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.