Monday, April 16, 2012

Should Young Farmers Be Exempt From A National Draft?

I remember hearing a friend complaining about the Amish once at a dinner party, saying in angry tones how "they don't pay taxes or fight for their country". I raised my eyebrow at this. The Amish do, of course, pay sale and income taxes (save Social Security, and then only for self-employed Amish for religious reasons) and are pacifists. They don't accept Social Security checks or Medicare and are morally against taking human life. Also, It is our own nation's laws that allow them to be exempt, so my friend's true beef should have been with his legislators, not the plain folk. They are living their life both in accordance to the law and their faith. Their only fault is the lack of outsider approval, which frankly, they could care less about.

Unlike other pockets of the Amish in America, many of the faith in upstate New York are still farming. Land prices are cheap compared to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the old abandoned dairy farms in the Adirondacks are being bought up and farmed by young Amish families starting new churches around the area. I wondered who this bitter complainer would expect to be growing their food in a time of serious and sacrificial war if all the young people on farms were drafted?

The average age of the American Farmer is 57+ years old, and only make up 2% of the National Census. The only reason that average age is so high and the numbers so are low is because most conventional farmers use staggering amounts of gasoline, inputs, petroleum-based fertilizers, and giant gas-gurgling machines. God forbid we ever had a draft coincide with a fuel shortage, or sky-rocketing gas prices, because this model would become laughably unsustainable and downright terrifying.

Food would become scarce, very scarce. The average town's grocery store only contains enough food to sustain their local population with three days of food. And the average citizen does not keep a full larder or grow their own food as many Americans had in the past. The older farmers could not put in the physical effort to farm traditionally without fossil fuels, and the younger able-bodied would be off fighting to lower the price at the pump. If the current model of conventional farming could not sustain us, and the backup labor was gone, could you imagine how invaluable the skills and farms of the Amish would become? How invaluable any smaller, sustainable, grass-based farm would become?

It all comes down to the disconnection so many people have with their food right now. It is simply another cheap commodity, something that is just always there. You can do nothing buy nap all day and buy a hamburger for a dollar waiting for you, hot and ready to eat. The grocery stores, take-out menus, drive-ins, all of it gets about as much reverence from the average American as the crumpled up gas receipts in their pockets.

We've become so irreverent towards food and farming that the purest and most unadulterated forms of agricultural communities are seen as irresponsible or shirking duties. We live in a country based on the freedoms of independence and religion, and the folks actually acting on them are considered cartoons in an otherwise "real" society. In an oil shortage teams of "cartoon draft horses" could save a town from starvation.

Here is my question for you, angry anti-Amish and non farming contingent. Would you be willing to grow or raise your own food in a time of National emergency such as war? Do you even know how? If the answer to either (or both!) of those questions is no, then should the younger generations of sustainable farmers be exempt from a National Draft? I can't think of a more valuable piece of our social economy than the people growing healthy food. We would desperately need farmers less dependent on the crutches of mass inputs to feed us. I understand the importance and sacrifice of the soldiers, but who is going to feed them and their families if the world changed in ways we're not currently prepared to handle? Perhaps it is time to consider keeping the people serving their country food, in their country. It is not an act of cowardice, but an act of brave sense.

*Serve Your Country Food is the slogan of The Greenhorns, a national association of young famers.

41 Comments:

Blogger Meredith A said...

who is going to hold down the fort? the women! we did it before we'll do it again.

April 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger T L Showe said...

Yes, they should be exempt from a national draft and I'm the wife of someone who was drafted to go to Viet Nam and went and served honorably. But, your point is well taken and I think that farmers serve an extremely important role in our society. I'm sad to see so many farms going to the developers. I don't think if one just putters around in a personal garden that doesn't sustain more than just himself, that that qualifies as feeding America. Hence, that would not qualify him for an exemption from a national draft. While I commend anyone growing their own food, it does not support their community. My grandfather was a farmer and it's hard, honest work and I've seen first hand how much value there is to this way of life. But, the Amish and other non-Amish farmers should be exempt. I hope everyone understands the way I explained my feelings as I admire all who try to be self-sufficient.

