Monday, January 25, 2010

An American Tragedy

This sylvan, romantic view of rural America may be your vision of a dairy farm. A far less pretty picture exists today and it was illustrated by the death of a New York dairy farmer.

Dean Pierson will be buried this week. Police say he was a troubled man. But people who knew him, fellow farmers, say his despondency was in no small part a result of the crisis that every small dairy farm has been living with for the past year.

Pierson left a note on the barn door, telling whoever found it not to come in, to call the police. Police say he killed his 51 milk cows, the cows that he milked every morning and every night. Then he turned the gun on himself.

He spared fifty others; heifers and calves who wouldn't suffer if he wasn't there to milk them every day.

It's not an isolated incident. Another dairy farmer in Maine, one who's desperately scrambling to market a new independent label, Moo Milk, after he and his neighbors were dumped by Hood, said there have been other farmer suicides in Maine. He says he's heard of similar stories in California. A New York hotline for farmers reports suicides are up.

The few milk distributors who control the market are showing a profit. Supply is down, gas prices are down, too. But dairy farmers are actually losing money - it costs them more to produce milk than they can sell it for.

I come from a farm family; my mom grew up on a farm. My cousin still farms, though it's become a very different world and he now plows hundreds of acres that he doesn't own.

I hate factory farms; they're inhumane, they unsafe, they're unsustainable. I do not believe that "milk does a body good". But I am so sorry for those few farmers who are trying to continue a lifestyle they've loved, that many of them have learned from their fathers, their grandfathers, for generations.

My condolences go out to Dean Pierson's family. His widow told the local paper she's hoping she can keep the farm going. I understand. It's the life she knows; it's the life her husband loved.

Something is very wrong. Farmers will tell you the problem is they're regulated while the market is flooded with milk from overseas that isn't regulated at all. Experts will tell you there's hardly anyone who understands milk pricing anymore.
Legislators call for an anti-trust investigation of the handful of companies that control the entire industry. Critics will say the government's subsidies have ruined the farmer.

I don't know the answer. But I do know that the problems led one farmer to such despair that he killed himself and his cows.


ArtSparker said...

A dreadful story. ConAgra and other corporations controlling the nation's food supply have a lot to answer for.

Susan said...

Sadly, it's like the Haiti earthquake phenomenon - enough tragedy and the story behind the story gets noticed.

laura228 said...

How incredibly sad. My heart goes out to his family.

Dairy farmers are hard working people and deserve to get a fair price for their milk. Corporations should not be allowed to make record profits and pay million dollar bonuses to their executives while paying farmers less than the cost of production for their milk. Consumers should not be overpaying for the milk they purchase in stores.

There's value in buying local and knowing where your food comes from.

Susan said...

I think there's a revolution in our food habits brewing. The growing incidence of contaminated food, the concerns about factory farms' unsustainability, the effects on our children's health - the evidence is mounting.

I don't think it's going to be an overnight change; it will be a gradual change as one family after another decides that they want to know that their food IS food.

It has already begun. Jonathan Foer's "Eating Animals" is an excellent overview. It's not a vegetarian manifesto - it's an examination of factory farming and it will shock you.

Local food, local farmers. Know where what you feed your children and yourself comes from.

The benefits won't be just for the people who buy local food; it will save the farmers who grow it.

Barry said...

How profoundly sad. I hate the entire idea and inherent cruelty of factory farms myself.

pinkpackrat said...

Another nail in the coffin of agribusiness. This madness has got to stop. What a sad and horrible story. We need to wake up before the family farm is completely gone