By Kerry Hoffschneider
Sep 15, 2020
A traveler’s trunk that was carried by immigrants who came here to settle on new lands.
Here goes. My notes regarding this subject have sat on a page for several weeks now. They have waited even longer since I began to work for the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC), serving thousands of Indian Country farmers and ranchers who have survived and thrived despite the horrors historically imposed upon them, now accurately defined as – genocide.
Words – they sometimes pull at me like an incessant child, until I contend with them. By contending, I mean, writing them down. For many reasons, holding pen or clicking keys has served me better than vocalizing. So, this is my attempt at writing about the subject of all our “Farm Crisis.” The following words are not directed at Indigenous agriculturists. I have no right or personal experience as an Indigenous human being to speak for their histories. No, these words are for my European neighbors and a calling out to my ancestors who have since passed.
Besides their DNA, I have some material relics from the people who came before me. One of them sits below my north window, a traveler’s trunk, that was carried by immigrants who came here to settle on new lands, while others were being, or had been removed, from lands they once grew sustenance from.
The difference for my family lineage from those Indigenous is obvious, but complex, in its unfolding. The politics were our own to take part of or stay out of – our choice. While I recognize oppression and struggles did exist, we were, for the most part, not forced against our will to abruptly move off soils and walk to new lands that would not grow our seeds.
Still, we have a story of our own “Farm Crisis” and it’s a crisis that lingers, and should be deeply considered, because its tentacles stretch throughout nearly every bite we take. These bites are not equal portions. They are portions that were “justified” by a misuse and abuse of religion and carried out with government propaganda and held onto in desperation, greed, conquest, exploration, and a complex effort to do the best with the knowledge they had at the time.
I have most certainly befriended and most likely made plenty of enemies who are privy to their share or unfair share of God’s Creation. The unfairness or fairness begins to be understood when you start to figure in things like who farms over aquifers or who does not. Or, what the next day and weeks were like after interest rates changed overnight in the 1980s. And then we must factor in the web of relationships between bankers, implement dealers, chemical dealers, seed dealers, pastors, lawyers, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, self – and the list goes on.
Yet, here we all are, reliant on what we learned in grade school is essential to life: shelter, air, water, clothing, and food. How do we really contend with this long story of agriculture with its share of sorrow and ample share of hope? First, we fully recognize time is running out for our precious natural resources – especially soil, water, the wisdom of our elders and the energy, unique drive, and creativity of our youth. While the kids are on TikTok, the clock is ticking.
I can only simplify the solution in a few words: learning and positive actions. By birth, life choices and God’s will, I have jammed myself into the middle of opposing sides of the issues in agriculture. I know people who hate each other, love each other and who have completely checked out. I know, at times, I am the combination of all three scenarios. I also know there are unifying points.
Humans need to be connected to the land and each other – this begins healing. Humans need healthy, nutritionally dense food to live full lives. Humans have suffered because much of our agricultural policy was rooted in some aspects of racism, inequality and – greed.
What do I believe? We need more, not fewer, animals grazing on the land and being shepherded by families. We need more, not fewer, people who are true stewards of the soil. We need more, not less, plant diversity growing at all times upon the land.
Our “modern” agricultural system has created opportunities for some and has also pitted neighbors against neighbors. It has divided families, disillusioned some sons and daughters, bewildered many youth, displaced and oppressed entire cultures and has justified the extension of gross forms of “indentured servitude.”
This need not be the “inevitable result” and “necessary consequence” of achieving “modern” existence. If not all of us are free, none of us are completely free. If there are those still hungry among us, all of us still share in this starvation. Yes, this is, all our “Farm Crisis.” Yes, we can, do something about it.