April 16, 2012 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

It continually boggles my mind that 100 years ago (give or take), everybody knew how to raise chickens, they grew their own food, baked bread, etc. Now, just a sliver of time in the grand scheme of things later, we're almost helpless. I don't like feeling helpless. I'd have to ramp up production on things, but I think we could make a go of it, if farmers were drafted. Ok, we'd be doing better by this fall when my chickens will be laying. Yep, the girls come the 26th of this month - FINALLY! Now to start talking to hubby about a goat...I think.

April 16, 2012 at 12:51 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

@ TL Showe--

Anyone who grows their own food helps support their community. I can't imagine anyone who has their own vegetable garden for their own use not offering some of the bounty to their neighbors--it's a time-honored practice. Whether or not the neighbors accept the gift is up to them, of course.

Just my thoughts on your comments.

April 16, 2012 at 1:06 PM  
Blogger Doug Pitcher said...

I just wanted to make sure I'm clear on your question. You are saying that since people will have no food during a time of war or unrest we should hold onto those people that know how to grow food?

The problem with exempting the young farmer group is that quite honestly they are only providing food for themselves and maybe a handful of other lucky households. Unless the majority of people start growing their own food the economy as we know it will continue to be supported by industrial farms.

I'm OK with people opting out of serving in the military for religious reasons but I'm not ok with the argument in your post. Maybe those that don't get drafted would learn how to "hold the fort down" like some of the other people commented previously.

My two bits.

April 16, 2012 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Doug, I'm referring to people who are either full-time farmers serving many families, such as a 200-person CSA like Essex Farm in NY. Or people who aren't full time, but providing food at their farms for many. I would not be a part of such an excemption, being just a small one-person operation. If I was farming for 20+ people, then in my mind, I am more valuable feeding people in a time of extreme scarcity than in a war zone.

April 16, 2012 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

During WW 2 both my grandfathers were exempt because they farmed.

April 16, 2012 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Yes, some families that had farmers, miners, or other such jobs that could prove dire need would be exempt, but many, many young farmers went off to war. That's not a bad thing, and I'm not saying people who farm or have farmed should not be soldiers, just the importance of people farming traditionally in uncertain times.

April 16, 2012 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger becky3086 said...

I happen to agree with Doug. Just because they can grow food doesn't mean they are going to feed everyone or that they would even want to in the case of some war. I frankly don't believe that the Amish farms would even come close to being able to feed everyone.
There are many different affiliations of Amish, each of which has its own dress styles, carriages, occupations, and rules about technology. The enormous cultural diversity among Amish groups and church districts makes it risky to generalize about “the” Amish.
By the way, many Amish farmers are not organic farmers anymore.
Read here:
http://www2.etown.edu/amishstudies/Occupations.asp

April 16, 2012 at 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm, I see a very small connection with Amish farmers and feeding the world. I live near Amish and they have no effect on our local produce markets - they don't contribute or buy. As for way of life...Yes, they tout that they are living their faith and they are pacifists, but they also keep their women WAY down on the farm. Have you read any of the books of women that have broken away from the cult? They of course are shunned - real nice. And what about the double standards that are so evident: teenage boys can screw around and run wild for a while, electricity and cars are fine as long as they don't own them, men have rights but women basically must do as the men say.

April 16, 2012 at 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Sophie said...

My great uncle was exempted from WW2 back in the UK. He didn't have much to work with as far as male farmhands went, but the Land Girls filled that gap as best they could (being mainly city girls who wanted to help on farms instead of factories). "Dig for victory" was considered everyone's key to not starving by supplementing rations, and rationing didn't end for years after the war ended.

He'd love the resurgence of all things sustainable now - his whole life ppl thought he was eccentric for avoiding chemicals, though he did get a ride on lawnmower in his 60s :)

April 16, 2012 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Farmlady Wannabe said...

