live for that.  Sharon, you know, she might drop by, throw a sandwich at you if you’re lucky, but…

But that type of thing, I don’t see it…you know, I think it’s gonna be a thing of the past. 


The family farm?

Yeah.  My grand-nieces and –nephews, my nephew’s kids, they live down near Ruidoso, New Mexico with their mom; I took them home, about three weeks ago I guess, and I was driving up through Clovis and Portales New Mexico, and some of the big dairies and the hog farms and…I just look at that and it just…I don’t know, it’s scary.  But you’re seeing more and more of it.  Such is the world is going to, bigger is better, I guess.


Have you always felt pretty supported by your community around here?

Oh yeah.  Yeah.  And that’s not always a good thing {laughs}.  I’d have probably been out of here it wasn’t for... {laughs}  Yeah, oh yeah, big support.  And the fact that, not only are small farmers a dying breed, but a small black farmer is even rarer.  So, got that pressure too, jeeze!

But as far as community support, yeah.  A lot.   Harvest time, people are like, “if you need a truck driver just holler, anything you need!”  Yeah.   Get a lot of that.  


What’s your role with the organization…

Kansas Black Farmers Association?



Yeah.  How does that…

Actually, that started…we came together through Glickman vs. Pigford.  Remember the lawsuit?  Gosh, my timeline’s probably way off here, probably even 10 years ago.  Tim Pigford out of Louisiana…somewhere down south…files a lawsuit against the USDA for discrimination.  It just went nationwide immediately.  In fact, there’s still some issues with it.  And because of that, we started going to different meetings to learn about the lawsuit.   I never will forget, we went to a meeting in Oklahoma City and I walked into a pretty good sized room, and there were probably 300-400 people there who were black farmers.  Which just blew my mind.  I had never really talked agriculture with  another black person before, it was just strange.  A lot of them were ranchers, still involved in agriculture.

So anyway, that’s kind of how we got together.  After the lawsuit kind of died down, there was a few farmers in Eastern Kansas…we call ourselves the Kansas Black Farmers Association, but basically it’s the few, 2, 3, 4 of us that are out here.  Out of the KBFA we formed the Nicodemus Flour Co-op, which will be running our flour mill and responsible for the pancake mix. 

We have RC&D {Resource Conservation and Development}, which has been a big help, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that program?


And we read about the teff project…

Right, right.  In fact we have a teff field day coming up here, you guys should stay for that.  Oh, remind me to talk about teff too.

They {RC&D} have been a big help with the logistics of putting everything together, helping us with grant writing.  We just finished a 5 year plan which drove me nuts.  My cousin, Gary, he farms right west of Nicodemus, he’s even worse that I am, just hates going to meetings.  But I’m the guy who sits out on the tractor, I’m not the one setting here trying to hammer out a 5 year plan.  Well anyway, we got through it.  And one of the things in our 5 year plan, what we hope to be able to do…

We’ve got descendants all over the world, especially all over the United States, who have their roots, have their ties in Nicodemus.  And a lot of those people are well off, I mean they’ve done well for themselves.  So one of the things we want to do is to create a database so when there’s land for sale in the area we can let our people know about it.  So they can buy a piece of Nicodemus township, get back home. 

There was a house that came for sale just right on the highway west of Nicodemus not too far from here, not long ago, a really nice house.  The guy that built it decided to move to the Ozarks.  And when they advertised the house, it was on television and the newspaper and the sale bills… “So many miles from Hill City, so many miles from Bogue…”  Nicodemus was never even mentioned.  I mean, it’s in Nicodemus township, right?   And it just dawned on us that if one of our descendants would have known about it…and in fact there’s several of them like, “Man, wish we’d have known that was for sale, we’d have bought it.”  I don’t mean to sound prejudicial or anything, but white people just don’t realize that black people do have means to buy land and want to buy land, and want to get back to home, so to speak.  

So that’s one of the things we hope to do with the KBFA is be able to have that database where we can connect buyers with sellers if necessary as well as help each other with machinery pools, just help each other survive out here. 

My focus really is on the white wheat project, that’s been a dream of mine for a long time to be able to mill our own white wheat flour.  In fact, this year, this fall, I plan to plant white wheat and hopefully things will roll along, where in the next couple of years we’ll be…we have a small mill now, call it a hobby mill, where we can do just little small batches.




What kind of wheat are you growing at the moment?

Hard winter red.  And that requires, ah, you’re a baker so you know what has to come out of the red wheat, the endosperm, separating, all that, to make it millable.  But we found that white wheat you can get away with grinding everything, so…


So do you see a lot of younger folks interested in farming around the area?  I mean, you’re talking about the program at the University, is it…

Not in the area, but they are out there.  And I don’t know whether the availability or the opportunity is a problem, or if it’s interest.  I can’t answer that.  And that’s white or black, I don’t know.   None of my classmates or anything like that…everybody booked, even the kids who were farm.  They all left.  There’s a couple of younger guys, maybe 3 or 4 years behind me in school that stayed around the farm.  And I find that they’re just gong nuts, getting bigger and bigger, driving themselves… One guy I saw the other day and he looked 10 years older than I am.

