I love the Independent and have read it for years, but I found this particular piece very irritating and very arrogant. Let me clarify first that I am not a "gentleman farmer" nor even a gardener, and I buy my vegetables as often at the grocery store as the farmer's market.
I agree with the comments of Mojo above that small farmers are much more threatened by the large corporate farms and the climate change than by old Mr. McDooly who sells his "maters" from a table by his mailbox.
However, I was more concerned about Mr. Larson's tone and the assumptions he made about "gentleman farmers".
First off, Mr. Larson contends that "gentleman farmers" farm for "pleasure" rather than "the need for money"? How does Mr. Larson know this to be true? These are tough financial times, and there are many, many people out there who rely on small side jobs to make ends meet. Even if a particular "gentleman farmer" uses his "extra" funds to support his "hobby" -- which, in turn, provides him with soul-fulfilling activity, reduced stress and fresh tomatoes for his salads -- who is Mr. Larson to judge him? I would like to know if Mr. Larson is able to support himself fully with funds from his work with the Independent of if he does any work "on the side"? If so, is Mr. Larson then stealing food from the mouths of someone else's child who legitimately makes a full-time living doing that kind of work full-time?
Secondly, Mr. Larson makes some snide remarks as to why the "gentleman farmer" might farm including to "inflate ego". Really? Isn't opinion-writing with accompanying by-line one of the top ego-inflating activities one can do? And, as for "filling time" and "invoking long-lost roots"....aren't these valid and noble reasons to farm? These comments along with the general tone of the article make me think that perhaps Mr. Larson has some deeper personal issues and anger related to "gentleman farmers" or retired people or hobbyists or entrepreneurs that he has chosen not to share.
Finally, in all businesses -- and farming IS a business -- there are threats to that business person's success. COMPETITION is chief among these threats. I challenge Mr. Larson to find any legitimate business where money can be made where there is not some level of competition. So what do businesses do? They learn from the competition. They make changes as necessary in what they produce, how they produce, how they market and where and how they sell. Mr. Larson -- while describing his employer's blown-up vehicles and burned down barn -- never suggests that this "real" farmer might actually learn something from the "gentleman farmer". I, as a consumer, can say that I enjoy the variety offered by the gentleman farmer and am glad to give him my couple of dollars to try something new. Maybe the "gentleman farmer" is representative of the "new order", and the traditional farmer needs to pull himself out of the 1880s and get with the program!
Here is an idea: If "gentleman farmers" are trying to get advice and borrow equipment from the "real" farmers, why not charge them a fee? Perhaps the "real" farmers could make back some of the money from Mr. McDooly's cigar box by teaching farming skills and renting out their equipment. Or perhaps they could partner with the "gentleman farmer" in some way such that the "real" farmer gets a cut of the profits or a place on the "gentleman farmer's" selling table.
I believe that "real" farmers can overcome the threat of Mr. McDooly and perhaps benefit from it. They are tough folks who have done what they do for centuries. Thankfully, farmers tend to be survivors and not whiners like Mr. Larson.
Indy Week • 302 E. Pettigrew St., Suite 300, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
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