Without getting into the controversy of draft or ways of the Amish, I'd like to share that in my later 70's I am giving most of my energies to growing food in my garden - converting much of the ornamental to edible. I grew up in WW2 Hawaii. Food was imported on a large scale from the 'mainland' and the locals who were not already growing their own were presured to do so. Our back yard was shared between a large garden and a bomb shelter. Nearly everyone had a part in the war effort - my parents had two or three jobs each outside the home. When 'Nine Eleven' happened I was amazed to be told to 'go to the mall - carry on as always. That was not my ethic. There are many wonderful young farmers in my county and I support them buying local. Few folks in this very much retirement community, in my age group, want the work of growing food so it is a bit lonely for me spending my energy and hours in my 'patches', learning through trial and error in this
land of big trees. But it feels right. I am not a groupie and see an afternoon playing bridge or going to a mall a painful waste of daylight hours. I see our young farm folks a national treasure and would hate to see any of them yanked off the land to go fight for oil.

April 16, 2012 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger KiwiGirl said...

I'd look to previous examples to see how we could go forward in a future war-time - "Landgirls" etc farming whilst men were drafted and serving (my grandfather, amongst many many others) in WWII.

April 16, 2012 at 3:59 PM  
OpenID jessieimproved said...

I don't believe in the draft at all, so I guess I believe everyone should have the choice to fight of not. Honestly, I believe if America were under direct attack, we wouldn't have a problem finding enough volunteers. And if we couldn't find enough people, then something else is terribly wrong. With modern technology we will never throw as many bodies against a war as we did in WWI and WWII. If WWIII ever happens, it will be swift, and deadly. Everybody's better off learning to grow their own IMHO.

April 16, 2012 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger karental said...

If there is to be a draft no capable adult should be exempted. Period. Women, men, farmers, congress members. Older, younger, mothers, fathers, heads of corporations.

April 16, 2012 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

... aaaand there is always conscientious objection, which is what many of the people I knew growing up did when faced with the Vietnam draft. Granted, they then went and worked relief and aid, but still.

Frankly, if the dependency on oil was gone, then we probably wouldn't be in the wars we are in now. And if sustainable and non-exploitative practices were in place, locally and globally, one would wonder if civil wars and unrest would be so terrible now. Far too many of conflicts are fought out because of a lack of resources - something as simple as water.

April 16, 2012 at 5:40 PM  
Blogger Jimmie said...

I understand the need for someone during wartime to grow enough food for soldiers, those left at home, and those who physically can't grow enough to feed themselves. But, I do have a problem with exempting anyone who is able-bodied from serving our country. It's called sacrifice. If we don't have enough food to eat because farmers are called to serve, then we should either do without or learn how to grow what those I mentioned above need. There are books a plenty to quickly learn enough to get by...not thrive, but get by until the farmers can come home. Sharing with each other is the answer. If America loses a war because there aren't enough able-bodied people to take up the fight, it won't matter if some stay home to raise food. Try telling my mother to exempt anyone from serving his or her country - my dad was a prisoner of war in WWII held for eighteen months by the Germans. Daddy was proud until the day he died that he served his country. My brother earned the Bronze Star in Viet Nam and is proud of his service, too. Call me gung-ho; I don't care. I simply think it's not right to exempt farmers...or any other group that is deemed to be necessary at home, not at war, if war breaks out.

Diane in North Carolina

April 16, 2012 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I am a farmer, and feed my family, a sizeable CSA group, supply a restuarant, and sell at 2 farmers markets 8 months out of the year. AND my husband is a military reservist, who's been deployed 3 times in the last 4 years. I constantly battle against the "military wife" label, but you can bet your pants that if there's a draft, I believe everyone goes. If you're a citizen of this country, partaking of the rights and benefits this country offers, then you need to stand up and do the right thing when the time comes.

No exceptions.