If you’re not grown into it or if you don’t have a family member that has land, as far as saying “I want to go farm,” you know, there are programs that are geared for beginning farmers, but man…starting out.  That would be…I would say, “run”.  I really would.  Takes some serious money, some serious banking.  And everything, a lot of things, would have to go right to get up and running. 



Are there programs out there for minorities to encourage…

Yeah, there are.  But…I’ve learned more about it just since the lawsuit with the USDA.  Growing up out here you grow colorblind, you just go work.  I was talking to a friend of mine the other day that had to remind me, he says, “Don’t you think that was discrimination?” I don’t even remember what happened now, but I’m like, “Well, you know, maybe it was.”  I just don’t…I don’t deal like that. 

But yeah, there are programs available but I’ve never taken advantage of any of them.  And now that I’m an established farmer, I don’t know what would be out there.  Supposedly after the lawsuit, minorities, or socially disadvantaged I think is the word they use now, are supposed to have top priority as far as loans and things like that.  I’ve dealt with FHA loans before, and I just hope I never have to get back involved with another one. 

I’m not saying it’s all bad, but there’s so, so, so much bookkeeping involved nowadays.  And me being alone here right now I have to do it all, I have to do the action on the tractor and some nights come in and get it all on paper.  Which isn’t bad, a lot of it’s on computer.  I do all my accounting on computer, which is really a blessing at tax time.  Press a button and just take it up there.


Do you think that…are policies discriminatory?  Or have they been?

{pauses} Mm-hm. 


Do you think they are still?

Mm-hm.  You’re gonna ask me why. 



I’d love to know, yeah.

{pauses}  Maybe not discriminatory in the sense of race.  Discriminatory in the sense of, if you don’t already have it, you can’t get it.  Does that make sense?  And out here it’s so different than in Mississippi, too.  I have visited with some of those guys down there and it just…you know, what’s subtle out here is so blatant down there.  Those guys are really…it’s really been rough.

I’m on the county FSA {Farm Service Agency} committee here, have served off and on the last 12 years.  My dad served on it back in the, oh, probably late ‘60’s.  So my family’s always been involved in the policy making, at least on a local level.  So I’ve never really felt discrimination as being a part of it.  But I know it was.  But it’s just that we weren’t geared that way to think about it.  The way the policies are written, you almost have to already be a successful farmer in order to succeed.  I know that sounds crazy.

They say, “yeah, we can give you a low-interest loan,” but they tie your hands.  Let’s say I start a small cattle herd.  And they tie your hands to where you can’t get the things you need to help the herd grow or…I don’t know, it’s hard for me to explain it.  But yeah, it’s there for sure. 



Now what’s the goal of the teff project going on here?

Teff.  Teff is Edgar {Hicks}’s brainchild.  We were trying to find an alternative crop, trying to fill that niche market.  We started out as teff-for-grain. Teff is actually the smallest seed grain known to man.  {goes and gets a bag to show us}  Some of the attributes  when it’s ground into flour are similar to wheat flour. 

Our experimentation was that out here, however, it’s really catching on for a forage crop.  Guys are nuts about it for their horses.  I’m told that in England, or in Europe somewhere, some thoroughbreds eat nothing but teff, it’s their exclusive diet.  A lot of guys like it here for weaning calves.  And so we’re having our field day on Thursday, for forage teff. 

We’re having a hard time harvesting the stuff, a seed that small.



Falls right through the combine doesn’t it?

Well yeah, a lot of duct tape involved.  There’s a guy in Oklahoma who farms a considerable amount of acreage of it, who does harvest with a combine.  He windrows it first, and manages to thresh it.  We bought what was called a Flail-Vac, which is basically a machine with a brush on it.  Didn’t have a lot of success with it.

But it’s an Ethiopian staple, they make the bread called injera.  Ethiopia banned exportation of teff to the United States.  So the Ethiopian community here in the United States can’t get it, so they’re willing to pay almost anybody anything to get the grain or to get the flour.  We get calls from all over, “can you send us a truckload?” 




How close is the nearest Ethiopian community?

There’s a community in Wichita actually.  Edgar {Hicks} was working with a lady in Minneapolis I believe, and she bought a lot of our first crop that we were able to harvest and actually get the seed off of.  But it was very labor intensive.  We almost had to do it like they do in Ethiopia, to throw it up in the air, let the wind…I mean, it’s just hard to deal with, a seed that small.

But anyway, that’s something else we’re kind of messing with through the KBFA with RC&D’s help.  And things like that are kind of cool.  It breaks the monotony of what you do every day when you can kind of play around with something like that.


