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40 Acres and a Mule

Lately, I have been thinking about the phrase, “40 acres and a mule.”  My perspective of what this actually may have looked like, back in the 1800s when our government was giving out land, is colored by the fact that part of our farm is horse powered. Although my hunch is that not all of those 40 acres were being farmed, I can pretty much guarantee that that farmer/mule team was always moving J. 

At the last National American Farm Bureau (AFB) convention in Seattle, the AFB president said, “There are those in America that want us to return to the days of 40 acres and mule,” and, of course, he followed up with, “and we are not going back there.”  Why was he making such a big deal about not going back to 40 acres and mule? Everyone knows that only a few of us farmers are using real horse power and the rest are using John Deere or Case or Kubota or New Holland. 

I believe the reason the AFB president made this statement is because the public—yes, the consumer—prefers to eat food from smaller family farms like mine.  But the reality is that most of our food comes from mega farms and mega corporations, and their mega operations are not nearly as pretty and picturesque as my farm.  In fact, our beef cows actually eat real green grass, and our vegetables are raised more like a family garden, and our family lives and works on our farm.  I highly doubt that the presidents of mega food operations have ever farmed in their lives. I do believe that the founders of those mega farms probably did farm and did manage the farms directly, but today all the decisions are made from a corporate boardroom.

But what is the rub? Why did the AFB president call out “40 acres and a mule?” I believe it has to do with advertising—dishonest advertising. In fact, one could argue that it is a case of stolen identity.

Whoa Katie (that’s my draft horse’s name)!!! What do I mean? Well, if you look at all the advertising around meat products (a.k.a., the protein industry), for example, what do you see?  Cows on grass, a beautiful old barn in the background, and a barnyard of different farm animals. In fact, you could very well be looking at a picture of an old time farm run by a farm family and a mule. (Hmmm, that looks like the Klesick Family Farm.) All of the advertising by mega operations implies that they are still raising animals just like grandpa did prior to 1940.  Yet, if the American corporate farm is so proud of their food, why don’t they advertise pictures of their factories and factory farms? Why do they have to advertise their products with a picture of grandpa’s farm? The fact is, it would hurt their sales and quite possibly require them to change the way they raise food. 

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the way corporate America raises food. We always hear how American farmers raise the safest and most healthy food in the world. If America’s food is so great then why are Americans so sickly? So I say to corporate America, “If you are so proud of your products and you believe in your farming practices, then advertise your feedlots, your hog operations, and chicken farms for what they are and let the consumer decide what food is healthy and what food they want to buy. Just quit hiding behind my farm!”

Tristan Klesick