April 16, 2012 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

This post was a "what if" post, and it was asking if there was no oil, and conventional farming was not available, shouldn't people farming traditionally stay to feed whoever they can of their fellow Americans?

April 16, 2012 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Jenna, my point is that this is not a "what if." It's an "is." It can be done. A draft may not be a reality an the moment, but wars are, and people do serve in them. And food can be grown to feed larger communities without petroleum inputs while those wars wage.

I grew up in a Mennonite community (some refer to them as "Car Amish")in Indiana. I don't belong anymore. And I can't claim to know anything first-hand about traditionally Amish communities. But I'd wager these are mostly insular groups who mainly look after themselves, without much regard to the rights they have benefit of by living in this country, or looking to a larger community. Which I firmly believe is a mis-guided attitude. If the SHTF, I really don't think the Amish could feed the country.

Maybe I mis-interpreted your post. Maybe not. It's not a matter of method, but of attitude.

April 16, 2012 at 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Karen Fulford said...

Jenna, Best Post Ever!

April 16, 2012 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This was a great post and an excellent "call to arms" if you will excuse the pun.

I took from this that,in the event of a major war, regardless of who goes and who stays, we all will need to produce more of our own food. And if we don't know how, what will we do?

The thing is, this will happen but it might not be war. It might be disease or economics. Conventional agriculture won't just stop making sense when oil gets more expensive, it won't be possible. None of it.

I for one agree - learn how to grow some food, put some away, develop community. It's the only thing that has allowed us as humans to survive this long!

April 16, 2012 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

April 16, 2012 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The thing is, it really isn't an issue of who goes and who stays because in all honesty, this kind of situation could be provoked by disease or economics or natural disaster not just war

If oil gets much more expensive, conventional agriculture and our current food system won't just be unsustainable, it will be impossible.

Take the time to learn to grow things, put some away for next year and make friends. Community is perhaps the one thing that has enabled humans to continue because united we have far more to offer.

Excellent post Jenna - it made a lot of people think.

April 16, 2012 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Chicky said...

I'm with Beth on this one.

-Christina L.

April 16, 2012 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger Chicky said...

Sorry, meant to write more to my answer. I'm with Beth and karental because I don't believe anyone should be exempt from serving their country - that is, anyone that is able-bodied. It will require a quick learning curve for those not serving to help support each other, but it can be done. Our culture has moved very much away from self-sustainability & that is sad, but it's amazing the ability of communities to pull together (just as our country would pull together when fighting a war).

April 16, 2012 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Beth, you are most likely right. The couple thousand Amish Farms around the country won't feed our nation, but the methods of farming that any traditional farmer, regardless of religion or scene, can.

This post wasn't about draft dodging, but about how fragile our food system is if the SHTF. We could learn a lot from folks.

April 16, 2012 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

Farmers are people that farm for a living, but just about anyone can grow food given seeds, earth, and water. The plants do most of the work. There are dozens of more specialized and complex occupations id want on home soil in times of war, occupations that can't be learned overnight or in a few minutes reading the back of a seed packet. The beauty of farming is one doesn't have to study (for the most part) they just have to do. People will sow before they starve.

I personally think young farmers would be the ideal group when looking at demographics to draft. Young, able bodied, hard working, and generally mechanically inclined. When sending individuals to serve I want to be represented by the best, those who will get the job done quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

We would survive without farmers because we would become farmers.

I might not understand though. Those who farm traditionally aren't feeding the masses nor could they ever keep up with supplying our current population size with their farming techniques. Relying on them would mean starvation. We need to depend on ourselves and the 'sharing is caring mentality'.

April 16, 2012 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger jim said...

freedom is "not" free- the rights and life style we enjoy in this country is because of the veterans who gave it to us. a lot paid the ultimate sacrifice.

April 16, 2012 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger jim said...

freedom isn't free- the lifestyle and country we love is ours because of a lot of veterans, some who paid the ultimate price. Everyone should be a contributor not just a user.