I imagine most everyone around here is doing the corn, wheat, soy rotation, yeah?

Yeah, corn, wheat, sorghum.  See soybeans every now and then.  You’ll be going out toward irrigation country, you’ll start to see a lot more corn.  Right here in our area we’re mainly dryland, so sorghum, corn, and wheat, that’s about it.  Every now and then some sunflowers. 


What do you think that the role of the farmer should be in this society?

We should be kings.  Seriously, we feed y’all!  You guys aren’t farmers are you?


Grew up on one.

Okay, well, we feed you.


Thank you!

{laughs}  You know, in a way we’re cutting our own throat in that sense that we’ve learned to grow more on less.  I sometimes wonder what’s going to happen down the road.  When I was speaking earlier about the no-till and all the chemicals and all the fertilizers we’re using running down into our streams and waters, you know, that’s another lifetime before we know the whole full impact of what we’re doing.

But as far as the role of the farmer…farming…farming’s been forever, I mean hunters and gatherers…and then you learn to farm.  It’s the backbone, it’s what supports, makes the whole thing go around.  I know people, especially urban folks, don’t see it that way.

Back in the ‘70’s, the tractor parade to Washington and all of that…Farmers are such an independent lot, to get two to think alike is just impossible, but to get a strike of some sort, “okay, let’s just feed ourselves and forget about the world for awhile and see what happens, how quickly we can bring them to their knees”…you know, thinking diabolically here, but it could happen.  If we quit growing the food, raising the beef, the pork, the chickens.  I know there’s a lot of people out there who eat tofu and cous cous and whatnot, but there’s a heck of a lot of them that eat meat and potatoes too.

But it seems that it’s the other way around, that we get the short end of the stick most of the time for whatever reason.  I’m not saying that for sympathy, that’s just the way it is. 


How do you think farmers could gain appreciation from non-farmers?

How we can gain appreciation from them?  Wow, never even thought of that before.


I mean, just about everybody would say that there’s a disconnect between people and their food…

I feel sorry for most urban people.  I mean, they’re so far…I mean, farming’s not only the growing of the food, it’s the whole cycle of life.  The chicken and the egg and the calf being born, and nursing and growing to be beef, the seed being planted, watching it grow and mature into…I mean, it’s the way everything works, and most urban people are so far removed from that that they’re just clueless.  Thinking chocolate milk comes from brown cows and stuff like that, it’s like…it’s…I feel sorry for them really. 

I would think it would be good for them to know at least some of what goes into what they eat, how it gets to their table.  You know, Discovery channel every now and then, they do a good job when they do a show on the combine and the wheat and how it’s harvested and all that, might give them a clue.  You know…I think they’re just basically clueless.  Ignorant to the whole…and there’s so much more to it than just farming, like I say, it’s just a way of life. 

I think urban kids especially could learn so much if they could get that root or that underlying understanding of how life begins and ends, how you can apply it maybe. 


We have some practical questions.  When we were in Pennsylvania we met folks doing organic no-till.  Is anybody doing that around here?

My cousin is experimenting a little bit on a very small scale.  The leach out time to get to organic is something like 7 years, isn’t it?


You mean to be certified?

Right.


I mean, even if not certified, just the practice of it…

Right, right, and I mean, organic produce man, it sells for…it’s valuable.  There’s another niche market.  For me it would be just the gearing up, getting to…I mean, I got out of the cattle business about 7 years ago.  I was buying feed for them, and it just wasn’t penciling out so I sold my herd and rented out my pasture.  Not having the organic fertilizer, so to speak {the manure} to use…I can’t imagine farming without fertilizer. 

I can remember as a kid when we first started using anhydrous ammonia.  I remember our neighbor over to the east on a field right next to us.  We planted without it and he used it, and dad was just like, “woww.”  From then on we’ve always used some type of fertilizer. 

I want to be a good farmer, but I also want to be a good steward too, I don’t want to abuse the soil or when I leave here leave it to a point where no one can do anything with it, like a barren…but I’ve got a banker I’ve got to satisfy too, so I’ve got to grow those bushels.  So I can’t imagine farming without fertilizer. 

{thunder is heard overhead}  Oh, that sounds good.

It’s that drive and that pressure to produce to produce more bushels on less acres, you know.  Unless a guy came out here that was independently wealthy and didn’t have a banker to make happy. 


Where does most of the wheat go from here?  Does a lot of it end up being export?

Oh yeah.  And that’s another thing that really killed us commodity-wise.  They took our railroads out.  So, everything has to go by truck.  The main railhead now is the line that runs through Hayes, basically follows I-70.  From there it makes its way down to the gulf.  And export to wherever, I guess.  They claim there are stockpiles of wheat everywhere right now, but I don’t know where it is or what they’re doing with it.  It’s odd when there’s so much hunger in the world.  They’ll send over 2 or 3 billion dollars, well why not send over some wheat?  Whatever.  I don’t make those decisions.

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