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Ag-Industrial Complex Cloaks Itself in Myth

University of Iowa hydroscientist and engineer Chris Jones says Iowa farmers enjoy a lot of mythmaking that smells more like corporate image-management than reflection of reality:

The 40,000 full time and similar number of part time Iowa farmers are outnumbered by several professions, including frequently vilified teachers, but yet we’ve made farmers the soul of the state. We’re asked to thank them at every turn and we groom our school children to hold them in the highest regard (1). We bestow favorable tax policy upon them along with public money to bolster and indemnify their operations. We bless the damage their overweight vehicles and equipment impart to our roads and bridges and most aggravating, turn a blind eye to their pollution.

Our politicians swoon like teen age girls when these barnyard Beatles take the stage, and in unity with them don the phony pharmer chic of denim and flannel, pro-wrestling-sized belt buckles, and boots. Especially boots—not shiny new Tony Lamas, but scuffed square toed shit kickers that track dust and manure crud and cred across every carpet they touch, just so you’ll know their veins course with farmer blood and their feet are caked with dirt road mud. It’s almost like John Travolta and Debra Winger were running our state. Years and beers may have made my memory a little hazy these days, but I sure don’t remember Harold Hughes and Bob Ray (Iowa governors from Ida Grove and Des Moines in the 60s and 70s) acting like this, back when real farmers didn’t ask the public to fawn over them, and we weren’t required to put a salve on their festering insecurities with buffoonish ‘feed the world’ and ‘god made a farmer’ baloney.

(It did come to me that Hughes may have worn a bolo tie with a flannel shirt in public once in a while.)

It’s interesting that the myth of the Iowa farmer has grown inversely with the level of their toil and travail but in lockstep with their wealth and the number of paid mythmakers that loiter around the industry like barking hyenas. Like Graves and his cowboys, I have some fond remembrances of Iowa and the Iowa farmer that existed in my childhood and before. But over the last 40 years, the myth has become ever less objectively based and the myth creation ever more sophisticated, which I suppose is necessary because it exists almost solely on nostalgia and the power of propaganda [Chris Jones, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Farmers,” blog, 2022.10.09].

Politicians dressing up in checked shirts and machine-scuffed tractor caps, marketers cashing in on sanctification of their industry… Iowa’s not the only place where such farm-fantastification happens.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-10-24 07:36

    Barge traffic on most of the Mississippi River is done for the season so whatever Republicans in do in Congress to buy off voters has those on the extreme white wing of that party like John Thune, Mike Rounds, Chuck Grassley and the like are wringing their hands and spinning yarns about how America needs Koch fertilizer. What an effing racket.

  2. Donald Pay 2022-10-24 10:08

    The farmers that I knew from my boyhood were my uncles. They worked hard during the 50s and 60s, but the work then wasn’t as hard as what my mom and my uncles and aunt experienced on the farm during the 30s. They used horses to plow and assist in the heavy work, but otherwise it was all by hand. They grew a lot of crops and had all the farm animals and their manure to tend to. It was an organic farm, when all farms were organic. Electrification and mechanization followed by chemical weed and pest control lightened the workload, and made possible the monoculture and the summer fishing trips to Canada. I remember when one of my uncles decided to stop planting flax and oats and barley, and turned his farm into a corn/bean operation. “Bean” is what they called soybean, but, as a kid, I thought they were planting green beans.

    My uncles were the men of myth to me. For one, at family gatherings they piled huge amounts of all sorts of food on top of each other. I was amazed at the amount of food that mixed together. I was a picky eater. I tried to imagine the bowel movement. One year I decided to try eating that way, with all the food mixed together. Man, that was good. Even foods I didn’t like tasted good.

    Every line of work creates myths around the job. Grocery baggers have contests to determine who can bag groceries fastest, and the winners become national heros. I get a little tired with the “god made a farmer” nonsense. If you are a believer, which I’m not, god made you, too, so celebrate yourself, even if you spend your day doing some sh*t job. You are a man, or woman of myth.

  3. All Mammal 2022-10-24 15:16

    Trying to lease a little land from a farmer is not easy. I understand the water aspect. I just want to grow food and can haul my own water tank weekly for all my watering. It is almost like they do not want anyone to demonstrate how readily it can be done with basic back-bending and dirty, dirty hands. Asking to rent a fraction of a fraction of 1% of a corner with daily access is like asking for free bull semen. If the work of growing food wasn’t so concentrated, we wouldn’t be so vulnerable. If anything goes wrong, from drought to hail, to locust plague, etc, we are all hungry. Monsanto could decide to triple the cost of seed or the cereal factory could burn down. Many hands make light work and the more intimate the farmer is with nature, the more love the good earth will reciprocate into the food we consume. Scientists agree that its not just hippie hoopla.

  4. Jake 2022-10-24 18:24

    All Mammal-you are right on. Keep looking, you’ll find one out there. When more people have their sweat in it, the better the country will be. Our problem is too many ‘takers’ not enough ‘givers’.
    These ‘takers’ are blinded by “it’s all about ME-isms”..

  5. Ryan 2022-10-25 09:09

    mammal – i would suggest renting some ground from a non-farming landowner. they’re everywhere ’round here. you just have to pay them more than they get by farming it themselves or renting to somebody else. i’ve worked with hundreds of farmers as owners and renters, and the only consistency among them (other than their often undeserved feelings of martyrdom) is that money talks.

  6. All Mammal 2022-10-25 14:29

    Thanks guys. Your helpful suggestions will be employed. I’ve run into a conundrum trying to get a foot in with my own family. Half suspect I’m trying to cultivate weed and the other half are disappointed I want to grow food and not marijuana.
    We will feast on a bountiful cornucopia soon(:

  7. Ryan 2022-10-25 14:50

    i think growing both food and cannabis is your winning ticket.

  8. HydroGuy 2022-10-27 17:16

    Late to the party on this one, but it’s a banner day when my favorite blogger cites my second favorite blogger! Keep preaching the inconvenient truth!!

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