April 16, 2012 at 9:31 PM  
Blogger just look said...

I think your "what if" has a few kinks in the flow of things. First you ask the question about draft deferral for Amish. I think that was one issue of discussion, then you seemed to follow that with a train of thinking to ask about deferring all small farmers with the presumption that the next big war would involve the lack of use of corporate farming because of oil shortages. (Not sure that is a sustainable argument either) Then you presumed that small farmers would of necessity need to be absolved of a commitment to the draft because of their invaluable service to the country because you presume they all use "sustainable" farming practices. (Just how do you define "sustainable"? Don't you really mean "subsistance"?) I have to question whether or not grass fed anything is yet realisticaly all that sustainable. I think I've got the arguments you posed in the right order, but instead of it sounding like an apples and oranges sort of didactic, it struck me as more of a fruit salad.
I come from a farming heritage, with ancestors who farmed, went and fought in wars since the Civil War, then came home and farmed some more. My parents talked often about rationing during WWII, who could have gas, or sugar, or meat, and who couldn't.
I suspect our government, with all the subsidies, and other programs would have the American "figure it out" mentality to do just that. I also suspect that lots more of us, whether in urban or rural areas would/could do the same, which has almost nothing to do with how many acres any one subsect of folks could or couldn't own and escape a draft.

April 16, 2012 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Jenna, I understand the point that you were making about farming. It is a little scary with the oil situation being what it is. When I read your post I think I should do more, as far as learning to survive on my own. Thanks

April 16, 2012 at 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Autumn said...

I have a small argument. The "Amish" can be drafted into service just like you and me; but they serve as cooks, aids, etc- they are NEVER involved into the actual fight itself. (I would be very thankful to have an Amish man cooking for me!) In the Amish community local to me, there are many stories from the men who served. Amish people are Americans, and from what they have told me, they are willing to serve if it means that their families & their way of life will be safe... and I am fairly certain that this applies to ANY able-bodied American that wants to preserve our nation in times of need.

April 16, 2012 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

When I worked up in farm country I was once asked to taxi from the BIG CITY where it had been framed a tribute to local soldiers who served in Vietnam and never came home that would be hung in the community school lobby. I didn’t know what I was picking up when I went to go get it and was stunned to the point that I still think about it today. My Uncles served in Vietnam—one died later due to Agent Orange, my dad who was born with a clubbed foot and couldn’t serve has been haunted most of his life by the fact he couldn’t and that all of his best friends were drafted and never came back, so I’m not a stranger to the shock of war necessarily. But picking up that memorial did something to me and later talking with their families sealed the deal. Out of the area that boasted three towns with a combined population of about 700 in the 1960’s and 70’s, 76 men did not come back. All were farm boys, all drafted except one, and would have almost certainly stayed in the area and had families and farmed the remainder of their lives if they would have lived. This may not have been Amish farming, but it is farming—and a lot of the younger bunch is more able and willing to adapt to better practices than a lot of people think, they shouldn't be counted out—and besides that, every life is a valuable thing no matter the profession. I could barely sleep all that night thinking about those faces in that frame and what could have been different. How I'd probably be teaching their grandkids if they'd come back and all the lost possibilities. At the memorial ceremony their families were proud, but many also expressed a unified sense of disgust in whims of the government despite their pride and this was a very patriotic, red, white, and blue area—this area was also experiencing a fourth consecutive National Guard deployments of 12 local men to Iraq adding to some feelings of disproportionate sacrifice. It was also mused how the area’s population and vibrancy took a huge hit when these men did not come home throughout the Midwest in these small out of the way areas where most men were very draftable not having the desire to go on to higher education—most just wanted to farm. I’m with Beth to an extent, but the fight needs to be worth the loss. After looking at those faces and hearing about the pranks they pulled as teenagers and their dreams and favorite fishing holes I’m not sure most of our fights have been. Let’s just start avoiding war so there won’t be another draft. Very passionate about this issue as you can see….

April 17, 2012 at 12:40 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Very good remarks about the Amish, my father lives in Otsego County, NY (the real Upstate NY by the way ;-) and is practically surrounded by new Amish settlers who have been buying up old farms and land in the area, including part of my father's old dairy farm. For my 91 year father they are a breath of fresh air, sharing many of the same values and the love of horses, my father and grandfather farmed with horses before WW II. They are very community supportive and as you say pay taxes.

April 17, 2012 at 6:34 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

I have friends with next door neighbor Amish. Suffice to say, not all Amish are upstanding citizens. Many have puppy mills on their farms. Many of the horses they used are used until they can no longer work, some literally driven into the ground. Some sell hand made furniture, or barter, but in my experience, when bartering, they get the better end of the deal. We "worldly" folks are just a means to garner income. Of course not every Amish person can be characterized like this, but please know, that the Amish are no different from any other culture in that some are those to look up to an some are those to run from. As to the draft, there are extenuating circumstances for everyone, not just farmers. What about the only plumber in a small town? What will happen if he goes?? It has to be on a case by case basis. Farmers, like the Amish- there are good ones and bad ones. Just because someone farms, does not put them on a pedestal, until and unless you see HOW they farm. Do they put animal welfare above their own desires/time? Do they give back as much as they take? I know of farm(ers) I admire and those I know should NOT be in the business.

April 17, 2012 at 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

Maybe I missed it, but no one has talked about the Victory Gardens. In WWI and WWII, people were encouraged to plant vegetable gardens to help ease the pressure on the public food supply. The gardens were morale boosters and also a very patriotic thing to do. They were also the original inspiration for the PBS show.

April 17, 2012 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Meredith A - you took the words right out of my mouth! Women of all cultures do have a long history of performing dirty, thankless grunt work without complaint, purely on the basis of "because it needs doing". :D

I tend not to agree with the "everyone gets drafted" idea, because honestly daily life still has to go on whether or not we're at war. Children must be cared for, things must be manufactured, food must be grown and so forth. I don't think the very young, very old and infirm will be able to do these things entirely on their own, and if we don't do them, what are we fighting for anyway? Also, as someone else pointed out, modern warfare now requires far fewer actual bodies on the ground, so we would literally have to return to VERY old school warfare to even require an all-inclusive draft, I think. I say this with zero military experience, so apologies if I'm woefully misinformed! I'm not sure what the right answer is to the "should farmers be exempt" question - I think it's fraught with particulars that no one would agree on. I do, however, think that it's very much worth thinking about. The decision to send a particular person off to war or not seems to me a strategic one. Somehow it doesn't seem smart to me to just send all the able folks off and leave the home front especially vulnerable. I would WANT to have some strong, capable and trained people from various professions still around to maintain functionality. How to equitably achieve that, though...I have no idea. I suppose I'd be in favor of everyone being *eligible* for draft, but not all eligible persons actually being drafted. If that makes sense.

April 17, 2012 at 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Rebecca M. said...

I was actually going to bring up some of the points that Kelpie and Collie brought up, regarding their treatment of farm animals. I agree that not all Amish do this, but I believe that Pennsylvania does have the highest number of puppy mills in the country, and the Amish do run quite a few of them for profit. (Puppy mills are a very sore subject for me, and I do not understand why they are legal.) And I have also heard that the Amish do not treat their farm animals in the most humane ways, namely making them work until they drop. Jenna, I do believe you know much much much more about the Amish than I do, have you come across anything in your reading on these subjects? I do love most of the values the Amish embrace and live by, but what I've heard of their treatment of animals has always bothered me...I would love to hear your thoughts and be corrected if I am wrong!! (I would love to be wrong about this!!)

April 17, 2012 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Perhaps anyone growing food beyond personal need should be exempt.

April 17, 2012 at 10:58 AM  
Anonymous iCan said...

Should teachers, doctors, artists, engineers, etc? To answer your question simply, no.

April 17, 2012 at 9:40 PM  

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